Eric Casebolt, the police officer who was filmed tackling a teenage girl at a McKinney, Texas pool party and drawing his weapon on bystanders, has resigned. That may protect him from disciplinary action, and perhaps keep his personnel file clean enough to apply for another law enforcement job elsewhere. Critics are still calling for a criminal prosecution. More investigation is needed, but not for that reason. Rather, the McKinney case points to the broader “flash mob” problem.
A close viewing of the video suggests that Casebolt may have been “out of control,” as his police chief has said. Indeed, one other officer who appears in the video seems to be chatting amiably, if somewhat uneasily, with some of the teenagers present when Casebolt dashes back into the frame.
That establishes a contrast to Casebolt’s own, apparently rash, actions. But the other 11 officers were no more in control of the crowd–at least ten times as large–than Casebolt appeared to be.
Without a full examination of the afternoon’s events in their entirety, it is impossible to know why Casebolt reacted as he did. Critics have jumped to accuse him of racism, based on rather thin evidence, and in keeping with the ongoing national meme.
Yet the most sensational part of the video, where he pulls out his gun, is probably the least difficult to explain: he was being charged, aggressively, almost from behind. As soon as the youths charging him ran away, he put his gun away.
It looks like what Casebolt was trying to do was to gain the compliance of a large crowd, using very limited resources–i.e. his voice and little else. Many of the teenagers did as they were told, sitting down when they were ordered to do so. The girl whom he detained appeared not to obey, or at least not to hear, what he had said. That led to the confrontation. Casebolt may have escalated the situation badly, but it is not clear that anyone else on the scene was equipped to do much better.
That brings up the “larger truth” of McKinney. Critics say it is part of a story about race, and how black people are seen by law enforcement in America. Local neighbors, including black residents, have disputed that claim.
The more obvious “larger truth”–but one no one is talking about–is that police still have no idea how to handle the “flash mob” phenomenon–the sudden appearance of large groups of teenagers, coordinated through social media, and often behaving badly.
The “flash mob” problem has been around for several years. Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter famously spoke out against the “ignorant, stupid, out-of-control behavior” of flash mobs four years ago.
Sometimes they physically attack innocent victims. The crowd in McKinney appears to have been less aggressive.
Still, the police seem to have struggled to restore order–and it is possible, with the cop-bashing of recent months, that it will become even more difficult, everywhere.