August 28, 2014

It's Supposed to be a Free Country, But It Don't Feel Free

This incident occurred in a downtown skyway in St. Paul MN. The brother unlawfully arrested by police is named Chris Lollie. All counts were dismissed July 31 after his attorney went to court with surveillance video from the skyway and witness statements.

It's supposed to be a free country. But it don't feel free.

I don't feel free, my sons are not free, when I get up and go to work, and walk the streets of my city every day knowing that if you are black, you can have done nothing at all and still have to justify everything you do to a cop to satisfy their sense of being in charge and having authority over you or risk being arrested, physically restrained or beaten, tasered or even killed. The straight up reality of life is that it can go down on you just like it happened to this brother in even the most trivial interaction with police.  I know cops personally that I respect and like. I work with cops. I've sat across the table with law enforcement men and women of my city from the Public Safety Director to the Chief, District Commanders, Lieutenants, right on down to patrol officers. All people of integrity and yet it is still the reality that this can happen to you, does happen with frequency.  And there is little accountability.  The St. Paul police retained this cell phone recording of the incident for 6 months. We pay most of the price.  The charges against this brother were eventually dropped, months later.  This brother had to go to court, pay costs, pay for a lawyer and fight the entire system for the right to be accorded some basic respect for his rights as a citizen and the expectation that police officers will use sound professional judgement. I doubt much of consequence happened to the officers who arrested him.

He was subjected to this treatment because someone called the police on him for simply being black and sitting in a public space trying to pass the time waiting for his children to get out of school. He explained all that, the children were there. The officers didn't use any judgement to assess the situation. It was all about compelling him to do as he was told, not about determining if there was some threat to public safety. He was polite, he was articulate and none of it mattered because the objective wasn't determining if there was a real problem, it was just about making him do what they told him. In Aurora Co., where a white teen walked into a theater and shot multiple people dead, another teen walked around on the streets recently with a gun as a political statement about 2nd amendment rights. Onlookers were alarmed and called the police and when they came, he refused to give his name and refused to relinquish his weapon. After some conversation, the police left him alone. Contrast that with this. No weapon, no real or implied threat, sitting in a public place he had a right to be in. That got him physically assaulted, tasered, arrested.  In front of his kids daycare class and teachers.

Make no mistake. I'm a grown, law abiding citizen.  I've never been in trouble with the law a day in my life. But whenever I have an encounter with police in the performance of their duties, I do so with a profound awareness and the complete conviction in the back of my mind that if I'm not careful in word and deed its entirely possible that even a trivial police interaction could get me hurt or killed.

It's supposed to be a free country. But it don't feel free.