Here’s the thing: There’s a difference between blind speculation and experience-based speculation. But our legal system isn’t equipped to differentiate between the two. In any incident involving white people causing harm to Black people, there will be speculation that the incident was racially motivated. In many cases, there won’t be any racial slurs or verbal indications that race played a part in an attack. But Black people will see the racism based on our experience with racism. In other words: We know it was racist because we’ve seen this before.
But that will never match up with the burden of proof our legal system requires before it will call something racist, regardless of how obvious the racism is. And that’s why the Morgan County school bus driver who was caught on camera pushing a 6-year-old Black child and his 10-year-old Black sister will not be called a racist when he stands trial—at least not by the court.
According to the Morgan Citizen, James O’Neil, the now-former bus driver in question (he was fired after the video went viral), has been arrested and charged with two counts of simple battery after the recorded incident that took place earlier this month. He was booked in the Morgan County Detention Center, where he spent a day before being bonded out.
“The investigation resulted in the arrest of James O’Neil on two counts of simple battery,” Morgan County Chief Deputy Keith Howard said in a statement. “While this was not a complex investigation, it was complicated by the allegation that the incident was perceived as being racially motivated.”
“Investigators took additional time to investigate all the facts to include consulting with prosecutors in the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit,” he went on to say. “Investigators could not establish a nexus that the incident was racially motivated.”
So, how do we know it was racist? Well we don’t—not for sure—but we’ve seen the adultification of Black children at the hands of white authority figures before. We see it in the statistical evidence that Black students are disproportionately and more harshly disciplined than their white counterparts. We saw it when a 9-year-old Black girl was forced into the back of a police car and pepper sprayed while she was severely distraught and begging for help. We saw it when Aurora, Colorado, police pulled over a Black family in an SUV (despite the vehicle description they were given being a motorcycle) and had young Black girls—the youngest of whom was also 6 years old—lying face-down on the ground while handcuffed and frantically crying.
The adultification of Black children was demonstrably what happened on that school bus.
From the Citizen:
According to Nene Carter, the mother of the children who were pushed, O’Neil allegedly told her six-year-old son to sit in the back of the bus, despite the fact that primary school students usually sit in the front of the bus away from the older high school students riding the bus in the back.
The 12-second video that went viral on social media shows the bus driver standing over the small child while pushing the boy back into his seat near the front of the bus. The 10-year-old sister is standing next to the bus driver trying to reach out for her brother. The girl shouts, “Stop pushing my brother,” as the bus driver is seen repeatedly pushing the crying boy back into the seat.
“Shut your mouth,” the bus driver says to the girl as he continues pushing the little boy.
The girl asks again for him to stop pushing her brother when the bus driver appears to put his hands on the girl. The girl tells the bus driver to “get your hands off” when the bus driver suddenly pushes her, causing the girl to stumble backwards. The bus driver then says to her, “What a pain in the neck you guys are. Get back there.”
A 6-year-old child isn’t a “pain in the neck” because he’s fearful and anxious about being moved to the back of a bus to sit with older teenagers. He’s just a small child being a small child. A 10-year-old child isn’t a “pain in the neck” because she’s trying to protect her younger sibling from the grown man who is aggressively putting his hands on him. She’s just a child doing what she knows she’s supposed to do as a big sister.
But white America often views Black children through a lens that doesn’t detect innocence and underdevelopment as readily and naturally as it does when viewing white children. It’s just really hard to imagine a white 6-year-old child being sent to the back of a bus among much older kids and then being pushed because he didn’t want to go. (I’m going to go ahead and skip over the part where I talk about the racist implications of a white bus driver sending a Black child to the back of the bus in the first place, BTW.)
It’s also worth mentioning that Carter believes O’Neill was only fired because he was caught on viral video manhandling her children.
“We feel like he was terminated because the story got more coverage than the Morgan County Charter School System would have liked,” said Carter. “It was rumored that they were just going to send him to be retrained.”
And if that’s true, it would have been racist AF. But we could never prove it.