G.O.M.N! Get out of my neighborhood!
A few days ago, I read about Sergeant First Class Johnathan Pentland and his wife, Cassie, confronting a young Black man who was in their neighborhood, near Columbia, South Carolina. I was interested, not just because Pentland is in the Army, but also because I used to live in Columbia. In fact, I used to work at a country club located near the area where Pentland’s home is, so I am familiar with the area. And yet again, someone caught a middle-aged White person on film, behaving badly, and put it on Twitter for the world to see and judge.
The video coverage of Pentland looks terrible. He’s talking to the young man as if he was on duty as the drill sergeant he is… (or was). He’s clearly being physically aggressive, trying to intimidate the young man. I don’t condone Johnathan Pentland’s conduct or behavior, although I also don’t know what led up to it before the camera started rolling. I hear him demanding that the guy leave his neighborhood, cursing at him, and looking like he’s about to beat on the much younger and smaller Black man. Given that the younger guy is on the sidewalk and not on Pentland’s property, I figure he has a right to be where he is, although I don’t know why the guy is hanging around instead of walking away. I figure common sense would dictate moving on to a different location rather than engaging someone who is obviously threatening, especially when one is standing outside of a homeowner’s house. But, that’s just me.
Someone called the police, and the officer who initially responded said, at the time, that he could only ticket Pentland for destroying the young man’s phone. Pentland had apparently broken it while confronting the guy. But then later, after an outcry on the Internet, Pentland was arrested and booked for third degree assault and battery. If he is convicted, he could be forced to pay a $500 fine and spend up to thirty days in jail. Based on what I saw in the video, I would agree that those charges are certainly justified. However, I don’t agree with what came next.
Pentland and his family, which includes two children, have had to be relocated from their home. Massive protests took place there, with large groups of people congregating outside of Pentland’s home with bullhorns. The home was vandalized, and people are demanding that Pentland be fired. I’m sure there have also been death threats issued.
I absolutely agree that Pentland should be held fully accountable for his actions. However, I strongly disagree with people issuing death threats, destroying property, or doxxing the Pentlands. I also feel sorry for Pentland’s neighbors, who didn’t sign up to have masses of people coming into their neighborhood, starting riots, vandalizing property, and creating trouble. While I don’t know what it feels like to be a person of color, I do think that if anything is ever going to change, people have to work together for peaceful conflict resolution. Destroying property and disturbing the peace are not the ways to make those changes.
I liked living in Columbia. I met some great folks there, and had a really good experience studying at the University of South Carolina. And while I’m not a big fan of videoing people and making them go viral, I do think that if there is an obvious crime going on, video is a good thing to hand over to the police. Video shows what exactly happened and what was said. However, I don’t think it’s a good thing for private citizens to take it upon themselves to be judge, jury, and executioner, trying to make a name for themselves by sharing stuff and promoting unproven theories or half truths based entirely on assumptions.
Having watched Pentland’s video a few times, I wonder what in the world led up to this confrontation. Based on the energy in that video, it doesn’t look like Pentland saw the guy and simply decided to come out and yell at him. That could have happened, but I find it unlikely. Does Pentland make it a habit to just confront random people walking around in his neighborhood, or was there some kind of history between these two people before the video started?
I also wonder if this encounter was entirely based on racism. I didn’t hear Pentland using overtly racist language toward the young man. Yes, Pentland was threatening him, bullying him, and shoving him, but I can’t come to the conclusion that he did so solely because the young man is a person of color. That could have been the case, but I don’t know that for sure. I can only assume, as I think a lot of people have, probably because of the many racist encounters that have been in the news recently. According to the Washington Post, Pentland said that he feared for his and his wife’s safety because the young man had been accused of earlier assaults.
From the Washington Post:
Two reports of alleged assault were also made against the young man after deputies responded Monday, according to the sheriff’s department, and they are being investigated. The young man has “an underlying medical condition that may explain the behavior exhibited in the alleged incidents,” the agency said.
On April 8, one incident report says, the man allegedly put his arm around a woman’s waist, put his hand down the right side of her shorts and then put his arm back around her waist as her pants were partly down. On April 10, another report alleges the man repeatedly picked up a baby without permission and tried to walk away.
Pentland told officers who had responded to a “physical dispute” Monday that he pushed the man “in fear for his safety and the safety of his wife,” according to the incident report.
Deputies were told that the man approached “several neighbors in a threatening manner” and that someone had asked Pentland to “intervene,” the agency said in a statement.
Based on these statements, I would think it would have been better for the Pentlands to simply call the police and report the guy, especially given that there had supposedly been prior incidents leading up to the assault last week. But nowadays, calling the police when a person of color is involved is also discouraged, thanks to the fact that so many Black people have been injured or killed by the police. It is also notable that these alleged incidents involving the young man were apparently made after Pentland confronted him, rather than before. Was that because some people are making up stories trying to defend Pentland’s actions and discredit the young man? Or did the folks involved in the groping and “baby stealing” incidents decide they needed to report the guy.
Either way, I wish the public would stop spinning narratives based on videos that get posted by bystanders. While the videos show what happened in an objective sense, the people who see them have a tendency to insert their own subjective narratives. The vast majority of the time, the people who see this stuff on social media don’t have all the facts.
I, for one, would like to know more about what led up to this attack. I agree that Pentland behaved terribly, and he should certainly be held accountable. But I’m not quite ready to see his and his family’s lives destroyed over this incident. If there is any truth to the reports that the young man in the video was harassing women and tried to walk away with someone’s baby, there could be more of an explanation regarding Pentland’s conduct. And regardless of what happened, I don’t think people should be descending on private property, committing vandalism, issuing death threats, or disturbing the peace. A planned, peaceful, orderly protest is acceptable. Issuing death threats and driving people from their homes shouldn’t be… and all people– regardless of race– should have the right to a fair trial before being “convicted” by the public.
I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled to see what comes next in this case.