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A pair of incidents that occurred in front of Nook’s Barbershop in Deanwood last month between several Metropolitan Police Department officers and the men who regularly hang out on the block has ignited a firestorm in the community. Now activists and residents want to view the body camera footage to see what happened for themselves.
Yesterday, the ACLU of DC sent a letter co-signed by 14 other local activist organizations to Mayor Muriel Bowser, urging her to release the MPD body-worn camera footage of the June 13 incident (which wasn’t shared on social media platforms until June 22) and a subsequent incident on June 25th to the public.
On June 13, three plain clothed police officers arrived at the Sheriff Road NE barbershop in an unmarked police vehicle and asked the men hanging out on the block about the tinted windows of a Volvo parked on on the block, cell phone camera footage shows. The officers then asked to see the men’s IDs. Minutes later, nearly a dozen officers arrived on the scene and the tension escalated as the officers positioned themselves to arrest a young black man for unclear reasons.
The video, along with a public outcry from residents, inspired Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, to hold a public hearing on police-community relations in Wards 7 and 8. The all-day, two-part hearing, which was at times attended by more than half the D.C. Council, included government officials—among them MPD chief Peter Newsham—explaining their policing methods, and residents sharing their stories of police misconduct and abuse. One of the stories shared during the hearing, from a resident who was captured on video being anally probed by an MPD officer, has led to a lawsuit.
In another incident described in the ACLU of DC’s letter but not captured on video, officers allegedly returned to the block on the evening of June 25 and confronted some of the same residents who regularly hang out there. The confrontation allegedly turned violent, with MPD officers pepper-spraying residents, including a small child. Several arrests were made, but the charges were dismissed, according to the letter.
Anthony Lorenzo Green, the ANC Commissioner for 7C04, tells City Paper that these kinds of confrontations are par for course in the neighborhood. Earlier this week, Newsham attended a Deanwood Citizens Association meeting to address MPD’s fraught relationship with many community residents. Green and Newsham exchanged words while discussing the two Nook’s Barbershop incidents.
“All of my comments were specifically about what the discussion was around. These young men, in Deanwood and other neighborhoods across the city, being harassed in the name of public safety,” Green says. “I didn’t go around demonizing his whole police force, as he accused me of. No, we’re talking about these bad actors that you’ve got roving the city. Essentially we’re talking about the Gun Recovery Unit.”
Not all Deanwood residents are critical of the MPD. The homicide rate in D.C. is nearly 50 percent higher than it was at this time last year and some feel safer with more police on the streets. The recent shooting death of 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson outside the Clay Terrace apartments in Deanwood shook the community.
Green struggles to explain why he believes more policing isn’t going to solve violent crime. “Police cannot solve poverty … we really have to be serious about changing people’s lives if we really want to solve crime and make our communities safer,” Green says. “And we have to start by having a real village where we’re policing our own. Where we’re actually looking out for each other. Where we’re actually communicating with each other. Not just looking out the window and seeing a group of black boys and assuming that everybody’s doing something wrong, and calling the police over and over and over. That’s not solving anything.”
Prior to the ACLU of DC’s letter, Green sent his own letter to Bowser asking her release the body camera footage of both incidents around Nook’s Barbershop. He says he hasn’t received any communication from the Mayor or her office about the letter. The Mayor’s Office did not respond to City Paper‘s request for comment on the letters.