Jasper, Texas is a town that has gained notoriety for severe racial tension. In the year 1998, the town was thrown in the national spotlight with the grisly murder of African American James Byrd Jr. by three white supremacists. To this day, the graves continue to be segregated with the graves of white people at the top of the hill and the graves of black people nestled at the foot of the hills. After the controversy associated with the hiring and firing of Rodney Pearson, Jasper's first black police chief, there have been further problems.
For example, African American Jasper resident Keyarika Diggles recently dealt with terrifying police brutality after not paying her traffic ticket. According to Diggles, police officer Ricky Grissom at first was friendly when she was at the station, even allowing her to call her mother to get the $150 necessary to pay the fee. However, once it became clear that she would not be able to put together the entire fee at that point in time, the officer "got wild," shoving her up against the wall, slamming her head on the countertop, dragging her across the floor, and then into her cell with the help of Officer Ryan Cunningham. Diggles had mentioned that one of the police officers felt that he was wasting his time waiting for her while she couldn't pay the fee. As he continued to raise his voice, she replied, "Well, you don't have to yell at me." This resulted in the officer also charging Diggles with resisting arrest. While she was being beat up, she had called out for help. The dispatcher had arrived but did nothing to intervene.
Diggles was extremely frightened to speak out about the violence that she had faced, considering that those who had abused her were part of law enforcement. However, after receiving encouragement from friends, family, and lone black councilman Alton Scott, she decided to share her story with local news station KBMT.
The city council has responded by dismissing both police officers and dropping the charges of resisting arrest against Diggles. While this was the prudent thing to do, the important question remains: Why did this occur in the first place? While Grissom did get upset with Diggles, what was the need for beating her up? Perhaps he took issue with her tone while he was reprimanding her for wasting his time, but surely this doesn't justify violence that caused Ms. Diggles to have her "hair pulled out, a tooth [broken], braces [knocked off]..." according to her attorney Cade Bernsen.
It is unbelievable that such racism and violence continues to take place in the United States. While the city council may have taken the necessary steps to take care of this particular incident, the ingrained racism needs to be recognized as the root of some of Jasper's greatest troubles. Two days from today will mark the 15th anniversary of the brutal murder of James Byrd Jr. Unfortunately, Jasper as a town has nothing to show in terms of progress.