Gainesville, FL — Officer Bobby White became an internet sensation in 2016 — up to and including being memed by Police the Police — for showing up to a 911 call about a noisy basketball game and choosing compassion over escalation. Now, this officer is in the news once more. However, it is most definitely not for his compassion.
In 2016, officer White responded to an incident after a neighbor called 911 to report kids playing basketball. When White showed up, he noticed there was no reason for him to be there and instead of writing tickets, stopping and frisking, or beating and arresting the kids, White asked if he could play ball.
“Can you believe that someone called complaining that kids are playing basketball in the street?” Mr. White asks in the video recorded on his dashboard camera. “But I ain’t got no problems with it.”
With his dashcam rolling the entire time, White’s community policing was recorded and then uploaded by the police department afterward. This cop went viral for all the right reasons and the “basketball cop” became a celebrity in his town.
“He didn’t look at us like we were criminals,” Aahtrell Johnson remembered. Johnson, now 21, was just a kid when White showed up that day.
ESPN even did a cover story on White and had basketball stars promote it to ease tensions between police and black youths.
White rode the “basketball cop” stardom for years with no one knowing any different. However, Chanae Jackson, a real estate agent and Gainseville resident, whose son had a troubling encounter with police, knew something others did not.
In May, someone sent Jackson a video of officer White and he was not using compassion like his other viral video. He was using police brutality. After George Floyd was killed, this compelled Jackson to release the video. Officer White is now going viral again but this time, he will not be going on ESPN.
According to a report in NY Times, with just a click on Facebook, she set off an uproar that stripped away not only Mr. White’s image as the face of what good neighborhood policing should be but also the assumption — embraced by liberal-minded reformers in Gainesville and across the country — that fixing racial bias could be as simple as retraining officers and focusing on “community policing.”
“The culture of police departments creates an environment where there are no real consequences for these officers,” Jackson wrote.
When we look at the reason for White stopping the young man in the video below, it is amazing that he ever played ball with the kids in the first place. In the video below, the man had harmed no one and was simply riding his bicycle when he allegedly rolled through a stop sign in his neighborhood — on a bicycle.
Sure, it is pretty irresponsible to ride a bicycle through a stop sign, but it’s an act likely witnessed by hundreds of cops a day in neighborhoods across the country who choose not to detain and subsequently beat the people who do it. But White wasn’t one of those cops at least not in 2014 when the video below took place.
As the video shows, White has the young man handcuffed and in front of his police cruiser for the act of riding a bicycle through a stop sign. Being stopped for riding a bicycle to a store at night naturally frustrates the otherwise entirely innocent man.
When the man says he doesn’t want to sit on the ground, officer White proceeds to slam his face into the hood of the cruiser, multiple times.
The video would never see the light of day until this year, which subsequently put the basketball cop’s momentum on stand still.
It is unfortunate that White conducted himself in such a way as the basketball situation took place two years after and showed that he may have changed. We feel that people can change and if White were to apologize for this situation and make amends with the man who he did this to, his work of bridging the divide between the police and the policed should continue as America needs this more than ever right now.
This is especially important considering White went on to found a nonprofit aimed at easing relations between police and black youth in his city, and even drew the attention of NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, who came out to play basketball with local teens.
That’s not all, he has also been vocal about police brutality and made headlines in May for speaking out against what happened to George Floyd.
People can change and White’s actions since that 2014 video certainly look like that happened with him. This does not excuse what he did, but the good that he’s done after should also be taken into account.
I’m living proof of this as I was convinced to do things during my time in the USMC that likely led to innocent people suffering. I regret this and now but I speak out about it and have dedicated my life to prevent further suffering. Everyone should have the chance to reverse course before it’s too late.