Racist cops in a major American city? No surprise, right? Recently it's been San Francisco and Los Angeles law enforcement and in my experience throughout our state but here's a great story from Louisville showing California doesn't have an exclusive on police misconduct.
Law enforcement is supposed to uphold our nation's values, but way too often members of one or another police force are caught red-handed, violating some of the very laws they are supposed to enforce. Because a police badge is a symbol of power, victims of police abuse are often unprotected, and it becomes almost impossible for them to succeed in their quest for justice, especially when it is a case of their word against an officer's.
Technology Puts a Spotlight on Police Conduct (and Misconduct)
In the era of public surveillance cameras and YouTube videos however, evidence is sometimes available to back up claims about police misconduct. That was the case of Marcel Williams Jr., who reported he was mistreated by Louisville police during a traffic stop last year. The Police Department is currently in possession of an audio recording in which white officers verbally abuse Williams and two other African Americans and use the term “f—ing monkeys” to refer to them.
It was Mr. Williams who accidentally made the recording when he and his companions were approached by police by a Louisville bridge on March 21st of last year. Williams released the recording to local media, which then passed it on to the Louisville Metro Police Department.
Without the recording, the officers might have never been held accountable for their wrongdoing. As things are, it is still unclear that measures will be taken against them. In a statement, Deputy Chief Michael Sullivan tried to minimize the impact of the evidence, “Everybody will have feelings about this (but) we need to find out the full facts before we pass any sort of judgment and make any decision on what has actually occurred in this situation.”
Williams was with his cousin and a friend at the time of the incident. The two other men were charged with possession of marijuana and ended up paying a fine. Williams, a substitute teacher who works with disabled kids, held on to the recording he had made with his cell phone until his attorney heard it and advised him to make it public.
Police Misconduct Victims Must Speak Out
It is extremely important for defendants to report this type of police misconduct, because it can often spotlight a trumped up case against them. When police fails to react and discipline officers, defendants are left at a disadvantage. Williams, who was on prescription medication for a back injury at the time of the arrest, was also charged with possession of an illegal substance.
The recording is self-evident in terms of just how wrong the officers' behavior was. When one of the officers allegedly believed Williams had concealed drugs in his mouth, he allegedly dug into it, and then called him, “Stupid mother f—er,” which can be heard clearly in the audio.
Williams told reporters that the officers also pulled their weapons, before handcuffing him and the two other men. The f-word appears several times in the recording. When local media contacted them, the officers declined to comment on their behavior that night.
Policing Based on Race? It's not just Ferguson
“I felt my life was in danger,” Williams told the media. After hearing the audio Deputy Chief Sullivan commented, “We don't tolerate policing based on race,” and promised to investigate the matter fully.
Meanwhile, Williams said all he wanted was to know that “it will never happen again, not only to me, but to others.” He mentioned he believed he owed his life to his personality. “I'm calm… collected. I'm glad I was able to keep my composure… If my father had been sitting in that car, he'd be dead.” While his statement may sound dramatic, our country has seen enough cases of white police officers shooting black suspects in dubious circumstances to make us take him very seriously.
I believe we must demand more transparency from police departments around the country. I'm involved in a police shooting case right now where better communication and a spotlight on the police would definitely have saved a life.
The last thing we want in our democracy is law enforcement that does not respect Americans' civil rights and yet here we are – I hope you'll speak up when YOUR rights are violated. We see police misconduct in many of the criminal and civil rights cases we handle here at Tully-Weiss. If your rights or those of a loved one were trampled by law enforcement misconduct I hope you'll give us a call.