Twice this week, the nation was moved by the way a white cop confronted a black teenaged girl and her mobile phone. For very different reasons.
In South Carolina, the teen wouldn’t put her phone away in math class. Teens and their phones, right?
But the campus officer who came to the class responded in the worst possible way, yanking, slamming and dragging the girl across the classroom. It was a violent 11 seconds of video that made millions of people gasp and, thankfully, got the cop fired.
But many of this country’s 780,000 sworn police officers know how to do their jobs the right way.
In Washington, police showed up in a neighborhood near the Nationals baseball stadium to break up a fight between two groups of teens.
After it was over, 17-year-old Aaliyah Taylor, a high school senior, walked up to the officer and started playing Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae) on her phone.
Instead of clearing out, as the police officer had demanded that she and the rest of the crowd do, she started dancing the Nae Nae. You could totally see a teen doing this, right?
That officer had a choice. Yell at the teen for being defiant and disrespectful? Go rogue and slam the teen to the ground, South Carolina-style?
Nope. Instead, the officer began dancing, too, matching Aaliyah move for move. It was a hilarious, uplifting and refreshing 56 seconds of video that quickly went viral.
It shouldn’t be news that a police officer used her humanity to defuse a tense situation instead of escalating it, that a white cop didn’t use force against a black teen. But for many people in Aaliyah’s community, it was news.
Aaliyah lives in a rapidly changing city that is becoming less and less welcoming to people who look like her.
Her neighborhood in southeast Washington is a world of jump-outs and street corner pat-downs.
You’re wearing a hoodie? Dark pants? You’re going to get stopped. Kids in her neighborhood run when they see police.
Surveys and studies — Gallup, Pew, USA Today — show that nationwide, African Americans aren’t confident in the way police interact with their communities.
“I thought all cops were cruel because that’s how I saw them,” Aaliyah explained later.
The police officer, rather than taking her down like a drug kingpin caught in a sting, laughed at Aaliyah’s challenge to her authority, warned her that she had better moves and started dancing, clunky cop shoes, turtle-shell body armor and all.
“I never expected cops to be that cool,” Aaliyah said. “There are some good cops.”
Yes, Aaliyah, there are.
The police officer, who has been on the force for about three years and recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, said she was embarrassed that her take on community policing had gotten so much attention.
“This is what we do every day,” she said.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier later reinforced that, issuing a statement calling the dance-off one “of the many positive police-community interactions that take place daily in Washington, D.C.”
Maybe not with so much style, but, yes, this does happen every day, all over the country. (Actually, cops in Utah, San Diego, Sacramento, Texas, New York and Philadelphia have all been filmed dancing the Nae Nae on duty this year. Seriously.)
But it’s also true that Bad Cops — and the long-standing refusal of many departments and prosecutors to hold them accountable for their actions — ruin the reputation, hard work and personal sacrifice of the tens of thousands of Good Cops.
Petula Dvorak is a columnist for The Washington Post.