Virginia Cops Not Even Sure Black Army Lives Matter
Caron Nazario was driving home last December when two Windsor, Virginia police officers pulled him over because he reportedly had no rear license plate. Nazario, in fact, had a temporary license plate taped to the inside of his rear window, which were clearly visible once the officers approached his car. He'd just acquired the vehicle and didn't have permanent plates yet. This is a common occurrence, and how the officers treated Nazario, who's Black and Latino, is even more common.
The cops claimed Nazario was “eluding" them, but he explained that he was looking for a well-lit place to stop, which is why he'd pulled his SUV into a gas station. This was like trying to reason with a grizzly bear. You just confuse and annoy the bear and you still get maimed.
Officers Daniel Crocker and Joe Gutierrez immediately drew their guns on Nazario. They barked conflicting orders at him: “Keep your hands outside the window!" and "Get out of the car now." This is a standard cop technique that makes it easier to claim later that someone refused to comply.
When Nazario admitted he was afraid to get out of the car, one of the cops responded, "Yeah, you should be." That's some quality deescalation from the scary man with a gun. Jules Winnfield did a better job at the end of Pulp Fiction. But violent people don't enter law enforcement to protect and serve. They enter law enforcement so they can rain hell on people who are powerless to fight back. These are bullies with a union.
Here is the full video. How many incidents have there been like this just in the last year? We need to pass the Ge… https://t.co/2msL1BXjHv— Julián Castro (@Julián Castro) 1618027327.0
Crocker and Gutierrez also pepper-sprayed Nazario, presumably for kicks as he posed no immediate threat. They continued to shout and rage because the partially blind Nazario wasn't “complying."
Gutierrez reportedly told Nazario he was "fixin' to ride the lightning"—a reference to execution by electric chair. The officers allegedly struck Nazario several times in the legs, knocking him to the ground and questioning him. Nazario was not charged.
Nazario wasn't charged because he hadn't committed a crime. However, Crocker and Gutierrez threatened him with BS charges if he didn't “chill and let this go." Nazario is a lieutenant in the US army and was dressed in full uniform when the cops assaulted him. This didn't matter. Uniforms and medals don't remove brown skin. Crocker and Gutierrez had no respect for Nazario's service. It was just another means of leverage over him.
Later, when Nazario was in tears and on the ground of a gas station parking lot as officers put him in handcuffs, he repeated, "This is fucked up, this is fucked up."
The officers allegedly told Nazario if he were to complain, they'd charge him with crimes like obstruction, eluding, and assault on a law enforcement officer—potentially destroying his military career.
Nazario wisely placed his cellphone on his SUV's dashboard to record the encounter. Eventually, all Black people will come out of the womb with small video cameras on our bodies as an evolutionary survival tactic. (Descendants of Clarence Thomas and Candace Owens will keep trying to camouflage themselves as white.)
"I'm serving this country, and this is how I'm treated?" Nazario told the officers, according to his cellphone video.
Respectability politics won't protect minorities in this country. Our friend Dok Zoom noted the similarity between this incident and how America welcomed home Black army sergeant, Isaac Woodard, in 1946 after he'd served in World War II. Woodard was on his way to South Carolina in a Greyhound bus, and he apparently offended the driver when he dared ask to use the bathroom at a rest stop in Augusta. The driver contacted the police, who dragged Woodard, still in uniform, off the bus at the next stop and viciously beat him with nightsticks in an alley. He was charged with disorderly conduct and spent the night in jail where he was beaten some more. The sheriff, Lynwood Shull, permanently blinded Woodard after a savage beating in his cell, reportedly sparked because Woodard said, “yes" instead of “yes, sir." Woodard, who suffered partial amnesia from the attack, was found guilty the next morning on his BS charge.
These are the stories many Americans don't like to recall because so few of the participants seem human.
Nazario is suing the ever-loving fuck out of Crocker and Gutierrez, and there is rightful outrage over the officers' conduct. But this part of the story isn't new. There was a national outcry after Woodard's near lynching. Film legend Orson Welles demanded that Shull and his accomplices were punished for their crimes. Celebrities raised money for Woodard's expenses. Folk singer Woody Guthrie recorded "The Blinding of Isaac Woodard." Conservatives of the period likely considered this all very “woke."
Here's the even more familiar part: The resulting trial was a farce. The US attorney tanked the case against Shull, only interviewing the racist bus driver. The defense shouted racial epithets at Woodard, a blind veteran, and told the all-white jury that "if you rule against Shull, then let this South Carolina secede again." Shull admitted beating Woodard, but claimed it was in self-defense after the already seriously wounded man somehow threatened him with a gun. The jury took less than half an hour to acquit Shull, and the courtroom broke into applause. Outside was America.
Nazario wasn't left permanently blind like Woodard, so he can perhaps see now that no matter how faithfully minorities serve America, the police will still treat us like the strung-out gang members from their nightmares. You can't reason with the grizzly bears, and you can't impress them, either.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."