“Being Mary Jane” is a Black Entertainment Television (BET) show created by Mara Brock Akil, which stars Gabrielle Union as Mary Jane Paul. It centers around an African American journalist and her struggles as a black woman, a career woman, and a single woman. All of these struggles are challenging in and of themselves, but when combined, they make for a daunting daily life.
December 15th’s Season 3 Finale ended with Mary Jane in shock as she watches a video of a young black woman lying on the ground, being tased by a traffic cop during what appears to be a routine traffic stop.
For those who don’t know, this is eerily similar to the young woman, Sandra Bland from Illinois, who was stopped on the campus of Prairie View A&M University in Texas where she had graduated and was returning to start employment.
Ms. Bland had challenged the officer who pulled her over for improper lane change, and later died while in police custody. Her death was ruled a suicide from a self inflicted hanging while in her jail cell.
In the episode, Mary Jane Paul stands stunned and unable to speak as she realizes the young black woman on the ground is her niece, Niecy, played by Raven Goodwin. The episode ends with Mary Jane in a fog, unable to hear or speak as her staffers surround her, yelling and indignant about this—yet another atrocity—visited upon a black woman.
The viewers watch in horror as the police stop Niecy who, according to the officer, has been rolling down the street in her new car, blasting music. We know there’s going to be trouble when Niecy utters her first words, “Why did you pull me over?”
Niecy refuses to show her license and registration unless the officer tells her why he stopped her. When he tells her the music was too loud, Niecy challenges his stop as unlawful and one he can’t make because there is no law about how loud one’s music can be.
When the officer tells her to get out of the car, she refuses. As you can imagine, things become heated and escalate because the officer is not going to be challenged and just back down.
His partner comes up on the passenger side, while the challenging officer opens Niecy’s car door, and wrestles her from the car. Then, he pulls out what looks like a gun and fires. To the viewers relief it’s a taser (Niecy is an important character to the show and we certainly didn’t want to see her killed).
All this brings me to several points that are being discussed all over these United States and in all of our communities—especially in the black and Latino communities—since this seems to happen to black and Latino youth in a disproportionate number of cases.
Point number one is, obey the officer’s command: whether it’s right or not, the man has a badge and a gun and he’s already afraid.
Point number two is, a young person’s rights mean almost nothing when they’re stopped by a cop: Maybe Niecy did have the right to play her music loud. Maybe the officer couldn’t put his hand on her car door and open it without her permission, but he did.
Point number three is, obey: This man represents the law. He is the authority. In all but the most extreme cases, and with all but the meanest of officers, you can live to fight another day.
Point number four is, police may not only need tolerance and sensitivity training, but they may also need training in the law as well: If police are going to enforce laws, shouldn’t they know what the laws are as well as the citizens do?
It’s a fact that some police are operating above the law and no man, not even the President is above the law. “I think a basic principal of our Constitution is nobody above the law.” —Barack Obama.
Since rogue cops in many communities feel that they’re above the laws they were hired to enforce, Let’s teach our kids that they have the right to remain alive and that right prohibits them from challenging these cops just because they know their rights.
We have seen a television character say to the lead officer on a police drama, “I know my rights!” The officer calms down and backs off because, “Oh my God,” he doesn’t want to violate this character’s rights. Not so in real life.
In real life, officers who are intolerant and insensitive believe there are no rights except the ones they grant. Our children don’t know which type of officer they are dealing with, and it would behoove us all to instruct our children:
To be aware of their surroundings;
To respectfully respond to a request by an officer;
To note the officers name and badge number in their heads (please don’t ask for it out loud);
And to live to die another day and for a much better reason than changing lanes without a signal, in Bland’s case, or playing music too loudly, as was the case on “Being Mary Jane”.