It went like this:
I was sitting in a cafeteria inside an old school watching Bugs Bunny cartoons with a bunch of mentally retarded adults. Weeks earlier, I had taken a job with the Greenville Association for the Retarded. It was my duty to take care of a severely disabled teenager — I fed him, I changed his diaper, I made sure he didn’t stuff just anything into his mouth, whether it be a piece of cloth, a latex glove, or his own feces. He wasn’t a picky eater.
On this day, I was sent to the cafeteria to watch over 20 or so clients. Our weekly trip to the dollar movies had been cancelled, which was well and good. It was always a disaster. Popcorn was thrown, drinks were tossed, and fire alarms were pulled. And it was all punctuated by the most horrible howls and ear-piercing shrieks imaginable. More than one group of preschoolers left fearing for their lives.
Over the course of my time working for the Greenville Association for the Retarded, my glasses were stomped on, and a full carton of milk was poured on my head. I was punched in the face and kicked in the chest. That’s not to mention all the times I was slapped in the face by my client whenever I tried to change him, a teenage boy that was a foot taller than me. Not that his hits were particularly painful. They weren’t. It was just that it was always with the hand that he used to play with himself. I hated him, and I hated that place.
This day was no different, except I was in a room surrounded by clients who were infinitely more able-bodied than mine. I half expected somebody to start shouting, “Attica! Attica!”
But something peculiar happened. For whatever reason, they were calm and well-behaved. They all stayed in their seats and stared at the screen. Yes, they laughed — sometimes even when Bugs did something that was particularly amusing — but nothing seemed to incite the fits more than the moment when Elmer Fudd brought that wascally wabbit before a firing squad and asked Bugs what his last wish was. The bunny replied, “I wish, I wish, I wish I was in Dixie…,” and then suddenly Bugs, Fudd, and the entire five-man firing squad were singing and dancing. Much to my surprise, each one of them was in black face. The crowd in the cafeteria roared as Bugs and his Stepin-Fetchit gang sang. You can find the clip on YouTube. Just type in “racist cartoon.” There’ll be others.
I was reminded of this cartoon when I watched the footage of Lance Cpl. S.C. Garren telling a compadre that he had used his S.C. Highway Patrol car to hit a suspect — a black male — who was fleeing on foot. (The conversation takes place off camera; the collision does not.) And while there appears to be a certain glee to Garren’s voice as he tells his story, it’s hard to overlook the chuckle from the listener after hearing Garren’s story of how he “nailed the fuck out of him,” the him being the suspect.
And that’s not the only video out there. Nope. It’s just one of three clips The Post and Courier made public last week. A second one features Lance Cpl. Alexander Richardson as he hits a suspect — another African-American man — with his car. Richardson then continues to pursue the suspect in his car over curbs and across the grass even though children are playing in the area.
These two videos are just the latest string of PSAs featuring members of the S.C. Highway Patrol behaving badly. And thanks to nightly newscasts, cable news, and the internet, these clips are making the rounds locally and nationally, each one a reminder of the Palmetto State’s racist past — or present, depending on your point of view.
One previous video features a trooper telling a fleeing suspect, “You better run, nigger. I’m fixin’ to kill you,” while another shows a trooper hand-cuffing a black female who had committed no crime to the bumper of his car.
I’ll be the first to admit there’s no way to determine if racial prejudice truly played a role in each one of these instances — and in the case of Richardson, reports seem to indicate that he is a black man — only a person who is entirely ignorant of American history would deny the explosive nature of these clips. Try all you like, but you can’t run from the past, no matter how special you are.