It started with a video. Two District police officers pin down and handcuff a young black male wearing blue headphones and a denim jacket as he screams on the pavement.
Today we we’re harassed and assaulted because ” someone felt uncomfortable around us ” in a bank . RETWEET
— #justiceforjason (@darealbighomiee) October 13, 2015
Twitter user @darealbighomiee posted the 30-second clip he’d recorded Monday near the Citibank at 600 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. By Tuesday afternoon, the footage had gone viral, catalyzing a protest organized by local Black Lives Matter activists in support of Jason Goolsby, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of D.C. Police allegedly detained Goolsby for fleeing from them and “resisting” when they responded to a call for “a suspicious person” at 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, according to an official statement. But ralliers interviewed said Goolsby did nothing wrong and was only trying to withdraw money from an ATM at the bank; as one protester put it, police “targeted [Jason] because he was a black man near money.”
“It was absolutely because he’s black, and because black people are treated as criminals, treated as potentially lethal subjects to the state, and there’s no regard for black life, and in particular where police are concerned,” said Lydia Marie, an activist who participated in the rally, which became a march throughout Capitol Hill. “So excessive force is the only approach that they use to handle or manage situations involving black people.”
In an interview with the Washington Post Tuesday, Goolsby said he held open the Citibank location’s door for a woman with a stroller, around 6:15 p.m. After debating whether to get money from the ATM while standing outside, he saw police cars coming toward him. Goolsby added that one of the cars almost hit him, at which point he ran for three blocks in the direction of Barracks Row. “This whole thing is making my head spin… They never read me my rights [or] apologized,” he said, unaware of Tuesday’s rally.
Metropolitan Police Department Lieutenant Sean Conboy told the Guardian that “no criminal act was found to have taken place after the individuals [depicted in the video] were stopped and interviewed,” explaining that MPD is “reviewing the circumstances surrounding the stop to ensure that policies and procedures were followed.” D.C. Police Union Chief Delroy Burton said officers subdued the person properly, according to WJLA.
More than two dozen people assembled, marched, and shouted on Barracks Row, turning northwest onto Pennsylvania Avenue SE and ultimately stopping traffic in both directions for over half an hour. The protesters initially gathered outside the Richard Wright Public Charter School at 770 M St. SE, where Goolsby graduated last year. (He even performed a music video tribute for it titled, “My School is So Awesome.”) “Justice for Jason now!” the protesters chanted. “No justice, no peace.” (Soon after: “Whose streets? Our streets!”)
Black Lives Matter organizer Erika Totten said she was Goolsby’s ninth-grade English teacher at Richard Wright four years ago, explaining that he was an “awesome kid” with a passion for music. She said the traffic disruption helped “raise awareness” surrounding Jason’s story, and that people need to feel “uncomfortable” to recognize systemic racism.
“He was one of the sweetest boys that I’ve had the honor of teaching,” Totten says. “He wouldn’t hurt anybody. And just to hear that somebody would fear him [as a suspicious person] is absolutely because he’s a black boy. He was standing in line waiting to get to the ATM like anybody else and then somebody said that they feared he was going to rob them, and that was what caused the brutalization.”
She says the police who detained Goolsby should face consequences, whether through investigation, suspension, or firing.
Police led and followed the crowd to the Citibank but made no arrests. Protesters joined hands in a line stretching down the middle of 6th Street SE, backing up westbound vehicles for at least two blocks. “Cars are not more important than our bodies,” Totten said through a megaphone. Former candidate for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council Eugene Puryear also used a megaphone to lead ralliers in a chant of “I believe that we will win!”
“It’s heartening to see folks come out,” Puryear told City Desk. “I think [Jason’s case] bears out the reality of policing in this country: The actions of police aren’t benign oftentimes. We need to see a bit more on what happened.”
The video of Goolsby’s detainment and the tackling of his friend arrives just as the Council prepares to hear testimony next week on Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to expand the District’s police body-camera program, now in a pilot. D.C. recently won $1 million from the U.S. Department of Justice to implement its body camera program. Officials hope the devices will boost police accountability and prevent violent responses. They could also furnish facts about police incidents, like those missing in Goolsby’s case.
“I’m here to get answers about the details we don’t know,” a UDC senior who identified himself as Stanley explained. “We don’t always have to violently handle the situation.”
At least one Richard Wright student participated in the rally. Her name was Jade Yates, a senior, who says she knew of Goolsby before he graduated. Yates says she learned about the incident through a group-chat with her AP classmates Monday, but was disappointed that none participated in the protest with her.
“It’s the day before SATs and we had a test today, but that’s not a good reason to not come out,” she said. “Because you won’t have a future if you get killed by the police or if any of your friends get killed by the police. That’s why you need to be out here.”
Photos by Andrew Giambrone