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Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie told nearly 100 people Wednesday night at Howard University that he’s been unjustifiably stopped so many times by D.C. police that he’s stopped keeping track.
“I can’t count how many times I’ve been [walking] through on the sidewalk and asked to take off my Timberlands and searched for no reason,” he said.
McDuffie described his interactions with law enforcement at a D.C. Council judicial and public safety hearing led by committee chair and Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells. The hearing—-it sometimes felt like a rally—-was the first of two that Wells convened on police tactics and policies when stopping residents, including the controversial “jump-out” and “stop-and-frisk” practices. The hearing comes in the wake of the Ferguson, Mo., shooting of teen Michael Brown and increased scrutiny nationwide of racially motivated and sometimes violent interactions between police officers and residents, particularly black men.
Twenty-five people signed up to testify last night. Wells, McDuffie, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, and At-Large Councilmember David Grosso were in attendance. McDuffie’s comments came right after Jamal Muhammad of We Act Radio said the city has not “seen enough from the black councilmembers” on this persistent problem.
Residents and activists shared personal anecdotes and stats to largely paint the Metropolitan Police Department as one that systematically profiles, intimidates, and violates the black residents it is paid to protect.
“This is a country that locks up black people at a rate six times that of South Africa during apartheid,” said Alec Karakatsanis, a civil rights lawyer and co-founder of Equal Justice Under Law. “And this is a city with racially biased arrest and incarceration statistics that far exceed even the disgraceful national average.”
Residents and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said MPD needs to be more transparent and officers need to be held more accountable for their actions. Kymone Freeman, a black D.C. resident who told councilmembers about the times he was wrongfully detained and beaten up by cops, says the Police Complaints Board needs to actually have the power to discipline officers—-right now it can make recommendations to other city officials. He says he’s filed three complaints himself and nothing has come of them. (MPD announced last month that some police officers will start wearing body cameras.)
The councilmembers urged everyone to file complaints, anyway. Even though nothing may immediately result from them, they said, it’s important to have the complaints on record so, at the very least, city officials can use them to try and change the status quo.
The hearing came a day after the Washington Post published a video showing a black man in an upper Northwest neighborhood being stopped by police and wrongfully accused of a robbery. A white woman came to his defense and told police to leave. The video highlighted the different ways black and white residents are able to talk to the police. A black man, as one resident said at last night’s hearing, would never be able to talk back to a police officer. Those could be his last words.
“There is no question that there is a deep racism here,” Wells said at the hearing.
The second hearing will be on Oct. 27 in the Wilson Building. Police are scheduled to testify.
Photo by Perry Stein.