A Black woman and a white congressman resisted police. Guess which one went to jail

When Allen police officers pulled Charlea Cooper over one night in March, she tried to comply with their instructions. She was nervous that so many officers showed up for a seemingly routine traffic stop over an expired tag. But she didn’t rail at the officers or use profanity. She was polite and respectful.

Still, she ended up under arrest, with one of the officers claiming he smelled marijuana in her car. (There was none.) The arresting officers and their supervisors have all defended dragging Cooper, who is Black, out of her car and handcuffing her because she failed to comply with their demands that she exit her vehicle. She spent the night in jail.

That’s all routine, right? It’s what police officers are supposed to do, according to staunch law-and-order types. Those who “back the blue” and post yard signs saying “Blue Lives Matter” insist that you should be arrested if you fail to follow the instructions of law enforcement officers.

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Well, maybe there are exceptions. Maybe you shouldn’t be arrested if you’re a member of Congress. Maybe you shouldn’t be handcuffed if you’re a white male. Maybe you shouldn’t have to comply with police officers if you’re U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Amarillo.

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That’s certainly what he thinks. Last month, Jackson berated and spewed profanities at law enforcement officers who pushed him to the ground and handcuffed him after he refused their orders to move aside so paramedics could attend a young woman suffering a medical emergency.

Jackson, a physician, says he was trying to help the young woman. That’s probably true, but when law enforcement officials tell you to move aside, shouldn’t you comply? That’s certainly what I’ve been taught — and what the “back the blue” types insist is true.

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According to law enforcement officials, Jackson was asked repeatedly to move aside, but he wouldn’t. He cursed and threatened and tried to intimidate the officers with his political connections, telling them he was going to call Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. He was belligerent even after handcuffs were removed; bystanders intervened to stop him from physically assaulting one of the officers. He is still furious; angry messages litter his social media feeds.

Jackson is a notorious jerk; when former President Donald Trump nominated him as secretary of Veterans Affairs in 2018, his nomination was scuttled by reports of his inappropriate conduct toward staff and bouts of heavy drinking. It’s no great surprise that Jackson views himself as above the law.

But the contrast between the police encounters involving Cooper and Jackson is also illustrative of a larger truth about criminal justice in the U.S.: It’s a tiered system that discriminates based on rank and especially race. Too many white Americans view policing as a force to keep certain people in their place.

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It’s been clear since at least the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that many conservatives don’t really care about law and order. That day, a mob of overwhelmingly white Trump supporters beat and bludgeoned police officers and sprayed them with toxins. Since then, countless Republicans in positions of power have either pretended it didn’t happen or denied it outright.

Meanwhile, cellphone videos and police-worn body cameras have cataloged countless episodes of vicious treatment of Americans of color at the hands of police. It’s no wonder that Cooper was terrified when she was stopped by an officer who insisted she leave her vehicle.

Allen law enforcement officers have defended her arrest as appropriate. A spokesman for the Police Department claimed that arrests for expired tags are “quite common,” but a Dallas Morning News investigation shows that’s not so. According to Allen Police Department data from May 2022 to June 2023, The News found, the department wrote 1,591 citations for expired tags and made three arrests. The other two arrests involved a Black man and a Hispanic man.

Oddly, Jackson was not even arrested, though he had threatened to beat a trooper. He was escorted to his car and allowed to leave. It is difficult to imagine a Black man being granted such grace — even if he were a congressman.

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