Monday, 8 June 2015

Racism and Public Pools: The MicKinney, TX Edition

On Friday 05 June 2015, cops were called in to a community swimming pool after a white woman slapped a black youth after young people gathered for a birthday party objected to racist comments that the white woman made. While other cops comported themselves decently, one started charging the black youth from among the gathering. He pushed one young lady to the ground and straddled her, then pulled his gun on unarmed youth who attempted to come help the young lady. During the whole time, he swore profusely at the young people and shouted at them

The Dallas Morning News reports, "In the video, Casebolt can be heard yelling, 'On your face,' as he pushes the girl to the ground. As he leans on the girl, he points to others standing nearby and yells, 'Get out of here or you're going, too'" ("Pool party confrontation thrusts McKinney into spotlight on police and race relations," Tasha Tsiaperas and Claire Z Cardona, The Dallas Morning News, 07 June 2015).

The Atlantic has, as usual, a length and in-depth report that is worth reading. Some excerpts below:
McKinney, Texas, and the Racial History of American Swimming Pools
Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic
08 June 2015
In 2009, McKinney was forced to settle a lawsuit alleging that it was blocking the development of affordable housing suitable for tenants with Section 8 vouchers in the more affluent western portion of the city. East of Highway 75, according to the lawsuit, McKinney is 49 percent white; to its west, McKinney is 86 percent white. The plaintiffs alleged that the city and its housing authority were "willing to negotiate for and provide low-income housing units in east McKinney, but not west McKinney, which amounts to illegal racial steering."
All three of the city’s public pools lie to the east of Highway 75. Craig Ranch, where the pool party took place, lies well to its west. BuzzFeed reports that the fight broke out when an adult woman told the teens to go back to "Section 8 housing."
At their inception, communal swimming pools were public, egalitarian spaces. Most early public pools in America aimed more for hygiene than relaxation, open on alternate days to men and women. In the North, at least, they served bathers without regard for race. But in the 1920s, as public swimming pools proliferated, they became sites of leisure and recreation. Alarmed at the sight of women and men of different races swimming together, public officials moved to impose rigid segregation.
As African Americans fought for desegregation in the 1950s, public pools became frequent battlefields. In Marshall, Texas, for example, in 1957, a young man backed by the NAACP sued to force the integration of a brand-new swimming pool. When the judge made it clear the city would lose, citizens voted 1,758-89 to have the city sell all of its recreational facilities rather than integrate them. The pool was sold to a local Lions’ Club, which was able to operate it as a whites-only private facility.
The decisions of other communities were rarely so transparent, but the trend was unmistakable. Before 1950, Americans went swimming as often as they went to the movies, but they did so in public pools. There were relatively few club pools, and private pools were markers of extraordinary wealth. Over the next half-century, though, the number of private in-ground pools increased from roughly 2,500 to more than four million. The declining cost of pool construction, improved technology, and suburbanization all played important roles. But then, so did desegregation. As historian Jeff Wiltse argues in his 2007 book, Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America: "Although many whites abandoned desegregated public pools, most did not stop swimming. Instead, they built private pools, both club and residential, and swam in them …. Suburbanites organized private club pools rather than fund public pools because club pools enabled them to control the class and racial composition of swimmers, whereas public pools did not."
None of the adult residents shown in the video appeared to manifest concern that the police response had gone too far, nor that its violence was disproportionate to the alleged offense. To the contrary. Someone placed a sign by the pool on Sunday afternoon. It read, simply: "Thank you McKinney Police for keeping us safe."
The Dallas Morning News piece contains some more worthy tidbits, including a paragraph, below, about the city's history of racism and a section including activist statements, "Calls for Firing."
McKinney attracted national attention in 2004 after the Police Department’s tactics were called into question by the U.S. Department of Justice. Racial tensions between police and residents in an east-side neighborhood escalated following four execution-style slayings earlier in the year.
This all is perfectly in accordance with America's history of racism. The year 1919 in particular was notable for many violent white riots against black communities. Chicago's 1919 riot was actually sparked when some black youth went swimming in an area of the Lake Michigan shoreline that had been deemed "white." The book The Making of Urban America by Raymond A Mohl contains an acceptable section on the 1919 Chicago riot starting on p 187. Most of that chapter is available at Google Books. This racist tension hadn't fade by the era of the Civil Rights movement. Below are two photos of white violence against black swimmers at a St Augustine, Florida beach.

Here I unceremoniously end, being terribly bad at writing conclusions.


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