Dr. Ore’s Arrest by ASU Officers Shows More Than Police Brutality
I was pulled over once while driving back from grabbing a burger in West Los Angeles. Frankly, the cop scared the hell out of us three black students. When he walked over to the car demanding ID, shining his flashlight, and claiming our music was too loud, the others were terrified. I was livid. He asked us to get out of the car. I told him we were USC and Occidental students, that no one was drinking, and we just wanted to go back to campus. He scolded us for our loud music. He looked at the IDs, looked in each of our eyes, tossed the cards back to us and said, “tail light’s out.” We escaped public embarrassment and potential calls to our parents that night but were reminded that our elite educational backgrounds would never keep us from fitting the description. Sadly, ASU professor, Dr. Ersula Ore, learned that message the hard way when she was brutally arrested in Tempe, Arizona last month for jaywalking.
The entire ordeal was caught on the officer’s dash cam. Allegedly, the officer approached Ore by asking her if she was aware that she was walking on a street rather than a sidewalk. Implying that she wasn’t intelligent enough to decipher between a street and sidewalk, the officer’s disrespect for her put her on the immediate defensive. The altercation only escalated from there (about a minute in, the cam kicks in from the audio – this is the full video).
Having been arrested ceremoniously before, I feel the need to explain what is happening in the clip. Ore probably started in a state of defensiveness because she knew that she didn’t deserve to be disrespected. She isn’t a criminal. She wasn’t doing anything arrest-worthy. So, she was likely confused as to why the officer approached her at all. Then, she probably moved into a state of disbelief. When the officer threatened to arrest her, she repeatedly asked him, “are you serious?” because she probably couldn’t understand why he was acting so forcefully about such a minor offense. Next, she likely moved into a state of powerlessness. She tried to protect herself and note her femininity when she told the officer that she was wearing more revealing clothing to which he answered that he didn’t care.
She asked the other officers if they were just going to “stand there and let this happen.” She looked to others because the officer forcing her to the ground seemed completely irrational. The last two stages she went through were probably pain then anger. As she screamed “Stop! Stop!” on the ground, she likely felt broken and hurt. She may have been disappointed and let down by a system which was supposed to protect her. Then, she became angry when she realized the system failed her because she is black hence the primal scream of anguish when officers were on top of her. I can’t speak for her, but I know how it felt for me.
In all honesty, I watched this video with tears in my eyes. Ore seemed confused that she was singled out by the officer given that the road was obstructed and many others were crossing it in a similar fashion. The officer’s tone then caused her to demand she be treated with the humanity she deserved. As an educated woman, and a professor, Ore expected to be treated as more than an animal or ignorant child. But, she forgot that her skin color undermined her personhood in that moment.
Being treated as an authority and person of respect in her daily life, Ore probably was shocked by the blatant disrespect from the officer. And, all of her actions after that point were her desperate attempt to reclaim her identity. Calling out her credentials, her place of work, and her citizenship were all social cues she attempted (and failed) to employ to dissuade the officer from abusing his power and humiliating her in front of her peers, friends, and students. Alas, nothing worked. And, to add insult to injury, the officers attempted to help her straighten her clothing – the same clothing the arresting officer said he didn’t care about – after handling her like a linebacker.
In an interview on CNN, Ore claimed she did everything she was supposed to do.
She did everything she was supposed to do…if she were white. Had she been a white professor at ASU, she likely would have chuckled with the officer about the road obstruction and he may even have apologized to her for her having to jaywalk in the first place. But, she isn’t white. She is a black woman. No credentials in the world could have saved her from that.
I have learned this lesson too. The police are a necessary evil. They are protectors and enemies in communities of color. There is a hyper-awareness of their presence and a haunting desire to avoid them at all costs. Black people in particular are raised to fear the police. They are never friends. They are never allies. Sometimes they get it right. But, when you’re black, they usually get it right at your expense. They often embody the worst systemic oppressions in this country. Even Henry Louis Gates was arrested…because he was struggling to get into his own house.
Ore is now being charged with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, failing to provide ID, and obstructing a public thoroughfare. She is being made an example of.
This isn’t just police brutality. This is the inhumanity and irrationality of institutionalized anti-black sentiment. The brilliance of white privilege is that it never wears a legible name tag. Sometimes it introduces itself as coincidence. Other times it says, “Hello, I’m just what happens when you don’t follow jaywalking laws.” But we are all aware of the nuance it employs in either case. And we can’t deny the unearned benefits or disparate consequences it doles out with impeccable precision.
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