I first met Jacqueline Craig in an investigation room of the Fort Worth (Texas) City Jail the night she was arrested. By the time I arrived at the jail, the video of her encounter with Police Officer William Martin had just begun to go viral and spark outrage all over the country.
She wouldn’t have known that at the time. She just knew it was cold and the investigation room proved to be a lot warmer than her holding cell. She later told me that she figured we had been paired by mistake. She wondered when I would realize she was not actually my client.
Craig had been charged with resisting arrest and fugitive failure to ID and was also being held over on various traffic warrants. Her daughter was charged with interference with public duties and resisting arrest, as well. There was no way for either of them to be prepared for what awaited them on the other side of those jail bars. From the moment they were released, they were peppered with questions about their experience: some basic, some provocative, other accusatory, most redundant. But there was one question asked that seemed to be of particular import:
What do you want to come from all this?
This incident was set into motion when a white neighbor in Craig’s community noticed a little black boy discarding raisins near his lawn. Itamar Vardi made a split-second decision to grab the child, first by the arm and then more forcibly by the neck. Witnesses who saw the assault described the neighbor’s grip as violent, his muscles bulged as he pressed the 8-year-old boy to the ground and demanded he pick up the raisins.
A subsequent trip to the emergency room revealed that the assault caused the child to suffer a cervical sprain. By anyone’s definition, this attack was a felony assault. However, it took over a month for the Fort Worth Police Department to charge Vardi with anything at all. When he was finally charged, his actions were deemed a misdemeanor. There are obviously no laws that lessen the degree of a crime based on the color of the victim, but it’s difficult to comprehend how the justice system failed to grant Craig’s child the protections it offers all other citizens.
Craig’s arrest, as well as the arrests of her teenage daughters, was not only procedurally unsound, it was humiliating. She was taunted by Officer Martin, provoked and belittled. Officer Martin, an 11-year veteran of the FWPD, manhandled and terrorized Craig and her children in the community in which they lived. After securing Craig and her 15-year-old in his patrol car, Martin went on to arrest Craig’s 19-year-old daughter for filming the incident.
At this point in our society, camera phones have become pretty commonplace and accepted. It is widely understood that you cannot be arrested for filming a police encounter. But Brea Hymond was arrested for doing just that anyway. We know she didn’t actually interfere in the arrest of her mother, as she was charged, because she was filming the entire time. She had gotten under Martin’s skin with her angry outbursts, so he decided to arrest her, too.
Jacqueline Craig sat handcuffed and helpless inside Martin’s patrol car while he exerted his power on her teenage daughter outside. When Brea failed to give him an answer he deemed sufficient, he flexed her handcuffed arms behind her back above her head in a pain-compliance maneuver. His actions were inexcusable. He should have been fired on the spot.
If he had brutalized a white family the way he did the Craig family, remaining on the force would not have been an option. Criminal charges for his use of force, his perjury and his official corruption would almost certainly have been pressed had the racial roles been reversed.
For reasons I’m not sure I have fully appreciated to date, this case has struck a chord with people across racial lines, state lines, class and other boundaries. Its shelf life has outlasted the expiration period typical of nonfatal and/or non-excessively-brutal police encounters. Some have gone so far as to compare Craig’s arrest to that of Rosa Parks’ 62 years prior in Montgomery, Ala.
Both arrests had inexplicably far-reaching reverberations given the relative minutiae of the incident. Of course, like the city of Fort Worth, Montgomery had seen more heinous and violent interactions between the black community and law enforcement. Why Parks’ case sparked a movement likely involved several important contributing factors, but I like to believe that, similar to Craig’s case, it had something to do with the vulnerability of a black woman expecting a modicum of dignity from society.
Parks’ arrest led to an 11-month struggle culminating in the desegregation of the Montgomery bus system. When asked what she would like to see come from her arrest, Craig has given a variety of responses that could be summed up as the desegregation of the Fort Worth justice system.
Craig, and the people of Fort Worth, do not face the actual signage, policies and procedures of racial segregation faced by Parks and the black community of Montgomery, but there exists a standard of justice for the African-American community of Fort Worth that is demonstratively lower than that of whites in the city. It is not, as some say, that the black community “feels” discriminated against but, rather, that African Americans are measurably and definitively treated less equitably than their white counterparts.
It is an uncomfortable topic; after all, 60 years later, we should be past this in our country. We are not—and Craig’s case is but one example.
Craig’s case highlights a real imbalance in the dissemination of justice in Fort Worth, an imbalance that is present throughout much of the country along racial lines. Craig will tell you that she is no Rosa Parks. Parks was a seasoned activist who set out with movement objectives in mind. Craig is a very private person who ultimately just wants justice for her children.
It is her hope, and mine as well, that pressing for one standard of justice to be applied in this case will become infectious and spread throughout a system of unspoken racial injustice.