Twice this week, the nation was moved by the way a white cop confronted a black teenaged girl and her mobile phone. For very different reasons.
In South Carolina, the teen was texting in math class and wouldn’t put her phone away.
But the campus officer who came to the class responded by yanking, slamming and dragging the girl across the classroom. It was a violent 11 seconds of video that thankfully got the deputy fired.
Sadly, in this time of a national awakening to incidents of Bad Cop brutality, this has become what we expect to see.
But many of this country’s 780,000 sworn police officers know how to do their jobs the right way.
In Washington, police showed up in a neighborhood near the Nationals baseball stadium to break up a fight between two groups of teens. After it was over, 17-year-old Aaliyah Taylor, a senior at Ballou High School, walked up to the officer and started playing “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” on her phone. Instead of clearing out, as the police officer had demanded that the crowd do, she started dancing the Nae Nae.
That officer had a choice. Yell at the teen for being defiant? Go rogue and slam the teen to the ground, South Carolina-style?
Instead, the officer began dancing. It was a hilarious and refreshing video that immediately went viral.
It shouldn’t be news that a police officer used her humanity to defuse a tense situation, that a white cop didn’t use force against a black teen. But for many people in Aaliyah’s community, it was.
All seven of her siblings have been cuffed or arrested by police for nonviolent crimes, like breaking curfew, she told The Washington Post. Her brother and six sisters all told her that the police were rough on them.
Aaliyah’s neighborhood in Southeast Washington is a world of jump-outs and street corner pat-downs. Dozens of students at her school have been killed in the past decade. You’re wearing a hoodie? You’re going to get stopped. Kids run when they see police.
Surveys and studies show that African Americans aren’t confident in the way police interact with their communities.
“I thought all cops were cruel because that’s how I saw them,” Aaliyah explained later.
The police officer, rather than taking her down like a drug kingpin caught in a sting, laughed at Aaliyah’s challenge to her authority, warned her that she had better moves and started dancing.
“Instead of us fighting, she tried to turn it around and make it something fun,” Aaliyah said. “I never expected cops to be that cool. There are some good cops.”
The police officer, who has been on the force for about three years and recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, told The Post she was embarrassed that she had gotten so much attention.
“This is what we do every day,” she said.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier later reinforced that, issuing a statement calling the dance-off one “of the many positive police-community interactions that take place daily in Washington, D.C.”
This does happen every day, all over the country. But it’s true that Bad Cops – and the refusal of many departments and prosecutors to hold them accountable – ruin the reputation, hard work and personal sacrifice of the tens of thousands of Good Cops.
One America is gasping at the brutality of the South Carolina video - the kind of stuff black Americans have been talking about all along - while another America is stunned that a Good Cop exists.
We’re slowly making progress. Dance on, Good Cop.
Petula Dvorak writes for the Washington Post.