The Police Accountability Report talks with two victims of mass incarceration and police brutality, and reveals a distinct theory of how American policing has evolved to dangerous ends.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Taya Graham: Hello, my name is Taya Graham and welcome to The Police Accountability Report. Remember, this show has a single purpose, holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. But we don’t stop there. We also questioned the entire system that bolsters it, meaning capitalism, income inequality, and the political economy that makes it all work. And for this show, we’re going to break this process down in all its splendor. We are going to show how the system has continued to grind through the crisis, showing little empathy or even rationality when it comes to COVID-19 pandemic.
But before I get started, I want you watching know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us and we might be able to investigate. Please reach out to us. You can email us tips privately at email@example.com and share your evidence of police misconduct. Or you can message me directly on Twitter or Facebook @tayasbaltimore. That’s out of the way.
Now, for those of you who watched our last show, you will remember this, six cops making a minor arrest of a man they suspected, but could not prove, had been driving while intoxicated. The arrest was captured by The Real News photo journalist, Cameron Granadino. But we did some digging on what happened and thanks to one of our viewers, we uncovered some more details. Now you might ask why. Why should we continue to investigate a minor arrest and then all the other chaos of a major pandemic? It’s a good question, and I’ll answer it.
This week the state of Maryland announced its first death of an inmate due to the coronavirus, and Maryland is not alone. Across the country, dozens of inmates have died due to COVID-19 while in prison. In other words, the process of law enforcement in this country has far reaching consequences. The continued prosecution of minor arrests amid a crisis reveals an aspect of our criminal justice system, which is worth highlighting and must be fully understood. Because it is here, in this minor arrest, we see all the negative aspects of over-policing and mass incarceration writ large.
First, I’m going to ask my colleague, Stephen Janis, what he has found out and what he has learned about this case. Stephen, what have you learned?
Stephen Janis: Well, one of our viewers was very kind to get us the radio scan information from this particular stop on April 1st, and so we’ve got a little bit information. Number one, what’s very interesting is we did discover his name and it appears that there had been no charges filed against this person. If you look on the scanner information, the next day they said they were going to charge him for assaulting a cop, but that never panned out. Basically, as far as we know, despite having six officers sit there and pile him in the back of the van, he never went to jail.
Taya Graham: Now there was a deadly shooting just a few blocks away, correct?
Stephen Janis: Well, it’s amazing, Taya, 16 shots were fired literally three blocks west of where this arrest was going. Six cops were taking care of this guy who presented no threat to public safety, and there was a murder three blocks away at the exact same time. It was really a crazy allocation of resources.
Taya Graham: Now, Stephen, we discussed an interesting theory of American law enforcement on our last show, the hegemonic theory of policing, the idea that there are two specific types of American policing that have evolved; one constructive, focused on solving crimes; and one hegemonic, focused on protecting social power. In which category does this arrest fit and why?
Stephen Janis: Well, I think you can look at the contracting situations, shooting three blocks away, which police ignore; six cops to take a guy who they say was drunk but then never charge and apparently didn’t give him a sobriety test on the scene. The point is that what that was about was about constructing the rhetorical power of police in the most visible way possible, this symbolic presence of police in the absence of crime. Meanwhile, contrasting that is a crime a few blocks down that they didn’t pay any attention to. Clearly, we have an example of hegemonic policing that you can see clearly.
Taya Graham: But to emphasize how consequential hegemonic policing can be, we want to go back to a story we reported last year. It was a tale of a local businessman who had been harassed by police. His name is Sean Weston. He’s a long-time Baltimore resident who ran several local convenience stores that have been targeted for raids nine times. Why? Because they said he was selling items like baby laxative that could be used to cut narcotics, but he argues was perfectly legal.
Sean Weston: And like I said, you come in my store, you’ll clearly see, the first thing as you come to a counter, I try my best to let people know that I don’t sell products for any illegal purposes.
Taya Graham: In fact, police raided his business so often, he filed a lawsuit claiming harassment, which he won. The reason we got in touch with Sean was due to his efforts to open a community center in Baltimore. When he spoke about it, he felt it was a way he could give back.
Sean Weston: Young guys to maybe get a job and give them something positive, something structural that they can do in their own community. That’s the whole purpose, it’s supposed to give a safe haven.
Taya Graham: But the country’s relentless war on drugs would eventually intervene. First, Weston’s store was raided, again, as you can see in this video. And then he was arrested, this time by the feds who alleged his sale of items, that were legal, still made him part of a broader conspiracy. They didn’t accuse him of dealing drugs or any other crimes. But now since the federal system does not have bail, he is sitting in prison awaiting trial, a sitting duck as COVID-19 spreads throughout the D.C. jail where he is housed. To get an update on his situation, we are joined by his fiance, Lachelle Lee. Lachelle, thank you so much for taking the time to join us.
Lachelle Lee: Sure, no problem. Thank you guys so much.
Taya Graham: Sean had been in prison for almost 10 months now. How has this impacted him and you?
Lachelle Lee: It has been really, really, really difficulty. Not just with myself but also with the 10 kids that he has. Him and I have two kids together, but he also has of the kids. It has been really hard from the time that they came in the house. I’m going to say maybe a month or two after that, my youngest son, he goes to therapy and he also sees a psychiatrist for that type of, I guess, that situation that happened because they came in with guns and everything.
It’s been really hard on us and I know with some people they feel like okay, 10 months is not a long time, but it’s a long time when someone has been with you for so many years, every day. That’s a long time. And then knowing every day that they call, that they still not coming home or you can’t see them. They still so far away, and they treating him like he’s some type of prisoner, that he had served time. He been in jail forever and he has not been in jail. This his first time ever having an offense that he actually had to sit in jail.
Taya Graham: What are your concerns for his safety with the coronavirus spreading?
Lachelle Lee: It’s hard. He has been in the medics almost other month or every other week. I might hear him say, “Oh, I done went to the medic. Oh, my leg’s swelling,” or “My asthma’s acting up,” or “I don’t feel good.” He can’t breathe. Then he’s telling me that they don’t have the proper cleaning stuff to clean up behind themselves. We can keep six feet away, but they can’t.
Taya Graham: He described horrible conditions with no water in lockdown. What has he told you? Isn’t he in a way being punished before being found guilty of a crime?
Lachelle Lee: Yes. That is definitely what’s going on. They turned water off. If I send him letters, he don’t get his letters till almost three to four weeks after the fact, so that’s like a month later. Like he said, they turned the water off. They’re not getting any soap. They can’t use the bathroom. They’re not getting that medical attention that they supposed to get when they’re locked up. If he’s hurting or something’s wrong with him, he can’t even go to see a medic. They’ll just look at him and said, “Oh, you okay. You fine.”
And he told me one time that the doctor inside of the jail told him that, “Oh, you’re a young man. You shouldn’t be complaining about your chest hurting or anything. You should be okay.” And then now he just told me that the judge just all of a sudden just told him that he’s not doing a motion for his trial and everything. He’s not filing a motion. And it’s just so much that it’s just like they’re treating him as if he’s this… I mean, like I said, like he’s some hardcore criminal-
Taya Graham: Now just to elaborate on how devastating the consequences of hegemonic policing can be, our next guest knows just how difficult it is to hold police accountable and why police are still making minor arrests that can have devastating consequences. Her name is to Tawanda Jones. Her brother was killed by police in 2013 during a routine traffic stop. Officers beat Tyrone West for 45 minutes after they pulled him over for making a U-turn. The ordeal led to his death and accusations of murder.
But his sister, Tawanda, has been tireless in trying to hold the officers who killed him accountable. For seven years, she has gathered every Wednesday in Baltimore to demand justice for her brother. And today, she joins me to discuss her efforts and what she thinks about American policing. Tawanda, thank you so much for joining me.
Tawanda Jones: Thank you so much for having me.
Taya Graham: Tawanda, tell me about some of the actions you’ve seen recently by police that have troubled you, for example, the video of the coughing cop came from our city.
Tawanda Jones: Yeah. Basically, when I saw that video of the cop coughing on folks, it broke my heart in more ways than what you know. And the reason why it broke my heart, because actually with people not taking the pandemic seriously right now, that could have been a teachable moment. Him being in a leadership position, he could have easily went out there and advocated and made sure that everybody was doing social distancing type of thing.
And then the young lady that spoke to him, she spoke nicely. She didn’t say anything disrespecting. All she said, “Hey, Officer Friendly with the big, red, bright cheeks,” or something like that. It was like one of those joyous things, I’m happy to see you type of things. And that was just response? That was devastating.
Taya Graham: Now, the theme of this show is police accountability, and you have been doing so much in our city for police accountability. Tell us how long you’ve been protesting your brother’s death in the hands of police?
Tawanda Jones: Actually I’ve been now protesting for 349 weeks nonstop. Right now, I made the decision to actually, because West Wednesday, in case people don’t know it is a protest that’s going on, going on for seven years, but it’s an outdoor protest. But because of the Corona-19 virus and this pandemic that’s going on, we actually made the right choice to actually bring it inside. We’re actually connecting with folks all around the world. Even though I wouldn’t wish anybody into this world, but I’m actually bringing folks that I basically and I met when I’ve been traveling all around the world advocating for police brutality.
Taya Graham: Tawanda, I know this is painful, but can you share the story of what happened to your brother so people understand why you started West Wednesdays?
Tawanda Jones: Basically, what happened to my brother, it’s a nightmare, and I wouldn’t wish this type of pain with anyone. On July 18, 2013, what started off as a beautiful day, because any day my brother was living and breathing was a beautiful day. I basically had just purchased a green Mercedes Benz and I didn’t have it even less than three months. But I caught myself letting my brother drive my car to and from work, and he would also take we to work as well, but I thought it was a safe haven. Long story short, within a half hour of brother literally drop me off in front of my door, me not knowing that this was going to be the last time I locked eyes with my brother.
But nevertheless, he dropped me off and within a half hour, he was actually brutally murdered. And the first two killer cops, Nicholas Davis Chapman and Officer Ruiz, they were the first two at my vehicle that actually started pulling my brother out by his dreadlocks. And these are eye witnesses that told us this. I heard cyber witnesses on the news [inaudible 00:12:13] actually video footage that me and my family probably will never see the actual brutal beating of my brother. Because they said the person that has that video was threatened by the police and actually moved out of state. I don’t know whoever he is, but if he hears me and is watching this, please, I urge you, don’t be afraid. Please turn over that video. Please, because we’d been out here fighting for accountability going on seven years, and I don’t care if takes another 70 years.
Taya Graham: I’m sorry to ask you something so painful, but can you tell us what witnesses saw police do to your brother?
Tawanda Jones: Basically, the witnesses describe that my brother was first pulled out the car by Chapman. They said that my brother pulled over. First of all, they said Chapman and Ruiz were in an unmarked car, so my brother wasn’t even sure why he was even being pulled over. Once he acknowledged that they were officers, he stopped by the stop sign. And when he pulled over, they said my brother had his hands out the window. He turned on the console in my car, so that way you can see, “Hey, I’m unarmed. I don’t know why you’re you pulling me over, but I’m going to abide by the law and be respectful.” He had his out the window.
They say that Chapman came to the window and immediately, pulled my brother. My brother’s like, “Why are you pulling me over?” He said, “This is what we do to you, N-word.” My brother’s like, “What?” And before he could even say a response other than “what”, he was pulled out by his dreadlocks. He started being pepper sprayed, tased, kicked, stomped and everything. Witnesses said that they came out and they tried to assist my brother, but they too were threatened. They were threatened with such vile language, I won’t dare use. They was threatened with, “Get the F back in your house” type of thing. “This can happen to you.”
And there was a dozen or more witnesses that actually saw the brutal beating of my brother. The way they described it, they said that, some type of signal 13 came out where it allowed a bunch of other officers to come. And at moment, my brother’s running because he’s trying to breathe. He’s running because it’s fight or flight. “I’m not going to fight you. I’m trying to survive.” He’s screaming, “Help. Help.” [inaudible 00:14:25] he’s yelling a victim name, right. He’s screaming for help. “Help. Help.” And before you know it, they said at least about 11 or 15 officers or more was pepper… They said that he got beat from one side of the street to the opposite side of the street, kicked, stomped and everything. Tased in his neck three times. Stomped, just brutally beat to death.
And then the saddest part after he’s brutally beat to death, he’s basically gasping for air. He was then thrown into a prone position, face down after being pepper sprayed with chemicals. Faced down, tased and he’s face down on the ground. He can’t breathe or anything, handcuffed. His hands and his feet are meeting in the center of back. That’s the hog position, in which he was basically placed. And then David Lewis from Morgan State University crashed his vehicle into Chapman and Ruiz’s unmarked car to actually come… not to help my brother, but to actually come to the scene to set his 315 pounds weight on an unarmed man that was gasping for air until my brother was no longer breathing. He was dead on Kitmore and Kelway.
Taya Graham: Now, as all my guests have demonstrated, policing in America is dangerous and often lethal. The continued practice of aggressive policing ruins lives and endangers us all, including the officers themselves. And so given just how consequential it is, we have to ask the question, why do we keep doing it? Why did six cops spend an hour arresting a man while a deadly shooting happened blocks away? Why did a dozen cops beat Tyrone West to death when a crime had not been committed? And why is a man in jail for selling legal items, his life at risk, without even a prospect of having his day in court?
Well, I think it has a lot to do with power as we discussed before. Projecting social power to stifle dissent, not solving crime. It has to do with protecting and projecting the power of an institution, not making a community safer. I think it’s clear the reason we keep experiencing these kinds of inexplicable acts is because in some sense American policing is doing exactly what it’s designed to do: protecting the interests of the powerful, rich and elite; to make the inadequacy of a system that has failed to protect us from a virus seem inevitable. As we’ve said more than once on this show, policing is not just about law enforcement. It is a purveyor of the narrative about us, the story that the average American is somehow at fault for declining incomes and a massive redistribution of wealth. Thus, we have hegemonic policing.
I want you to think about this. It’s a point we’ve made before, but worth repeating. If you watch American television over and over the past couple of decades, you’ve been treated to an onslaught of cop shows. And in an all of them, almost to a fault, police are depicted essentially his heroes, brave warriors standing on the line between us and chaos. But thus far and one of the worst crises in recent history, chaos has hardly been the problem. As we’ve already noted on the show, crime is actually down, albeit as of now, and things of course could change.
But more importantly is how the pandemic is showing just how harmful the fear generated by police propaganda is. How much of our civil rights and civic treasure we’ve apportioned to police out anxiety, propagated by this onslaught. Think about it. Millions of Americans are now unemployed. Tens of millions of Americans do not have health insurance. Where has all the money gone, and why does the richest country on the planet failed to provide the most basic safeguards for its citizens?
I’m not going to overstate the problem that policing is the only cause, but it is certainly part of the problem. It is a significant contributor to the political instability and social anxiety that ultimately makes us fearful; fearful of each other and fearful of ourselves. And it’s through that irrational sense of fear that we are left with the crisis we see today: a government ill-equipped to deal with a deadly pandemic, a society that [fomated 00:18:32] a fear of ourselves and is now paying the price.
How do I know this? Well, consider the case of the coughing cop we discussed last week. He was caught on video coughing on residents in Baltimore’s Perkin Homes Housing Projects. Since the story had garnered media attention, police have finally responded to questions about the officer. Was he punished? Charged internally? Was his name released? No, he was reassigned. Enough said.
I want to thank my guest to Tawanda Jones for her work to protect families from police brutality. Thank you so much for joining us Tawanda. And I want to thank Lachelle Lee for taking the time to speak with us and share what her loved one is enduring in prison. Thank you, Lachelle. And of course, I want to thank my cohost Stephen Janis for his reporting, editing and writing. Thank you, Stephen.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thank you so much for having me on. We’re going to keep reporting. Thanks for having me.
Taya Graham: And I would be remiss if I did not think, friend of the show, Noli Dee for her support and help. Thanks, Noli Dee.
And I want you watching to know that if you do have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us and we might be able to investigate. Please reach out to us. You can email us privately at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ensure your evidence of police misconduct. You can also message us @policeaccountabilityreport on Facebook or Instagram or @eyesonpolice on Twitter. And of course you can message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook. And please like, share and comment. You know I read your comments, appreciate them, and I try to answer questions whenever I can.
I’m your host, Taya Graham, and I want to thank you for joining me for The Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.
Host & Producer
Before joining TRNN as an investigative journalist, Taya worked in Baltimore’s neighborhoods of color for years as an advocate and was awarded the Coalition of 100 Black Women’s Torchbearer Award and YANA’s (You Are Never Alone) “Love in Action” award. Her years of outreach to underserved communities have uniquely prepared her to connect with city residents. Now she cultivates relationships with Baltimore’s citizens to cover the stories on the ground.
Stephen Janis is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work has been acclaimed both in print and on television. As the Senior Investigative Reporter for the now defunct Baltimore Examiner, he won two Maryland DC Delaware Press Association Awards for his work on the number of unsolved murders in Baltimore and the killings of prostitutes. His in-depth work on the city's zero-tolerance policing policies garnered an NAACP President's Award. As an Investigative Producer for WBFF/Fox 45, he has won three successive Capital Emmys: two for Best Investigative Series and one for Outstanding Historical/Cultural Piece.
He is the author of three books on the philosophy of policing: Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore; You Can't Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond; and The Book of Cop: A Testament to Policing That Works. He has also written two novels, This Dream Called Death and Orange: The Diary of an Urban Surrealist. He teaches journalism at Towson University.