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Two days after a protest in his name brought traffic in Capitol Hill to a halt, 18-year-old Jason Goolsby spoke publicly about being pinned to the ground by two police officers and detained with his friend Michael Brown for almost two hours: an incident that Goolsby’s and Brown’s supporters say happened because they are black.
“I just don’t want it to happen again,” Goolsby said to a room full of observers at the University of the District of Columbia law school, in Van Ness. “I want justice.”
The Grenier Law Group is representing Goolsby, a freshman at UDC, and Brown, a senior at Richard Wright Public Charter School, as they consider a lawsuit against the District. The firm hasn’t filed one yet, but principal attorney Peter C. Grenier said at this afternoon’s press conference that the group is “fully investigating” Monday’s incident and intends “to hold all culpable individuals, as well as the District of Columbia, responsible through whatever legal means possible.” That could come in the form of a constitutional claim based on the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, Grenier added, which govern “unreasonable search and seizure” and the guarantee of due process, respectively.
According to Grenier, on the day of the incident, Goolsby and Brown had attended a “boot camp” in Southeast to train as volunteers to counsel youth on safe sex and AIDS prevention. Goolsby, a musician, had a studio session scheduled for Monday night that he needed $35 to pay for; having only $15 in his wallet, Goolsby—along with Brown and a third friend—visited the Citibank at the corner of 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE. But before Goolsby could use the ATM, Grenier said, the studio owner texted Goolsby to say he had to postpone their session until the next day.
Around the same time, according to Grenier, a white family consisting of a man, woman, and baby in a stroller walked towards the bank. Goolsby held open the door for the family because of their stroller, but the groups did not share any words. Minutes later, as Goolsby—intending to take the 90 bus to visit his brother at Howard University—crossed 8th Street SE, he saw a police SUV driving quickly in his direction, “which he perceived was trying to run him over,” Grenier said; an officer holding pepper spray in one hand and touching his gun in the other got out of the SUV and told Goolsby to “get on the ground.” Fearing for his life—a sentiment Goolsby echoed in separate comments—the 18-year-old told the officer he had done no wrong, and ran for his safety.
What happened next was recorded partially by Brown and has been shared widely online: Police tackled Goolsby and pinned him down, before turning to Brown as he captured the incident on his phone. According to Grenier, the two sat in handcuffs on the pavement for about two hours. Goolsby repeatedly asked the officers, all white, what they had detained him and his friend for, but received no answer, the attorney said. When a Metropolitan Police Department supervisor arrived, the officers removed the handcuffs and said there had been a “misunderstanding.”
“I have zero doubt that if these young men were white, none of this would have happened,” Grenier said this afternoon. “Apparently no one considered that Jason might actually have been at the bank to withdraw money from his bank account.”
Ronald Mason, the president of UDC, explained that the conference’s venue was chosen because the school has a mission of fighting “for justice through the means of the law.”
“I would say fear is the dominant theme of this entire event that happened on Monday,” he said. “The truth is that our nation is in jeopardy because we kill or stifle and fail to see the true potential that young men like Jason and Michael represent.” Mason added that Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposal to expand D.C.’s police body-camera initiative to include more cops “will bring things that have been hidden for a very long time to light.”
The Bowser administration released a statement on the incident this afternoon (which references the ongoing debate the mayor’s office is having with the D.C. Council over police body-camera legislation), saying: “The Metropolitan Police Department is conducting a review of Monday’s unfortunate incident to ensure that all procedures were followed. Additionally, Mr. Goolsby and Mr. Brown can choose to file a complaint, which will result in an independent review.”
Police Chief Cathy Lanier has yet to publicly comment on the incident; MPD released a statement Tuesday saying an “individual resisted [police], and was handcuffed while resisting after he refused to stop”; “the person making the video” was detained too. Neither Goolsby or Brown was arrested or charged.
Asked what he would say to the woman who reportedly called police to report a “suspicious person,” Goolsby said, after pausing for a bit: “I don’t know at this point.”
Photo by Andrew Giambrone