Rebecca Kukla and Sarah S. Richardson have co-written a piece over at HuffPo:
Amidst the raft of deaths of African-American men at the hands of police that has captured the nation’s attention recently, we have seen repeated descriptions of the purportedly enormous size of several of the victims; indeed their size has been cited as an explanation for their death. Darren Wilson — himself 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds –testified regarding 6-foot-4, 292-pound Michael Brown, “[W]hen I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan. … [T]hat’s just how big he felt and how small I felt just from grasping his arm.” Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was estimated by the officers who killed him to be “maybe 20.” On CNN’s The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer last Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-New York) asserted that Eric Garner’s death by chokehold at the hands of a policeman was due not to his race but to his obesity: “If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died from this.”
. . .Obesity interacts with race and gender to amplify stigma. It can magnify the already powerful stereotypes of the dangerous black man and the not-so-innocent black male youth. A recent study found that police officers tend to view black boys as young as 10 as older, larger, and less innocent than their white peers. Obesity and race combine to help code which bodies are blamed for their own demise. Imagine switching the race, gender, and size of the recent victims of deadly police force. We would be unlikely to excuse an officer’s use of lethal force against an unusually petite white woman on the grounds that he was just treating her as he would any normal person he needed to restrain. We fear that obese African-American bodies are seen as less worthy and easier to kill in the first place, and then morally responsible for their own deaths just in virtue of their material existence.