Accelyne Williams: A Man of God & Victim of Police
by Tyler Salomon, JR364- History of the Alternative Press, May, 8, 2015
On March 25, 1994, the Reverend Accelyne Williams, a retired Methodist minister, climbed up the steps to his second story apartment in Dorchester, MA. The 75-year old minister was about to unwind for the day as he would on any typical afternoon.
This day, however, would take a different turn.
At the same time, Boston Detective Lisa Lehane of the Drug Control Unit was about to execute a “no knock” search warrant from the Dorchester District Court. Police were geared up to invade the apartment located at 118 Whitfield Street in search of drugs and guns. They had information that several Jamaican drug dealers had set up shop in the building.
As the Rev. Williams settled back to rest for the day, a team of twelve police officers in bulletproof vests began to storm his home. They smashed in the door and rushed into the living room shouting out orders in a garble of voices. The frightened minister, at home alone, fled the living room to his bedroom to hid from the invaders. He too was aware of drug activity in the building.
He locked the door between him and them for safety. He refused to obey the commands of the armed invaders to open the door. In short time, the men knocked in the bedroom door and pounced on the elderly minister.
He was thrown to the ground by three officers who wrestled with the old man in an effort to place him handcuffs. In the midst of the panic and struggle, the 75-year old minister suffered a fatal heart attack and perished under the heavy weight of the police like a trapped animal.
Moments later, the Boston police officers would realize that they had made a tragic error. They had besieged the wrong apartment.
The story of Accelyne Williams has been recognized as one of the most horrifying instances of police brutality in the United States. With recent police brutality incidents making headlines such as the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases, William’s name and story has reappeared in publications listing some of the worst policing cases in history. The biggest red flag in the story of Rev. Williams is that his death was instigated by a critical piece of misinformation: a police informant gave the wrong apartment number to chief Det. Lisa Lehane.
His death led to significant criticism of the Boston Police Department back in 1994 and launched several investigations into the supervision of Boston police officers. While changes in the code of conduct were made and responsibility was taken by Boston Police, did the admittance of guilt following the death of Accelyne Williams bring justice to his story?
The Rev. Accelyne Williams was described as a, “peaceful and unbiased man,” by his friends and family. The memory of his violent death at the manhandling of police stings those who knew him to this day.He could realistically be alive today if not for police negligence.
Former Police Commissioner Paul Evans said, “there is nothing which the Boston Police Department can do to change the events of March 25, 1994. What we have done is to make our best effort to see that they are not repeated…”
But for the Accelyne family, and those who followed his story, feeble police attempts to prevent history from repeating itself does not bring justice to his story. It only proves that misguided officers, whose job should be to protect the innocent, can still get a clean slate when found guilty of negligent actions towards minority residents.
Rev. Williams: A Gentle Giant Taken By Aggression
The Rev. Accelyne Williams lived his life as a hard-working Christian who sought to teach the lesson of god to those who would listen. His life was dedicated to ministering to the West Indian immigration community of Dorchester, the people of the smaller Caribbean islands, and to loving his family.
Born on December 15, 1918 in Freetown, Antigua, Williams found his passion in theology and pursued his dream job as a Methodist minister and preacher. Over the next forty years, he traveled throughout the eastern Caribbean islands spreading the work of Jesus Christ to hundreds of people he met in each town or village.
Some of his major accomplishments came during his time on the island of St Eustatius by establishing the St Eustatius Christian Council in the 1970’s and serving as the prison chaplain on the island of Montserrat.
During this time, he met his wife Mary and they raised daughter, Josephine. He retired from his traveling minister duties in 1983, but remained an active member of the Methodist community.
Nearly ten years into his retirement, he met his untimely demish at the hands of the Boston police. His tragic death came as a shock to those who knew him and led to outrage within the Boston black community.
The Rev. Birchfield Immure, minister of the Parkway United Methodist Church and colleague of Williams, remembered his dear friend fondly at a memorial service in Dorchester: “Accelyne Williams saw one race. He saw people, not black or white…That was the Accelyne Williams that we all knew and respected.”
The members of his Methodist parish of the Leeward Islands would echo a similar memory of their teacher, calling him “a man of God, a man of faith and courage, a man of determination and endurance [whose] love of god and church cannot be denied.”
For a man who lived a peaceful life, it is ironic that his final moments were characterized by negligent brutality. While his memory lives on in those who knew him, the story of the events leading up to his death remain embedded in the memories of thousands of supporters across the city and country.
March 25, 1994: The Misinformed Raid
On Friday March 25, 1994 at 3 p.m., members of the Boston Police Drug Control Unit (DCU) arrived in the vicinity of 118 Whitfield Street in Dorchester, MA. Det. Lisa Lehane briefed the “entry team” of twelve officers about the layout of the second floor apartment at 118 Whitfield.
According to the Suffolk Country District Attorney report, Det. Lehane informed the unit to expect to find the following scenario in the second floor apartment:
“The apartment was occupied by four to seven Jamaican males who possessed a large number of weapons including an Uzi machine gun, a Mac-10 machine gun and two 9mm handguns and that the weapons were kept on the kitchen table, fully loaded. A large quantity of cocaine and marijuana was kept and packaged by these men in the kitchen area.”
The information provided to Det. Lehane came from a longtime informant for the Boston Police Department identified as “#13,” in the DA report. Based on the description provided by the informant, police believed it necessary to execute a “no-knock” invasion of the apartment.
Lehane and eight members of the entry team broke through the first floor entrance of 118 Whitfield and proceeded to head up the stairs. Once reaching the top of the stairway, Lehane directed the team to the front door of the apartment as an officer smashed in the door with a sledgehammer.
“Boston Police, Everybody down,” shouted officers as stormed the living room. Police say Williams fled the room tried lock himself in a bedroom. Officers ordered him to open the door. When he refused to comply they broke down the bedroom door to find a frightened Williams “standing in front of a closed door with his hands raised to his chest.”
“Get on the floor!” police shouted as they threw him to he ground. Two officers grabbed his arms and yanked them behind his back in an effort to subdue him. As Williams struggled, a third officer held him down and put secured his wrists with flexicuffs.
The confrontation swift and violent, the shocked Williams never had a chance to identified himself despite being asked repeatedly. More importantly, the elderly minister gave no indication of his cardiac distress.
According to police, the left the room momentarily and returned to find Williams face down on the floor gagging on his own vomit. Two officers rolled Williams onto his back, cut the handcuffs and proceeded to bring in paramedics to help the old man. Paramedics transported him to Carney Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 3:58 p.m. It took less than an hour for the Boston police to take him from this earth.
Following the raid, the drug control team found no evidence of drugs or weapons in the second floor apartment. With the negligent actions of police undeniable, they police and district attorney began an investigation what happened.
The Investigation & Aftermath
Two investigations were launched following the events of the botched drug raid. One by the Internal Review Board of the Boston Police Department and another by the homicide division of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.
The primary goal of both investigations was to understand the sequence of events that lead up to the unnecessary death of Accelyne Williams and whether the police officers involved in the search engaged in criminal conduct.
The DA’s investigation consisted of 24 interviews with members of the police team, among others. It revealed significant problems with the conduct of the police before and after the raid.
For example, before a search warrant can be issued, officers must have a probable cause to support a police investigation. For Det. Lehane, her informant, #13, provided her with information that drugs and weapons were located in an apartment at 118 Whitfield. The informant had been “partying” with several of the suspected dealers a few days earlier at the building.However his evidence for citing the second floor apartment was weak.
According to the informant, he saw someone peering outside the second floor window and assumed that was the apartment with the drug and weapons activity. In fact, it was another apartment on the second floor. In his state of inebriation, he wrongly identified the apartment of Williams to the police. The police made no follow up effort to confirm the informants evidence.
The lack of police effort to confirm the information is even more shocking because of an earlier incident of location confusion in the same building. In September of 1993, seven months prior to the raid of William’s apartment, police raided a third floor apartment in search of drug dealers. The suspected dealers were living on the fourth floor and fled the unit before police correct the error and locate them.
The D.A.’s investigation was formally completed on May 10, 1994, less than two months after the death of Accelyne Williams. District Attorney Ralph C. Martin III concluded that the actions taken by the officers taken in executing the search warrant and subduing Rev. Williams was not unlawful based on the evidence provided.
“In this case, the evidence shows that the entry team followed its standard protocol, and that its issue of force was consistent with that protocol,” DA Martin wrote. “Despite the benefit of hindsight, it would have not been reasonable… for the entry team to interrupt their standard procedure when Reverend Williams resisted and refused to obey their orders.”
However, there were no criminal charges filed against any of the officers involved with the raid. The investigation failed to find sufficient fault with the botched operation to merit a criminal prosecution. In a news release dated May 11, 1994, the district attorney’s office stated that while there was no major evidence of criminal misconduct on the part of the police department, “steps must be taken to try and prevent such a tragedy from occurring in the future.”
“There are no words that will make this ordeal easy for (the family,)” said Martin. “We must all do everything in our power to insure a tragedy like this one does not visit another Boston family.”
The internal police investigation, meanwhile, largely faulted the informant for the wrongful police action. It did, however, criticized one supervising officer for failure to follow proper procedures in the issuance of the search warrant. It noted that when Det. Lisa Lehane submitted the warrant, her superior, Detective Stanley Filibin, failed to get the warrant approved by higher ups. He was suspended for thirty days as a result.
The Dorchester Community
The black community and widow of Accelyne Williams found the investigations shameful. Mary Williams sued the city of Boston for the wrongful death of her husband. The Boston Globe wrote that Mrs. Williams, “ has demanded that the city pay her $18 million to settle her lawsuit out of court, amid allegations by her attorneys that the city places a reduced value on black lives.”
It was within the lawsuit that the first mentions of racial tensions began to surface as a result of the raid. Hundreds came out in support of Reverend Williams widow who all sought for justice for the peaceful man that was Accelyne. While no violent protests ensued as the result of William’s death, demonstrations and marches circled through the streets of Dorchester in an act of solidarity towards racial inequality.
A long two-year battle between city officials and Reverend William’s widow ensued. Her lawyers argued that the minister’s death was more than an issue of misinformation but a pure violation of his civil rights: “The raid on and detention of Reverend Williams was done under color of law without legal justification. It constituted an unreasonable and excessive use of force, false arrest, unlawful detention and a violation of civil rights.”
In a historic move, the city agreed to settle with the family of Rev. Williams for the sum of $1 million dollars, the largest amount ever awarded by the city at the time.
In the two years following the death of Accelyne Williams, the Boston Police Department worked with city officials to improve the process of obtaining search warrants and fact checking information.
Reflection: Changes & Lasting Impact
It has been over twenty years since Rev. Accelyne Williams went into cardiac arrest in his Dorchester apartment. With racial tension between police officers and African Americans at an all-time high, people across the United States question the judgment of police officers and their definition for acting on suspicious activity.
The changes in the Boston Police Department immediately following his death did not make a significant impact in keeping Bostonians, black or white, safe. The department tightened up the process for obtaining a search warrant but little else of substance.
The Bay State Banner described how the Boston Police Department make their decisions on impulse based on the race and class of the suspects: “The police have got to look upon the areas of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan as not just areas of high crime, but also as a community where law-abiding families live. This would not have happened in a condo on Beacon Hill or in the Back Bay. The perception that `this is only Roxbury’ or `it’s only Dorchester’ has got to change.”
The death of Accelyne Williams bears similarities to cases in the news today. If the Rev. Williams had been white, he likely would not have been manhandled at face value. While there may never be justice for the Rev. Williams, this reporter hopes that in telling his story readers can better understand that all lives should matter in the hands of the police.
Goggin, Maureen. “Excerpts from reports on police raid” Boston Globe. May 12, 1994.
Martin, Ralph. “Death of Accelyne Williams” Suffolk County District Attorney. Boston, MA May, 10, 1994
Miller, Yawu. “Discipline of police in Williams SWAT case called too lenient” Bay State Banner. Feb 2, 1995
Pawloski, Jeremy. “City Awards Williams Widow $1 Million in Wrongful Death Suit.” Bay State Banner: 12. May 02 1996.ProQuest. Web. 8 May 2015 .
Thorpe, Richard. “Marchers remember minister on anniversary of police raid” Bay State Banner. March 30, 1995
Walker, Adrian. “Minister’s widow seeks $18m for botched drug raid” Boston Globe. June 16, 1994.
“Boston police apologize for man’s death during raid at wrong address” Providence Journal. March 27, 1994.
March For Williams: Bay State Banner Circa 1995
Accelyne Williams Profile: Obituary of the 1995 Leeward Islands District Conference
Larger Trends in Ferguson and the Shooting of Mike Brown
by Timothy Johnson, JR364 — History of the Alternative Press, May 8, 2015
On August 9th, 2014, Dorian Johnson and Michael Brown, 18, a recent graduate of Normandy High School in in Ferguson Missouri, left a liquor store on West Florissant Ave. in Ferguson shortly before noon. By all accounts, Brown was hoping to have a lazy day- hanging out with his friend in the interim period before he began technical school. Not long after noon, nearly in view of his apartment complex, Brown was shot dead by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer, in a confused and contested exchange triggered by jaywalking.
Johnson and Brown met up earlier in the day, at the Canfield apartments where Dorian lived with his girlfriend and daughter. They hung out and talked about college. Having been in school over the summer to stay on track, Brown was due to start higher education in just a week, at the Vatterott Technical School in Missouri, to train to become an HVAC technician. Dorian, who was five years older than Brown and had already gone to school, wanted to give him advice on dealing with higher education.
Brown, the oldest of three siblings, was an amateur musician, which is how he had met Johnson, producing homemade hip hop tracks together. As the day dragged on, Brown and Johnson decided to roll a blunt together, and they set out to buy some cigars. What happened in the store is somewhat contested, but it is known that Brown stole a few cigarillos, priced at 1.49, and is seen on surveillance footage pushing the shop clerk, who went to block Brown from leaving after the exchange.
Darren Wilson was driving in his cruiser, unaccompanied, down Canfield Drive when he saw Brown and Johnson walking in the middle of the street. He’d been on duty for six hours, halfway through his shift- and was returning from a call about a sick child in a complex nearby. Wilson, 28, had been on the Ferguson police force since 2011. According to Wilson, he heard a call come from dispatch about a robbery at the liquor store pertaining to Brown and Johnson’s activity there, and was headed there to handle the call alone.
When he first saw the two walking down the street, he interacted with them about jaywalking, but didn’t recognize either of them as suspects in the robbery at first. There is much confusion regarding their interactions, in his testimony Johnson claims that Wilson was being rude and angry, while Wilson maintains that Brown confronted him. Wilson, claiming to have seen the stolen cigarillos in Brown’s hand at this point, revved his cruiser backwards to block the path of the two boys, then called for backup. An altercation ensued near Wilson’s cruiser- during which Wilson shot Brown in the hand. Exiting the car, Wilson chased down Brown along Canfield drive.
After running a short distance, Darren Wilson began to shoot, supposedly triggered by the unarmed Brown “reaching for his waistband,” and emptied the magazine of his Sig Sauer service pistol, hitting Brown six times in a neat line from his left hand up to his skull. What happened in between, whether Brown assaulted Wilson in his cruiser or Wilson grabbed Brown by the neck from within his car, whether Brown charged at Wilson, or whether his hands were up, is obscured in a maze of contrary witness testimony and poor police procedure in the wake of incident.
What is known is that following the shooting, Brown’s body was left uncovered in the August heat- in full view of the neighborhood, without any explanation from the Ferguson Police Department as to the circumstances surrounding the death of another young African American boy in the middle of broad daylight.
This altercation exploded in the media, and in the public consciousness of the residents of the greater St. Louis area- bringing to light a patchwork of intersectional forces that are tied neatly to the shooting: the role of police departments in the community, the socio economic plight of urban poor, inequalities in education between whites and blacks, the militarization of the police, the phenomena of the modern debtors prison and its role in funding police forces, and the depiction of black bodies in the media.
“You know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school? You know how many black men graduate? Not many- because you bring them down to this type of level where they feel like they got nothing to live for anyway, they’re gonna try to take you out anyway,” this is was what Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, had to say to television news crews trawling the protests following the shooting when they asked her for a statement. Far from a simple paean to the morality of her son, this anguished statement reveals a wormhole world of educational inequalities utterly foreign to those used to the world of well funded public education.
When the statistics of Brown’s alma mater, Normandy High School, are examined, it becomes a testament to Brown’s character that he was able to graduate at all. He played on the football team, and was a member of the JROTC for a year. His friends and teachers said he had a mind for business. But Normandy proved to be a toxic milieu to receive an education.The school brown had graduated from just a week before his death suffered from a funding crisis- the school received its funding from property taxes from two neighborhoods, Normandy and Welliston, each with a poverty rate over 90%.
The two counties had been combined to reduce costs, and property taxes had been raised to try to support the school, but the capital simply doesn’t exist in these two communities to provide adequate facilities.
Normandy High has one of the highest rates of suspension in the region, with violent incidents a common occurrence according to teachers, parents and students. In 2012, the school failed accreditation, and was placed under the control of the state board of education. Missouri law allows for students in failed schools to transfer to other, accredited institutions. This is exactly what Brown did, but the influx of urban poor into majority white schools frightened parents, who feared that their children would be exposed to drug use, guns, and violence. Responding to the white fright, the state board of education imposed a legal grey area solution on Normandy High- giving it a middle ground status of accreditation, and making it impossible for students to transfer out to better institutions without actually solving any of the problems that lead to its failed status.
Normandy, home to 1200 young African Americans and just 10 white students, has a graduation rate lower than 60% and abysmal testing scores. That Brown was able to graduate, and find prospects for employment, is either a miracle or a testament to his character in an environment which seems designed to push young black men back into a Sisyphean cycle of poverty and violence, created by a drive to ensure the comfort of whites over the prospects of blacks.
Wilson’s education as a law enforcement officer is also noteworthy. Darren Wilson had a clean record as a police officer- previously in the year of the incident he actually received honors for his participation in subduing and arresting a drug dealer. But his background as a police officer reveals that he too received his education in an environment of toxic race relations. Before he was a member of the police department in the St. Louis area, his first assignment was on the police department in Jennings Missouri, a township which represents a neat microcosm of the poor race relations between white police forces and the black population.
If Normandy represents a textbook case of inequality in education, Jennings stands for a long history of violence on the part of law enforcement. Wilson started working there in 2009- part of the 45 man department, all white save for one or two officers of color. In Jennings, the entire police force was disbanded for a complete lack of credibility among the black population- in one incident, an officer chased a woman far past the towns lines in a 70mph pursuit, and then shot at her, while a child was in the backseat. A woman was beaten on her own property for giving a snarky response to an officer.
Residents faced numerous incidents of brutality from the white police force, and the department was under investigation for corruption. Darren Wilson apparently kept his nose clean during the three years he was on the force, but it’s difficult not to assume the ways this environment might have shaped his attitude in regards to his outlook on community policing. The city council voted to dissolve the entire police force and replace it with services from St. Louis.
On the day of their encounter, Officer Wilson was carrying several items on his belt. His gun on his right hip, an ASP- technical term for a billy club, his handcuffs, pepper spray, and a radio. In order to prove a point, it is useful here to assume Wilson’s testimony as true. If we take it as fact that Brown approached Wilson in his cruiser, that he began to strike Wilson in the face, and that Wilson shot back from inside the cruiser in order to protect himself, there is still discrepancy regarding the escalation of force.
According to Wilson, him and Brown engaged in a scuffle over his pistol, Wilson then shot Brown, claiming that he couldn’t reach his other defensive measures and that he feared being beaten unconscious in his own car. Wounded, Brown then began to run away.
It’s worth noting that in his testimony, Wilson made it explicit that he elected not to carry a non-lethal Taser, partly for reasons of comfort (not taking up space on his belt), but also because the police department only had a limited amount of them- a statement which seems somewhat absurd and indicative of a value assessment on the part of the police force, when viewed in the context of the police response to protests following the shooting- the rolling out of high-tech military assault rifles and armored assault vehicles.
Just in the period after the shooting, in response to outcry over the indictment results of Wilson, Ferguson spent over $170,000 dollars on riot control measures- enough capital to purchase a taser and a body camera for every employee of the Ferguson Police Department with $110,000 in change.
Wilson claims that after Brown punched him Wilson went into a sort of “tunnel vision,” and that during the chase Brown turned around and began to “charge at him like a demon,” (a statement which bears the need for its own scrutiny) and that while in the car he couldn’t use his pepper spray because it was on his left side, where Brown was allegedly attacking him from.
The point to make here, is that even if we take it as granted that Wilson had no choice but to use his gun while being attacked in the car, after he left his vehicle in pursuit of Brown he had two options for a non-lethal approach to the situation at hand. Wilson claims that he fired the remainder of the bullets in his gun when he saw Brown reach for his waistband (Brown was unarmed), eight feet away from him. The effective range of mace ranges up to 10 feet, and Wilson could have chosen to use his ASP. The point here being that Wilson had options to resolve whatever situation he claims occurred from his perspective without resorting to the use of his sidearm.
The language used by Wilson in describing Brown, both his physical appearance and his clothing, and the language used in proceedings by the prosecutors deserves a large degree of scrutiny. Wilson describes Brown as a huge behemoth, that he felt like a child being held by Hulk Hogan when Brown allegedly attacked him, and that Brown charged at him “like a demon.” In so many of the cases of police brutality against blacks that we have seen in the past year, as this issue has exploded in the public consciousness, we’ve seen a resurgence of white police officers describing their black victims as threatening because of their size. Brown had about 70-80 pounds on Wilson, but they were the same height. Using this language seems an effective way to deflect from the fact that Wilson’s injuries hardly seem worse than the type of wound that might have been inflicted on Wilson in his years playing varsity hockey.
The reality is that throughout history, accentuating the differences between white and black bodies has been a tactic used to justify violence and subjugation of blacks. From phrenology, which deemed negro heads to possess smaller brains, from questionable anthropological studies which sought to show that Blacks were less than human, to black face caricature in vaudeville theater. These have served as justification for slavery, segregation, and violence for centuries. If Wilson really thought that he would have trouble with Brown because of his size, it was his mistake to engage him actively, instead of calling for backup and waiting it out. Wilson made the initiative to put his car in reverse and engage Brown- he wanted to bring him in.
In addition, the discourse on marijuana throughout the grand jury proceedings, in my view, served both to discredit Brown’s character, to make Wilson’s case seem more credible, and to cast doubt on the testimony of Dorian Johnson. The first thing Wilson said after making his point about Brown’s size, in describing Brown, was to say that “Brown had bright yellow socks on that had green marijuana leaves as a pattern on them. They were the taller socks that go halfway up your shin.” Here in the north, we might not see this for what it is, considering the more enlightened view of marijuanas nature as a recreational drug throughout most of the country, but in a state like Missouri, which arrests an average of 20,000 people every year for sale or possession of marijuana, using this language is an attempt to paint Brown as a potential criminal, a negative force in his community.
This language was also employed by the prosecutors in their questioning of Dorian Johnson. Before Dorian gave his testimony, Ms. Whirley, one of the co-prosecutors, in explaining the rights owed to him, reminds Dorian that “there is some talk about smoking weed and those kinds of things, but that’s not anything that we are here to prosecute you for,” encouraging him to speak openly as the witness who was with Brown throughout the day. In the grand jury procedures, Dorian’s testimony serves as one of the most critical accounts of all the witnesses brought before the jury.
He saw in plain view what happened, and witnessed the entire unfolding of the spectacle which occurred that day. Later on, after an account of how Dorian met Brown, the prosecutor asks Dorian how he usually starts his day. His explanation for why the two were headed to the liquor store is that “I smoke marijuana in my mornings when I start my day off, so I was going headed to the store,” to which the prosecutor responds, “Now wait a minute, just stop here to now and then to make sure we are all clear. So that is kind of what generally happens for you in the morning?”
It’s a small remark within the hundreds of pages of testimony in the grand jury proceedings, but one that I think actually has significant consequences concerning the results of the case. Just a page up in the court documents, the prosecutor takes pains to remind Johnson that marijuana or Johnson’s own behavior is not really germane to the investigation, that that isn’t the reason he’s been sworn in to testify. This one comment, “so that is kind of what generally happens for you…” effectively serves to prime the jury against Dorian’s testimony. It colors him as an individual whose testimony can’t be trusted- who would trust the account of someone who starts every day by getting stoned?
Police Chief Thomas Jackson’s response to the events that followed the shooting were poor to say the least. The police department opted for an opaque response to scrutiny from the public- refusing to release the name of the officer responsible or any credible information which would allay the public of their desire for information. It wasn’t until five days after the shooting that he opted to release information regarding the case, announcing the name of the officer involved alongside a surveillance clip of the liquor store Johnson and Brown had been in. To the public, this seemed like a deflective maneuver, designed to push scrutiny away from the police department while they got their story straight.
Of course, by that point it was too late, and the shooting had already erupted into civic demonstrations touching upon issues more widespread and endemic than the death of just one individual. These demonstrations would culminate in a Department of Justice report which would damn Jackson’s career, leading to his resignation, even though no charges were formally brought against Wilson as a result of the grand jury proceedings.
Reading the DOJ report, and the accompanying study done by the Arch City Defenders on the relationship between the criminal justice system and the urban poor, is a disorienting experience for anyone who hasn’t had to deal with the police or court system. It reads like a report from a third world country, not like a nation governed by a set of laws designed to protect its people, a feeling only accentuated by the images of heavily armored police officers in kevlar with assault rifles pointing rifles at the beleaguered citizens of Ferguson.
The irony of those images is that, while they were obtained at discount from homeland security initiatives, the money spent to acquire this equipment was siphoned directly from the community.
“You cannot go in the county. I’m fearful of the county. I’ve been stuck here in the city for six or seven years because the county has been that bad. My kids stay in the county. I can’t see them. I’ve got to sneak to see my kids. I have to sneak to see my kids, because my plate might be bad or something. You know, I’m poor, and I’m trying to drive around to get better. But, you know, they won’t ticket you; they just take your stuff, immediately. You know, if you take it, their tow thing is ready, you know, every time.”
This account of the atmosphere in the area outside of St. Louis comes from George Fields, a local resident. His account, and the accounts of other citizens, describe a state of constant vigilance, where the slightest slip results in crippling sanctions from law enforcement. Another resident attests to being arrested in her backyard, in her nightgown, for a charge of driving with a suspended license. For this charge, she spent three days in a jail cell, with a $1000 bond. These punitive measures, have resulted in loss of jobs, and crippling fines, fees, and bond notices.
These actions do not occur in a void. The previously mentioned study conducted the ArchCity Defenders, revealed that 30 of the 60 precincts they observed engaged in this type of extreme sanctioning, and that Ferguson is the perfect example of such a precinct. The study reveals that these aggressive fining practices are not simply a tough on crime byproduct, but a tactic directly intended to create revenue streams for the county and its police department.
In Ferguson and Florissant alone, the courts system of fines and fees netted county governments 3.5 million dollars in income, and this white paper study reveals that there is a distinct and marked disparity between collection tactics in affluent, white counties, and lower income, predominantly African American communities. The paper highlights two towns to indicate this disparity, Pine Lawn, a town of 3,725, with a population which is 96% black, with a per capita income of $13,000- and Chesterfield, a city of nearly 50,000 with a per capita income of $50,000 a year. Pine Lawn generated $1.7million in fines from court fines, whereas Chesterfield generated $1.2million in this same year.
If we think of these fines as fees levied against the whole of a community- distributed over the whole population, these fines would be the same as charging each member of Pine Lawn’s populace $425 annually to fund the same law enforcement agencies that oppress their neighborhoods and lock them away in dank prison cells. In a city of 3,725 individuals, there are over 20,000 issued warrants.
It is hoped that some momentum has been gained by the high profile nature of this case and others. That the information gained at the cost of lives can help us to connect the absurd disparities existing in communities- where violent police receive more funding to subjugate Blacks who are left stranded without services or community apparatuses which can lead the way to a better life.
Buchanan, Larry. “What Happened in Ferguson?” New York Times. N.p., 25 Nov. 2014. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/13/us/ferguson-missouri-town-under-siege-after-police-shooting.html?_r=0>.
City of Ferguson. City of Ferguson Missouri Annual Operating Budget Fiscal Year 2013-2014. Rep. no. 2013-2014. Ferguson: n.p., 2014. Print.
DOJ. Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. Rep. Vol. 2014. N.p.: United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, n.d. Print.
Ferguson P.D. Crime Scene Diagram. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/01/04/1355455/-Darren-Wilson-s-Shells#>.
Ferguson Residents Challenge “Modern Debtors’ Prison Scheme” Targeting Blacks with Fines, Arrests. Perf. Michael-John Voss, Allison Nelson, Herbert Nelson Jr. Democracy Now, 2015. Online.
Lee, Kurits. “School Districts near Ferguson, Mo., Also Struggle with Racial Divide.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, n.d. Web. 07 May 2015. <http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-na-ferguson-schools-20140904-story.html>.
Leonnig, Carol. “Darren Wilson’s First Job Was in a Police Department Disbanded Because of Race Problems and Corruption.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 07 May 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/darren-wilsons-first-job-was-on-a-troubled-police-force-disbanded-by-authorities/2014/08/23/1ac796f0-2a45-11e4-8593-da634b334390_story.html>.
“Normandy High School.” City-data. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.city-data.com/school/normandy-high-mo.html>.
State of Missouri v. Darren Wilson. GorePerry. St. Louis County. 16 Sept. 2014. Print.
Taylor, Marisa, and Ben Goldberger. “Darren Wilson Evidence Photos: What He Looked Like After Killing Michael Brown.” Time. Time, n.d. Web. 06 May 2015. <http://time.com/3605051/darren-wilson-photos-injuries/>.
V/A. Municipal Courts White Paper. Publication. St. Louis: Arch City Defenders, 2014. Print.
The Life and Shooting of Tarika Wilson
by Claire Kerr, JR-364 – History of the Alternative Press, May 8, 2015
Summary: Tarika Wilson was a 26-year-old black female was shot and killed by a white police officer under suspicious circumstances. It occurred when a special police unit raided Wilson’s home in Lima, Ohio in search of her boyfriend. The day was January 4, 2008. Wilson was the mother of six children and holding her one-year-old son, Sincere, when she was shot. The infant was also shot and injured, but survived. An all-white jury deemed the police action justified.
The Events of that Fateful Day
January 4, 2008 started out like any other regular day for 26-year-old Tarika Wilson in Lima, Ohio. It was the beginning of a new year and Wilson was working toward a college education while raising her six children. She was a young black mother, recognized by family and friends as a selfless caregiver. Wilson was close with her parents, brother and sister. She was living in a rental home with her boyfriend, Anthony Terry.
On the evening of January 4, a special police team surrounded the home in the Southside neighborhood. The officers had a warrant to arrest Wilson’s boyfriend, Anthony Terry, on suspicion of drug dealing. Neighbors who witnessed the event said officers bashed in Wilson’s front door and entered with guns drawn. Tarika Wilson was unarmed in the bedroom with her children when the police stormed the apartment. Within a matter of minutes after entering, police opened fire.
One officer shot Wilson and her 14-month-old son, Sincere, in her arms at the time. Wilson was killed instantly after taking two shots to the torso from a high powered rifle. Sincere was shot in the shoulder and hand, but survived. Wilson’s other children were apparently present in the home and witnessed the shooting of their mother.
Sargent Joseph Chavalia is the officer who shot Tarika and Sincere Wilson. Chavalia was a 52-year old white office with 31 years of service with the department. He was placed on administrative leave under standard procedure following an officer-involved shooting.
Chavalia was later charge with negligent homicide and negligent assault for the shooting. Prosecutors said he fired three shots recklessly into a bedroom where Wilson and her six children were gathered. He was unable to clearly see Tarika Wilson or whether she had a weapon.
The weapon used to shoot Wilson was an assault rifle. The community and investigators questioned why a military grade weapon was required?
Chavalia plead not guilty. He testified that he felt in danger for his life when he shot the young woman and child. He claimed he saw a shadow from the partially open bedroom door near Wilson. He said that he heard gunshots and thought they were being aimed at him. However, the investigation revealed the noises actually came from downstairs in the home, where other officers shot two pit bull dogs.
Lima is surrounded by farmland and located in a politically conservative predominately white region. The city, however, holds a significant black population. Black families migrated to Lima during World War II for factory jobs. Today many worked at plants like Husky Energy Lima Refinery. Blacks comprise about 27 percent of the city’s 38,000 people. Still, allegations of racial discrimination have persisted over the years.
An all-white jury took three hours to find Chavalia not guilty. He embraced his wife and left the courtroom holding hands with her. Lima Police Chief Greg Garlock said the jury made the right decision. Chavalia returned to duty as a police officer with minor restrictions.
Meanwhile, Tarika Wilson’s family not only lost their beloved mother, sister and daughter, but they also lost an opportunity for a sense of justice. Wilson’s brother, Ivory Austin Jr., said he was not surprised by the verdict. In an interview outside the courthouse, he said, “Now he [Chavaila] gets to get back on with his life. He took my sister.”
Wilson’s father, Ivory Austin, said, “I feel like she did die in vain. For me, the hurt will never go away. I will always feel that I lost a child.”Her mother said, “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her.”
After the trial some family members feared retaliation by police. A few complained of being profiling and harassed and pulled over when driving for no reason.
A Community Divided by Race & Fear
There were strongly divergent views about the state of police – minority relations in Lima.
Jason Upthegrove, president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called the shooting an eye opening experience that could not be ignored. It revealed a deep level of distrust with police on the basis of race and class.
Upthegrove called for city and community leaders to focus on the problem of poverty in tandem with crime. He explained that in neighborhoods where residents are able to provide food, clothing and shelter for their families, there are much lower crime rates than in places of economic struggle. Tarika Wilson and her family fell into this misfortunate situation of poverty. In turn, her family was put in an unfair situation of a higher risk of police brutality.
One step in the right direction would be for the city of Lima to attract and create better-paying jobs for locals. This would establish a stronger relationship between officials and people who currently may be unemployed or laid off. Upthgrove and others called for the creation of an independent review board to investigate complaints of police misconduct. Currently, the police investigate such complaints on their own.
For a while blacks held protests across the city. Mayor David J. Berger described the situation as “very intense” and explained that serious threats were presented in Lima. People even started carrying handguns for protection.
The Rev. Arnold Manley, pastor of a Baptist Church in Lima, said the police continually discriminate against him and his family based on their race. He claimed that religious leaders in the community tried to work police and city officials to calm the situation. He doubted the efforts were successful in bringing about positive changes.
Lima Police Chief Greg Garlock had a different viewpoint. He claims that the police had a long record of positive relations with members of black community, including outreach meetings with community stakeholders.
Lima Mayor David Berger said that the city worked hard to create good relationships with “law abiding citizens.” His stressed the term, “law abiding citizens” as if to specifically people who were complaining.
Aftermath: Tarika Wilson left behind six children. Her mother was awarded custody of four children; Different relatives raise the other. The children have different fathers. The youngest child, Sincere, who was shot during the raid as well has lasting scars on his torso. He also lost a finger as a result of the incident.
According to his grandmother, “He remembered everything. I didn’t think he would, but he remembered everything. He sees that man’s picture right now and he says, ‘That’s the white man that did it. He killed my mom and shot me.’”
The Wilson family sought a settlement with the city. In 2011, the family received a $2.5 million settlement from the death of Tarika Wilson. The family has held memorials and vigils in her memory.
The shooting of Tarika Wilson still resonates today. One of the latest commentaries on the Wilson killing was in the Huffington Post, an article titled, “These 15 Black Women Were Killed During Police Encounters. The Lives Matter, Too.”
It pointed out that black males are not the only victims. Black women, including mothers, are also subject to police violence.
Greg, Sowinski. “Tarika Wilson Shooting: One Year Later, What Have We Learned?” ProQuest. 2015 ProQuest LLC. Web. 1 May 2015.
“LPD Identifies Officer Responsible for Fatal Shooting – LimaOhio.com.” LimaOhio.com. Lima News, 10 Jan. 2008. Web. 2 May 2015.
Maag, Christopher. “Police Shooting of Mother and Infant Exposes a City’s Racial Tension.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 Jan. 2008. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.
“Ohio Jurors Acquit Cop Linked to Death of Mom Holding Baby – USATODAY.com.” Ohio Jurors Acquit Cop Linked to Death of Mom Holding Baby – USATODAY.com. USA TODAY. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.
Rutz, Heather. McClatchy – Tribune Business News “Wilson deal reached: Insurance paying $2.5M in Lima police shooting death” ProQuest. 2015 ProQuest LLC. Web. 1 May 2015.
“Tarika Wilson.” AP Images. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.
“TARIKA WILSON MOTHER ERUPTS AT TOWN HALL MEETING!!!” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.
“Vigil Marks Five Years since Tarika Wilson’s Death.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.
“Tarika Wilson and Child.” http://countercurrentnews.com/2015/02/police-unarmed-african-american-mother-and-infant/
“Lima, Ohio, Protest. http://www.toledoblade.com/frontpage/2008/01/06/Lima-on-edge-after-police-kill-woman-wound-1-year-old-child-in-drug-raid.html
“Lima Police Officer John Chavalia.” http://www.luggageonline.com/lolnews/mother-infant-shot-cops/
“This is Giuliani, this is not Dinkin time.”
by Tatiana Ochoa, JR364 — History of the Alternative Press, May 8, 2015
Summary: On August 9, 1997, NYPD officers Justin Volpe, Charles Schwarz, Thomas Wise, and Thomas Bruder arrested Abner Louima outside club Rendez-Vous in Brooklyn. The officer beat the 33-year-old Haitian man in a police car and in 70 precinct house. In the station Volpe sodomized Abner Louima by the vicious act of ramming a broken wooden handle in his rectum. The Abner Louima case took five years to bring to resolution. As a result officer Volpe was sentenced to thirty years in prison; Louima received a settlement of about $9 million from the City of New York.
Abner Louima was born in Thomassin, Haiti in 1966. He immigrated to New York in 1991 and lived in Jamaica, Queens, with his wife, Micheline, 24, and their 1-year-old son, Abner Jr. they have since relocated to Florida.
Louima was the oldest of four children; he grew up in Port-au- Prince, where his father worked as fashion designer and tailor. In the 1980’s some of his relatives decided to immigrate to New York because of political turmoil in the country. Like many immigrant families, they came to the United States in search for a “better life”.
Louima followed in their pathway. He arrived in New York and found work in various trades: a leather bag factory, a car dealership, and then as security guard.
Saturday August 8, 1997 started out as a normal day for Louima. He finished guard duty at the water and sewage treatment plant in eastern Brooklyn. Later that night he made plans with his brother, Jonas, and their cousin, Herold Nicolas, to go to their favorite nightclub, Club Rendez-Vous, on Flatbush Ave.
At around 3:30 that morning, the men stepped out of the club to witness a fight between two women. At this point, Jonas went to the car while Herold and Louima stayed to watch the scene. Louima attempted to intervene and stop the incident. Instead he found himself in the back of a police car, beaten, and driving towards the 70 precinct station in Flatbush.
What happened afterwards was is a confusion of testimony. One fact is certain: Louima woke up in a bed at Coney Island Hospital the next day with grave injuries. He had suffered a punctured bladder and a severed colon. He had been sodomized with the handle of either a broomstick or a plunger allegedly by police officer Justin Volpe. He spent the next two and half months in the hospital recovering from the injuries.
The encounter on August 9, 1997 is a story with different versions depending on the narrator.
The NYPD incident report claims that officer Justin Volpe was trying to break up the fight when Louima came up and punched him in the head. Volpe sustained a minor injury from the punch.
Louima fled the scene but was apprehended by officer Charles Schwartz but resisted arrest. In the effort to get away, he allegedly struck Schwartz in the face causing a minor injury. Louima denies all of this every happened.
Patrolman Thomas Bruder was officer Volpe’s partner that night. He tells a slightly different story. He says that Louima push Volpe to the ground and Louima fled the scene. At that moment, Bruder reports that he called for backup.
Bruder then says that they got a radio call from officers Thomas Wise and Charles Schwartz reporting that “We are holding one, possibly the guy who assaulted Volpe.”
After the arrest, Louima claims that Thomas Wise and Charles Schwartz drove towards the 70 precinct station but suddenly pulled over on Glenwood Ave. There, they began to beat him and two more officers joined in. He assumed they were Volpe and Bruder because no one else had any motivation.
Bruder says that no beating occurred and that Louima did not have any bruises on him when he entered the 70th precinct station. At the station events went from bad to worse for Abner Louima.
As Bruder puts it, he saw Louima being checked in with Volpe standing behind him. Another officer who may have been involved was Schwartz. Inside the bathroom, Louima was pushed against the wall by Volpe who had a stick to threaten Louima. Schwartz ran out and asked Wise to help calm Volpe down. By that time Volpe had already used the stick to penetrated Louima’s rectum.
Louima’s version is that Schwartz and Volpe pushed him to the ground and started beating him. Volpe picked up something like a plunger and put it up his rectum. He said after Volpe put the wooden handle in his rectum he proceeded to force into his mouth, saying, “Nigger, have to respect us. This is Giuliani, this is not Dinkins time.”
The statement was a reference to the city’s first black mayor, David Dinkins (1989-1993) and the white mayor who upset him, Rudy Giuliani (1993-2001). Louima also claims that Volpe threatened him. He says that he threatened to kill his family if Louima told anyone what happened.
Bruder later noticed that Louima was with pain and holding his stomach. He then took him out of the cell but when Volpe notice he put Louima back in the cell. Bruder says he waited to leave the station until he could find a cop to help Emergency Medical Services take Louima to a hospital. They took him to Coney Island Hospital.
Medical authorities would later criticize the decision. They argued that Louima should have been taken to King’s County Hospital. It was closer and had better emergency facilities.
Community residents have had longtime suspicion that many victims to police brutality are taken to Coney Island Hospital because several of the nurses were allegdely married police officers. The assumption was that they were more likely to not report evidence of police brutality.
In fact, police tried to convince nurses believe that Louima’s suffered were sustained in a homosexual sodomy episode. One nurse did not believe the story. Magalie Laurent, a Haitian nurse at the Coney Island Hospital, decided to do her own investigation. Like other nurses she too had a husband working for the police force — in the 61 precinct.
Magalie Laurent described Louima’s condition as he was unable to speak, he had severe internal injuries, and he had had a large section of his colon removed. Tubes were coming out of his body, but two officers from the 70th Precinct were guarding him. Worried for Louima she telephoned her husband and told him what was happening and according to Magalie he told her to telephone Internal Affairs.
Internal Affairs is the department that handles police brutality or corruption cases. Laurent says while talking to Internal Affairs she was frightened to use her name so she said she was Mrs. Louima. When they asked for a home address she said she would have to call back. She then called her husband and asked her husband to call instead.
The bureau has a strict policy on how to handle calls to Internal Affairs. Each call must be recorded and sent to the district attorney office, and if the call involves a report of police brutality Internal Affairs is obliged to contact the District Attorney office immediately. This did not happen.
Police acknowledged that the call had been handled improperly. According to Commissioner Howard Safir the detective who handled the call was inexperienced and had never filed an official record of the call. Magalie claims that her husband made a second call to the bureau, but the police department denies that a second call was never received.
The 70 Precinct and Flatbush
The officers at the 70th precinct named themselves “The Laws of Flatbush” because they took credit for cutting crime in the area by 51% since 1993.
Justin Volpe had a history of complaints of violent treatment. He was accused of beating a man on duty in 1995 but the Civilian Complaint Review Board dismissed the complaint. In 1998 the city settled a lawsuit for $45,000 in which Volpe was accused of false arrest and use of excessive force.
At the same time, Volpe was a decorated police officer. He was awarded six NYPD medals, including one for grabbing the pistol from a gunmen. Volpe joined the police force following in the footsteps of his father, a 19-year-old veteran. His father had the nickname of “The Art Cop” because he had recovered a lot of stolen art in New York City. Volpe joined the police force Aug. 3, 1993, and was assigned to the midnight shift at the 70th Precinct in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Police Office Charles Schwartz also had a record of complaints for violence. In 1992 he punched an 18-year-old livery cab driver in the face, while still a probationary officer! He was suspected of involvement in a police punching melee on St. Patrick’s Day March 17, 1992. He was suspended without pay for 10 days.
These 70 Precinct operated in a climate of encouragement for rough and tumble policing. The NYPD embarked on an aggressive form of policing that involved mass detention and arrest for minor incidents. The policing scheme quickly gained a reputation for arbitrary enforcement, often based on race and class, under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. During his two terms, the name Giuliani came to symbolize an authoritarian style of leadership. In some minority communities, he was known by the nickname “little Hitler.”
By July 1998 Giuliani had been named in many lawsuits claiming civil rights violations by the NYPD. He tried to crack down on one of the most diverse cities in the United States. “Giuliani time” began when he took over as Mayor from David Dinkins. The African American Democratic leader was unpopular with the police force because he was openly critical of police behavior. Giuliani, a moderate Republican and former prosecutor was popular with the police. The police unions constituted a reliable voting bloc in his support.
A major policing strategy under Giuliani was focused on cleaning up public spaces. He identified homeless people, panhandlers, prostitutes, squeegee cleaners, squatters, graffiti artists, “reckless bicyclists,” and unruly youth as the major enemies of public order and decency. Giuliani thought he could capture the culprits of urban decline through his method of generating widespread fear.
The police were ordered to pursue with “zero tolerance” any and all supposed petty criminals whose actions “threatened the quality of life”; once arrested, their cases were to be equally vigorously prosecuted; a “database” was established for tracking homeless people; and precinct commanders were given widely expanded powers to bypass legal and bureaucratic checks on police behavior. ”
Falling crime rates in the 1990s are used as evidence of the success of the zero tolerance initiative. But in reality crime rates nationwide were already dropping at the beginning of the 1990s; the incarceration of record numbers of people, many of them for minor crimes, probably contributed very little. The likely cause for the drop in crime rates was the end of the crack epidemic, which ended by the early 1990s.
Abner Louima Resolution — Justice?
For an incident that happened in 1997 the Abner Louima’s case took many years to resolve. It involved several criminal and civil investigation, various charges of brutality and conspiracy, and several trials in state and federal courts. Officer Volpe eventually plead guilty to certain charges and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Other officers received sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years of prison time.
In 2001, Abner Louima settled a lawsuit with the city for $7 million. He received another $1.6 million from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the union chapter in the NYPD. The Louima case is the largest police brutality settlement in New York City history. he has since moved to Miami Lakes, Fl, and owns homes in the United States and in Haiti.
The Louima case garnered a lot of attention not only because of the large payout but because of the community responset. Thousands of protesters marched from Brooklyn to city hall in August 1997, some holding toilet plungers. Many demonstrators singled out Mayor Giuliani and his brass-knuckle policing strategy.
Their conclusion of the policy was clear: the system implemented by Giuliani was not designed to help people like Abner Louima; rather it was planned to incarcerate and ultimately eliminate people like him.
Brenner, Marie. “Incident in the 70th Precinct.” Vanity Fair. December 1997.
Brenner, Marie. “Incident in the 70th Precinct.” Vanity Fair. December 1997. Picture
of officer Charles Schwarz.
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Oct 09 2002.
Chandler D.L “Abner Louima was savagely beaten by NYPD 15 years ago today.” News
One. August 9, 2012. Picture of Abner Louima in hospital.
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New York Times. May 20, 1997.
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Villalon, Carlos. Getty Images. August 16 1997. Haitian protesters carrying signs and
waving bathroom plungers.
Club Rendevous, Brooklyn. http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.14421!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/gallery_1200/gal-louima1-jpg.jpg
NYPD 70 Precinct House, Brooklyn. https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3106/2851221722_32b83c0469.jpg
A Life Cut Short: The Story of the Injustices Inflicted Upon
Danroy “D.J.” Henry, Jr.
by Christabel Frye, JR364 — History of the Alternative Press, May 8, 2015
Danroy “D.J.” Henry was a 20 year old Pace University football player from Easton, Mass. On the morning of October 17, 2010, he left Finnegan’s Grill in Thornwood, NY to return to his car. A Pleasantville police officer asked him to move his car. In a moment of confusion and contradiction, the officer shot and killed Henry for questionable reasons. Nearly five years later, his family is still searching for answers. This essay will describe the events of that morning and the aftermath of these events.
The Short Life of Danroy Henry
Danroy Henry was born in Easton, Mass. on October 29, 1989. From boyhood, he was known as a lover of sports — soccer, basketball, and especially football. Sports gave meaning to his life and engaged him with a community of friends and supporters.
He discovered football at Oliver Ames High School in North Easton, Mass. There he met Brandon Cox, teammate and friend, and a passenger in the car that fateful night. Cox recalled, “We were very close. We spent all our summers together. We worked out together. We got ready for football together. We laughed and we rejoiced…together.”
Coach Jim Artz said: “They were just a joy to be around, never in any trouble. If my sons grew up to be like these two, I would have been very happy.”
After graduation, Henry wanted to go to Milford Academy Preparatory School to further work on his academic and athletic skills. “He convinced his family that he would benefit from another season of intensive athletics. He felt that he wanted to maximize his potential and hoped he would mature physically into the type of athlete that would be aggressively recruited by colleges and universities,” according to a website dedicated to his life.
Henry was recruited to play football by Iona College in Westchester County, New York. He stayed with the team until the program was shut down by the College. At that point, he transferred to Pace University’s Pleasantville Campus and won a spot on the team as a defensive back.
On the field and off, D.J. strove for perfection. One of his friends, Taylor Pettiford, commented that “You know, he always had his hat and his shirts and his sneakers color-coordinated. You could tell he was sitting there the night before school, he was eying his clothes so there was no wrinkles in them. And he tied his shoelaces so they’d both fall at the same length.”
Teammate Nick Barrows said D.J. always wanted to please his parents. His arms were tattooed with the words “Family First.” He wanted the respect from his father that he had for him: “You see his father, his father’s an upstanding black man. And that’s what D.J. wanted to be, an upstanding black man. Look at the house that they live in. The first thing that they do is they hug each other and he gives them a big kiss, that’s what their father does, he goes up and he hugs his father and he kisses him on the cheek. Of course he admired him.”
Events Leading Up to the Incident
Pace University’s football team had just played their homecoming game against Stonehill College of Easton, Mass. In a crushing defeat, Pace lost 0-27. This, however, didn’t stop the celebrations that night. For Henry, it was more than just a homecoming football game. He finally got to reunite with Brandon Cox, his friend from high school, and now an opponent with the Stonehill team. Brandon Cox said in an interview with WGBH that it was “just like high school.”
“We ended up beating them pretty soundly. After the game we all came together and both our families went out to eat and it was just like being back home, just like high school again. All our families together, having a meal and just enjoying each other’s company.”
The two young men decided to continue the celebrations after their families left. They, along with two of D.J.’s friends, headed to local liquor store Manor Wines and Spirits, where they purchased some vodka. Brandon Cox stayed in the car because he was underage.
Henry, also underage, went into the store and produced fake identification claiming to be 21 years old, according to Thomas Eckel, owner of the Manor Wines and Spirits. The four friend headed back to their respective homes to before meeting up with Henry at his apartment.
According to the official witness accounts of both Cox and Hinds, Henry had about a drink before they departed. They left his house for Finnegan’s Grill, where people were meeting up for the celebration at around 10:30 p.m. The main police report reads that the boys had “thought about where to party, with the black folks or the white folks.”
When they arrived at Finnegan’s, Henry handed Cox a fake ID and they got into the bar with no problem. The tables and chairs that normally were spread across the restaurant had been flipped over into the booths that lined the walls, to make room for a makeshift dance floor and dj booth. The bar was on the right of the establishment. Henry and Cox didn’t drink while they were at the bar, according to multiple statements from witnesses. They all said that they never saw D.J. with a drink in hand. A friend of Henry’s, Christine Leone, had even offered him a sip of her drink. He refused, saying that he was the designated driver that night.
As the night continued the bar filled up with students and locals. According to the official statement of witness Tyler Colangelo: “At about 11 pm, floods of college students began pouring into the bar in pretty large groups. All were dressed up as if they were going to a party. It became packed and hard to get to the bar. It was loud with music playing and dancing in the back of the bar. It became hard to order drinks and get the bartender’s attention.”
As the bar filled, intoxicated patrons began to jostle one another. A fight between two girls had been quickly broken up, but a few minutes later, D.J. and his friends were standing in front of the dj booth when there was a commotion by the door.
According to Stephen Van Ostrand, the owner of Finnegan’s Grill, a shoving match had started inside the bar. A white man in a red t-shirt had pushed another man. Ostrand asked the man leave. In his statement to police, Ostrand said he called the police as a precautionary measure. He was concerned that rowdy patrons might create a problem in the parking lot after everyone had left.
Trouble began to brew when the drunken man asked to leave the bar tried to return. According to Ostrand, “We again escorted him out. While he was leaving the second time the kid in the red shirt punched a window pane and broke it. We got him out of the bar. I told the DJ to turn the music off and to announce the bar is closed and to tell everyone to leave. We turned the lights on. Everyone walked out of the bar. I asked Rob Nugget to call the police because I thought we would have a problem in the parking lot. I went outside and told everyone to go home.”
When Danroy Henry realized that there was a problem, he decided to leave before things got too crazy.
A Fateful Encounter, A Senseless Tragedy
Henry left the bar at around 1:14 a.m., and pulled his car into the fire lane in front of Finnegan’s Grill. He left Cox in the car while he ran inside to get his friends, but only came out with Desmond “Dez” Hinds. Henry, Cox and Hinds were in the idling car waiting for the other two friends when Mount Pleasant police officer Robert Gagnon tapped on the window. “You have to move the car,” he said.
At the same time, another Pleasantville police officer, Aaron Hess, yelled for the car to stay in place. Hess stepped in front of the car to prevent if from moving. The contradictory orders and the conditions of visibility that evening create a moment of confusion.
According to passengers Cox and Hinds, the car windows were foggy from condensation and it was difficult to see clearly out the front windshield. Reports are unclear of what happened next. Henry may have slowed down or accelerated, but the car ended up striking Hess, causing him to fall on top of the hood.
At this point, Hess pulled out his gun and fired four shots into the windshield. Henry was struck in multiple areas and badly wounded. Passenger Brandon Cox was wounded as well from a bullet graze. Police pulled the bleeding Henry out of the car and laid him face down on the pavement, handcuffing him as the life breath expired in the cool night.
While Officer Hess received immediate help for superficial injuries, Henry was left bleeding out on the pavement in front of the bar. Several students and spectators tried to help Henry, but video shows them being pushed, punched, and threatened both verbally and with guns to back away from the crime scene. A few students were tasered. Though probable still alive, police claimed he was unresponsive to emergency personnel.
Henry’s family believe the police on the scene were negligent in providing treatment. They have sued Officers Ronald Gagnon and Kevin Gilmartin for their lack of medical support in the early moments.
Mount Pleasant Police Chief Louis Alagno told the New York Times: “There was a slight delay because I don’t think that the officers realized Mr. Henry’s condition right away. I believe that there was not a lot of blood.” The Journal News, a local newspaper that covered the incident, wrote that police failure to recognize the gravity of Henry’s wounds could “partially explain why he wasn’t getting immediate medical attention.”
Aftermath — Justice for Henry?
Police Officer Aaron Hess was cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury. He was later honored as police officer of the year by the Police Benevolent Association, the local chapter of the patrolmen’s union in the Pleasantville Police Department.
Henry’s family filed a federal lawsuit against the MVPD. On April 7, 2015, the court closed the case four and a half years after the incident. The prosecution stated the following: “Finally, although racial animus need not be shown to establish a deprivation of rights under color of law, the evidence indicated that because of the darkness, the glare of the headlights and streetlamps, and the condensation on the windows, the Pleasantville officer would in all likelihood not have been able to see who the driver was or the driver’s race.”
The family is still searching for answers.
Cohen, Shawn and Rebecca Baker. “The Shooting of Danroy Henry: What We Know.” The Journal News. April 2012.
Cohen, Shawn and Rebecca Baker. “Video supports claims that Danroy Henry didn’t receive immediate medical attention.” The Journal News. Mar. 14, 2012.
Cohen, Shawn and Rebecca Baker. “Danroy Henry shooting: Newly released video, statements show confused scene for all.” The Journal News. Apr. 15, 2012.
Crimesider Staff of CBS News. “Danroy Henry Update: Family of student killed by cop say 1st official account of shooting was purposely misleading.” CBS News. Jan. 25, 2013.
CBS Boston Staff. “US Prosecutor: No Civil Rights Charges in Shooting of DJ Henry.” CBS Boston. Apr. 17, 2015.
CBS New York and AP Staff. “Cop Who Shot and Killed Pace Student Named Officer of the Year.” CBS New York. Apr. 13, 2011.
DJ Dream Fund. “About Us – DJ Dream Fund.” 2015.
Human Rights Watch Study: Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States. “Low Rate of Federal Prosecutions.” June 1998.
Johnson, Akilah. “2010 killing by police still haunts parents.” The Boston Globe. Jan. 19, 2015.
Kovaleski, Serge F. and Trymaine Lee. “After Police Shots, Grief and Conflicting Stories.” The New York Times. Dec. 5, 2010.
Martin, Phillip. “DJ Henry and the Training of Police, Part 1: A Crowd, A Car and A Gun.” WGBH News. Oct. 17, 2011.
Martin, Phillip. “DJ Henry and the Training of Police, Part 2: DJ Henry, Eurie Stamps and Race.” WGBH News. Oct. 18, 2011.
Martin, Phillip. “DJ Henry and the Training of Police, Part 3: DJ Henry and the Police Response.” WGBH News. Oct. 19, 2011.
Martin, Phillip. “What Really Happened on Oct. 17, 2010?” WGBH News. Mar. 13, 2012.
Rivera, Ray and Trymaine Lee. “Many Questions on Killing of Pace Student by Police.” The New York Times. Oct. 18, 2010.
Spillane, Matt. “No federal charges in DJ Henry shooting.” Lohud.com for The Journal News. Apr. 7, 2015.
Sussman & Watkins, Attorneys at Law. “The D.J. Henry Case: Mount Plesant – Rule 26(a) Disclosures.” Released in March of 2012.
United States Attorney’s Office Southern Districk of New York. Press Release: Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office Closes Investigation Into The Death Of Danroy Henry, Jr. Apr. 7, 2015.
The Beating of Robert Davis
It is a warm October night on Bourbon Street in 2005. The street, full to the brim with bars, is not as rowdy as usual—Katrina had just ravished the city. Mounted officers roam the streets as well as officers on foot. It is a quiet Sunday night.
A handsome older gentleman enters a hotel elevator, pushes the button to go down, and steps out into the and the warm night air. He is Robert Davis, a retired school teacher, and owner of several houses in the flooded district of New Orleans. The buildings are now in disrepair and he, in turn, is in despair. He walks the street in search of cigarettes. He needs a smoke badly. Since he had quit drinking 25 years ago, his vice turned from alcohol to tobacco.
As he strolls the street, his trepidation of the citywide curfew leads him to approach a mounted police officer to check on the curfew hour. Little does he know that he is about to become an international symbol of the brutal practices of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD).
The next day Robert Davis is the face of NOPD violent tactics. His battered mug shot is depicted on major TV networks, national newspapers, and online journals. It is the face of a once handsome 64 year old black man who survived a vicious beating at the hands of the cops: one eye ghastly swollen, cheek cut and puffy, and a tragic, confused look in the opened eye like a pathetic animal.
The mug shot isn’t the only thing that is disseminated. A graphic video of the incident is played on endless loop on CNN and other stations. It is of Davis punched repeatedly in the head by two police officers and shoved to the ground forcefully, with other officials joining in.
Suddenly the target of the police riot changes when they go after the film crew taping the beating. A police officer yelling profanities chases after the producer and the cameraman and slams Associated Press News Producer Rich Mathews against a car.
Meanwhile, Davis is arrested for public intoxication, resisting arrest, battery on a police officer, and police intimidation. He is treated at an emergency room with facial fractures, including a broken nose and another broken face bone, and received several stitches.
Why and how did all of this happen? What caused such an escalation in police violence?
According to Robert Davis, he simply asked the mounted officer about the curfew time. During the exchange, Officer Robert Evangelist, interrupted the conversation. Davis asked that Evangelist not “interfere” in the discussion, a phrase that clearly upset the officer. When Davis attempted to cross the street, he heard Evangelist say, “ I will kick your ass.” The officer ran up and started punching him. Another nearby office, Lance Shilling, soon joined in.
Two other men jumped in as the cops tried to subdue the helpless Davis. The four men forced him to the ground while kneeing him in the stomach. The two new participants turned out to be FBI agents passing by the scene. Davis was arrested on a charge of public intoxication — ironic because he claims to be a recovering alcoholic with 25 years of sobriety.
Officer Robert Evangelist told a different story of the encounter. He entirely disputed using excessive force and claimed that Davis had called him a swearword initially. He said that he ignored the insult but thought Davis was intoxicated because he had “bumped into” the back of the mounted police horse.
Upon seeing this, Evangelist then put his hands on Davis to help him out of the street and onto the sidewalk so they could talk. He claims that Davis refused to be patted down, and pushed away from the wall he was facing. At that point, Evangelist and Lance Shilling attempted to handcuff Davis but he resisted arrest. Evangelist admits to striking Davis twice on the right elbow with an expandable baton, and when on the ground, striking him in the right shoulder and kicking him. All of the actions were taken to handcuff Davis, he says.
Several eyewitness accounts tend to corroborate the testimony of Robert Davis and contradict the statements of police. Michael Monaghan, of Florida, said he and a friend were walking down Bourbon Street when they came upon officers beating a man. He described Davis as “knocked to the ground” with multiple officers trying to get a hold of his legs and arms. He said one of the law enforcement officers kicked Davis in the back of the head. Debby Cylne, of Vancouver, British Columbia, who was in town working with nonprofit organizations. That night, she saw Davis up against the wall being beaten by several uniformed officers. She claims to have yelled at them to stop but was ignored.
When shown the graphic footage t the time, Police superintendent Warren Riley said, “The actions that were observed on this video are certainly unacceptable by this department.” New Orlean Mayor Ray Nagin, himself African American, agreed saying, “ I don’t know what the gentleman did, but whatever he did, he didn’t deserve what I saw on tape.”
Meanwhile, CBS news correspondent Byron Pitts reported that it is a violation of the New Orleans Police Department’s policy to strike a suspect in the head. Film evidence showed Davis being hit in the head at least four times.
Despite the evidence contradicting police accounts, the NOPD claimed that the officers “were justified in their actions and they were using the amount of force necessary to overcome the situation.”
Post Hurriance Katrina Stress Syndrome
The New Orleans Police Department operated under an extraordinary degree of stress in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina. This circumstance may help to explain some of the cause of undue police violence. It seemed to play a role in the incident where a copy went after the Associated Press cameramen for filming the beating of Robert Davis. incident. Footage captured Officer Stuart Smith shoving producer Rich Mathews backwards over a car and screaming, “I’ve been here for six weeks trying to keep….alive…Go Home!”
During the Katrina crisis, police officers sleep in their cars and work 24-hour shifts. Most experienced the lose of homes and scattered families. An estimated 12 officers were suspected of looting or condoning looting at a Wal-Mart. Others were investigated for stealing cars from a dealership in the chaos. And nearly 250 officers on the 1,450 member force are under investigation for leaving their posts during the storm. At least two commit suicide.
Nonetheless, the NOPD had a well-known reputation for brutal practices before the hurricane, including The American Civil Liberties Union investigations of at least 10 brutality complaints.
“There’s a credibility issue that is manifesting itself in New Orleans,” said Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission of Greater New Orleans, a police watchdog group. “Part of that is the disconnect the public feels with the police department. The reputation of corruption lingers and the new problems compound it.”
Justice for Robert Davis?
Subsequent investigation into the attack on Robert Davis brought some resolution. The police officers Smith, Schilling, and Evangelist faced various charges of unprofessional conduct by the police department. They were suspended without pay and Schilling and Evangelist were eventually fired. Smith was suspended for four months.
The officers also faced various charges in New Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. Officer Evangelist was acquitted of charges; Officer Shilling committed suicide in an unrelated incident before going to trial. The District Court threw out the charges against Officer Smith on procedural grounds.
Meanwhile, Davis filed a civil suit against the City of New Orleans and the two FBI agents in U.S. District Court. The Court dismissed the case against FBI agents Stephen Noh and Trent Miley on procedural grounds.
, but the case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman due to a statue of limitations. He waited too long to add them as defendants in his civil suit against the city of New Orleans. In August 2009, the city of New Orleans reached a settlement with Davis.
The financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed but his lawyer said that Davis was “pleased with the outcome of the case.” Nonetheless, the mental and emotional damage of the beating still linger.
In a larger context, the story of Robert Davis helped to cast a spotlight on the behavior of an out of control police department. As a result, the New Orleans Police Department had no choice but to take steps to restore public confidence in the department. The efforts to restore public trust and confidence continue to this day.
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“Community Activist Calls New Orleans Police Beating “Typical Behavior”” Democracy Now! Democracy Now!, 12 Oct. 2005. Web. 8 May 2015. <http://www.democracynow.org/2005/10/12/community_activist_calls_new_orleans_police>.
Foster, Mary. “New Orleans Officers Taped Beating Man.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 10 Oct. 2005. Web. 8 Apr. 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/09/AR2005100901161.html>.
McCarthy, Brendan. “Federal Lawsuit in Beating of Man by Police in French Quarter after Katrina Is Settled by City.” Nola.com. The Times Picayune, 7 Aug. 2009. Web. 8 May 2015. <http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/08/federal_lawsuit_in_beating_of.html>.
“Misconduct Reports Plague New Orleans Police.” Msnbc.com. Associated Press/ MSNBC, 19 Oct. 2005. Web. 8 May 2015. <http://www.nbcnews.com/id/9754730/ns/us_news-katrina_the_long_road_back/t/misconduct-reports-plague-new-orleans-police/#.VUz99a1Vikp>.
“New Orleans Cops Fired over Videotaped Beating.” Msnbc.com. Associated Press/ MSNBC, 21 Dec. 2005. Web. 8 May 2015. <http://www.nbcnews.com/id/10563677/#.VUz9sK1Vikp>.
Pace, Gina. “New Orleans Man: I Wasn’t Drunk.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 9 Oct. 2005. Web. 8 May 2015. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-orleans-man-i-wasnt-drunk/>.
“Police Officer Acquitted of Beating Man in Hurricane Katrina’s Aftermath.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 25 July 2007. Web. 8 May 2015. <http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/07/25/police-officer-acquitted-beating-man-in-hurricane-katrina-aftermath/>.
Thevenot, Brian. “NOPD Officer Accused in Beating Commits Suicide.” Nola.com. The Times Picayune, 11 June 2007. Web. 8 May 2015. <http://blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/06/nopd_officer_accused_in_beatin.html>.
Thevenot, Brian. “NOPD Officer Found Not Guilty in Beating Case.” Nola.com. The Times Picayune, 27 July 2007. Web. 8 Apr. 2015. <http://blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/07/nopd_officer_found_not_guilty.html>.
Mugshot of Robert Davis. AP Photo/HO New Orleans Police.
Photo of Robert Davis with hat and glasses. Alex Brandon/ AP photo
Stills from the footage of the beatings. Evans, Mel. “New Orleans Taped Beating.” AP photo. Oct 8, 2005
Photo of Police with Riot gear. Creative Commons /Ammar Adb Rabbo. 2010.
Abbreviated List of the Studies and Reports on Policing Used by Journalism Students
1. The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Interim Report March 2015. http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/interim_tf_report.pdf
2. Human Rights Watch. “Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States” (1998) http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports98/police/index.htm
3. American Civil Liberties Union. “Driving While Black: Racial Profiling on Our Nation’s Highways,” David Harris, ed. (1999) https://www.aclu.org/report/driving-while-black-racial-profiling-our-nations-highways?redirect=racial-justice/driving-while-black-racial-profiling-our-nations-highways
4. Center for Constitutional Rights. “Floyd, et al v City of New York, et al” (Class Action Lawsuit Against NYPD Practice of Stop & Frisk) (2014) http://ccrjustice.org/floyd
5. Kelling, George and James Q Wilson. “Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety.” The Atlantic Monthly, March 1982. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/03/broken-windows/304465/?single_page=true
6. Kappeler, Victory. “A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing.” Eastern Kentucky University. January 7, 2014. http://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/brief-history-slavery-and-origins-american-policing
7. Emerson College announcement: http://www.emerson.edu/news-events/emerson-college-today/journalism-students-examine-police-race-relations#.VVZWt5Mni0I