Virginia Police, Army Lt. Caron Nazario and America's Bloody Traffic Stop Catch-22Roundup
tags: criminal justice, police brutality, policing
Matthew Guariglia is a historian of race, policing and state power in the United States. He is writing a book about how race, immigration and U.S. colonialism shaped the modern police department.
On the night of Dec. 5, a familiar scene unfolded at a gas station in Windsor, Virginia. Police pulled over Caron Nazario, a Black and Latino second lieutenant in the Army Medical Corps, claiming that his car didn't have license plates. (Reports said that temporary plates were taped to the inside of the new car's back window and that they were visible.)
Videos of the incident, some of them from Nazario's cellphone, as well as police body cameras, underscore the deadly truth we have long known about police interactions with people of color: Lawfulness is not always a recipe for safety. Obedience is not always a recipe for safety. The only person who can control the bodily health and well-being of the person pulled over are the people with the weapons. This is the bloody Catch-22 of modern policing in America.
In the video, police approach the vehicle with their weapons already drawn. The first instruction we can hear from the police is "Keep your hands outside the vehicle." Nazario, who still has not been told why he has been pulled over, keeps his hands thrust outside his driver's side window as instructed. Seconds later, he receives the next order from police: "Get out of the car, now." Nazario still has his seat belt on, so any attempts to get out of the vehicle would require violating the first order. He receives these contradictory commands all while two guns are pointed at him, and he still does not know exactly why he has been pulled over.
Between calm requests for clarity, Nazario then tries to assert his identity as an active-duty military officer. "I'm serving this country, and this is how I'm treated?" Would respectability and a shared language of patriotism serve to de-escalate the situation? No, as is made immediately clear by the officer's response: "I'm a veteran, too, and I learned how to obey." Nazario is, in the eyes of the police, a subordinate. He has been taught the chain of command and, as the officers see it, is obligated under threat of physical violence to recognize police as his superiors and obey contradictory orders with no visible justification.
The incident summons the words of the civil rights leader Robert F. Williams, a critic of the philosophy of nonviolent protest, who wrote: "The majority of white people in the United States have literally no idea of the violence with which Negroes in the South are treated daily — nay, hourly. The violence is deliberate, conscious, condoned by authorities. It has gone on for centuries and is going on today, every day, unceasing and unremitting."
Within Williams' critique of the nonviolence movement was the recognition that there is, by design, a great deal of bodily harm implied within nonviolence; it is just one-sided.