Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A few words about my scary encounter last week with a U.S Capitol Police Officer


Hello Friends & Neighbors--

For those of you who follow The Advoc8te on Twitter (@TheAdvoc8te) you will know that on August 14th I (along with four friends) was involved in a very disturbing traffic stop with a U.S. Capitol police officer.  Today, Clinton Yates of the Washington Post covered my experience for a story. You can read his article HERE



That police stop was so unnerving that at one point I was seriously concerned for my safety and the safety of the other occupants in the car. The entire experience was surreal -- it made no sense.   The driver was polite and upbeat and no one was upset -- we were just curious about why we were being stopped but the officer was mad from the very onset.  Although the U.S. Capitol police officer did not make any physical threats, he exhibited bullying behavior and took great pains to humiliate and intimidate the female driver. The officer made it very clear that he had all the power and that he dictated what would happen next. It wasn't until he was satisfied that he had humiliated the driver sufficiently (and scared us all in the process) that he decided to let us go -- without a citation. 



Last week's incident reminded me of probably one of the most scary experiences in my adult life. As luck (or misfortune) would have it, 10 years ago I was a witness (and nearly a victim) in a police brutality case in which a group of undercover officers (whom we saw breaking the law) attacked a group of friends I was with -- we had the misfortune of being unwitting eyewitnesses. One of the females in my group ( a girl who weighed less than 100 pounds) received a broken arm and the two males with us were were beaten severely, had guns pulled on them, and were charged with resisting arrest. We filed complaints with the Office of Professional Accountability.  Four years later that case was settled as "unfounded" despite all of the evidence including my written complaint that was taken that night and at great peril to myself. The undercover MPD officers that night and the U.S. Capitol officer who pulled us over last week shared a common thread -- they thought they were untouchable. They were confident that their badges and their position as law enforcement made them above the law. Just like a decade ago I am determined to set an example and hopefully prevent another person from becoming a victim. 

At some point I will probably write about last week's police stop. Frankly, I am still very upset about what happened and I want to be able to articulate what happened with a clear mind. I also plan on filing a complaint against that Capitol police officer so I want to take care of that before I write a blog post. Not that it means I am not 100% sure of what happened -- I am positive that we were the victims of unprofessional conduct that bordered on bullying and intimidation. It was such a strange experience that I didn't think to start recording the exchange until after 2 or 3 minutes had already passed. My audio recording (which you can hear HERE) depicts the final 90 seconds of the stop along with our attempts at identifying the U.S. Capitol police officer. 

While I or my friends wasn't physically hurt we were nonetheless really shaken up by what happened. We are taught to respect and appreciate our law enforcement professionals -- not to be afraid of them. And for someone like me who has had such a great relationship with MPD (just the night before this traffic stop a 7th District officer had come to my rescue in another matter) it really upset me.  Law enforcement officers are there to help -- they aren't there to make you afraid or to humiliate you or to make you feel powerless. And that is what upset me the most, the feeling of powerlessness. This "officer" -- who had sworn to "serve and protect" would take that responsibility and power and would use it to scare, chastise, and humiliate civilians.  It didn't matter what he thought we did, we did not forfeit our right to be treated humanely and with respect. So regardless of what the officer thought the driver did (which was do a rolling stop) it did not deserve the verbal abuse he dished out. 



That being said, I am trying very hard to not hold the action of that one officer against an entire group.  I am trying to remember that we are all individuals and we each have our good and bad days and the actions of a few do not necessarily mean that everyone else behaves the same way. Not that doing that doesn't have its challenges, I am human after-all. 

Just today I was driving through Capitol Hill and another U.S. Capitol police cruiser pulled behind me. I was so nervous that I had to fight the urge not to pull my car over out of fear that something would happen or heaven forbid I would encounter that same officer again. Although I wasn't doing anything illegal I felt like that didn't really matter -- I could just have the misfortune of running into him while he was having another "bad day." That is why I am stepping up -- because I don't want that officer (or others like him) to tarnish the reputations of other police officers who do their job professionally and maintain their humanity -  regardless of what kind of day they happen to be having. 

So to my readers, first and foremost, I really appreciate your concern, kind words and action on our behalf. From my very first tweet people were so helpful and kind. That is what makes D.C. such a great place to live -- people helping one another. That being said, please try and not let my unfortunate experience cloud your perception of local law enforcement. They have a hard job to do and I like to think there are way more good apples than bad.  We all deserve respect and courtesy -- it goes both ways. I don't even wish that the officer who we ran into loses his job -- I just hopes he gets the training (and frankly a stern talking too!) to prevent this from happening in the future before someone really gets hurt. As we have seen in recent weeks, a situation can get out of hand and someone's life could be lost! One person's "bad day" can turn into another person's last day on earth! 

Hopefully, if you ever have the misfortune of being pulled over you will get one of those "good" officers. And you won't make preconceived notions about the type of person they are -- just like I wish the officer who stopped us hadn't had preconceived notions about the type of people we were. But just in case, I highly recommend turning on your recorder BEFORE the officer gets to your window. Thank goodness I was able to record at least part of this exchange on my phone -- I have no doubt if I didn't record at least part of the event it wouldn't have gotten as much attention as it has. Unfortunately, I didn't record the entire exchange from the beginning -- it just never occurred to me that something as simple as looking for a parking space would turn into an impromptu episode of "Fear Factor." 

And in case you were wondering (or assuming) the U.S. Capitol police officer in question was Black. And as most of you know I am Black (the other four occupants in the car were caucasian).  I don't know if what happened to us was based on race or not -- all that I know is that it was unacceptable. That officer's behavior violated the laws of decency, humanity, and professional conduct -- and in my book that was the biggest crime of all. 

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

...Amen.

Anonymous said...

I think the officer should lose his job. If I had a "bad day" and verbally berated a client (which you are, as a citizen, to an officer), I'd get fired. It's not about "training." That officer's parents, his/her loved ones, and his/her superior officers have likely all told him/her how to speak humanely to people. If all that life and professional training went out the window because of a "bad day," he/she needs to be on the unemployment line.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I just listened to the audio and although I think he was rude and unprofessional, a suspension might be more appropriate than outright termination here.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I just listened to the audio and although I think he was rude and unprofessional, a suspension might be more appropriate than outright termination here.

Anonymous said...

M