A crack in the façade of democracy

Almosa Pirela-Jones

Long before daybreak on Sunday, Nov. 8, Tuscaloosa police officers knocked on the apartment door of a University of Alabama student, responding to a routine noise complaint. The man in question attempted to close the door multiple times before the officer in the doorway stepped inside of the apartment, dragging the student outside amidst a chorus of screams from friends within the residence. That evening, three people, all students, were taken into custody and charged with various crimes, including resisting arrest, harassment and obstructing governmental operations.

In response, a small group of student protesters rallied in front of Tuscaloosa’s City Hall on Wednesday morning, calling for justice for the three individuals. The group, organized by a few different campus clubs, chanted, “This is what democracy looks like.” The faces in the crowd were overwhelmingly white, and the level of support it received was minimal at best.

When speaking to others about this humorless situation, I have watched students’ uncontrollable laughter give way to cold, dead eyes – young but already disillusioned. Defeat rests heavily my shoulders and on the shoulders of my peers as we realize liberty and justice for all is a rallying cry that does not extend to brown-skinned Americans. Reports of the arrested students’ past run-ins with the law have not surfaced. No one questions their level of sobriety or their potentially troubled home lives. When video evidence reveals they are victims of overzealous policing, no one claims the abuse was deserved due to hearsay accounts of what happened before cameras started rolling. The officers involved were placed on leave almost immediately, and an internal affairs investigation is already underway. The humanity of the arrested students will be protected, and, rather than unflattering mugshots, news outlets will be flooded with images of the students hugging kittens and swimming alongside humpback whales as the case develops.

People are laughing, but not because this is funny. They laugh to say, “How does it feel?” I know because I am silently asking the same question. How does it feel to watch someone who looks like you get brutalized, flat on his back, hands up to protect his head? Someone who wears the same clothes, who cuts their hair the same way, who grew up in a neighborhood like yours, who has plans and goals for the future that align with your own? Is this what it takes for the stony-faced majority to finally open its collective mouth to say police brutality is unacceptable?

Almosa Pirela-Jones is a junior majoring in English. Her column runs biweekly.