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'I Don't Feel Safe!': A Black Man Told Police He Feared Them, and Then an Officer Yanked Him by His Hair
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=59303"><span class="small">Theresa Vargas, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Sunday, 02 May 2021 12:22

Vargas writes: The man's windows appeared too dark. That's the reason D.C. police officers gave for stopping his car just before 10 p.m. on a Wednesday night."

Police. (photo: iStock)
Police. (photo: iStock)

'I Don't Feel Safe!': A Black Man Told Police He Feared Them, and Then an Officer Yanked Him by His Hair

By Theresa Vargas, The Washington Post

02 May 21


he man’s windows appeared too dark.

That’s the reason D.C. police officers gave for stopping his car just before 10 p.m. on a Wednesday night.

When an officer questioned the man about the tint, he explained that he bought the car that way. He told the officer that he drove for a ride-sharing company and was trying to get home. He also handed over his license and registration.

Two other officers then approached the car and started shining flashlights through the rear windows. The man asked the officer near him whether he could have the others back away.

He told the officer that he felt unsafe.

Then he said it again. And again. And again.

The fifth time he said it came right after one of the officers knocked on his window with a stick while ordering him to open his door, and right before the officer near him reached through his window to do it for him.

“Stop! Man, no! I don’t feel safe!” the man said.

Those moments and the ones that followed are detailed in a report written by an examiner for the D.C. Office of Police Complaints. The examiner — who was tasked with determining whether one of the officers used unnecessary or excessive force when he later pulled the man’s hair — describes the facts in the report as based in part on police body-camera footage.

Right now, some of the loudest and most high-stakes conversations about local and national police restructuring are occurring in the nation’s capital. But even though that hair-pulling encounter happened in the city last year, you probably haven’t heard about it. It didn’t draw public outrage. It didn’t draw much of anything. That’s because most people don’t know it occurred.

For every viral video showing police using excessive force, there are countless trust-eroding encounters that never get seen by the public. That’s often because no one died, or no one filed a lawsuit, or no one thought to ask, because the system is designed to keep police misconduct allegations private.

When talking about police restructuring, what we’re not seeing matters as much as what we are seeing. We can’t fix what we don’t know exists.

I learned about the hair-pulling encounter while looking through findings on the website for the D.C. Office of Police Complaints (which I tend to do from time to time, to keep tabs on what’s happening in the region). In the past few years, I have read through countless complaints on the site, and I’ve shared a few with you in a previous column, but that use-of-force case stood out for two reasons.

At the core of the encounter is this: A Black man told police that he felt unsafe in their presence, and then they confirmed his fears.

Officers grabbed a Black librarian by her hair and tore her shoulder during traffic stop, lawsuit alleges: ‘That’s good police work, baby’

The incident also shares similarities with a police encounter in North Carolina that recently stirred public outrage. In that case, police body-camera footage shows officers pulling a 68-year-old Black librarian by her arm and hair from her car to the ground. In the video, Stephanie Bottom, a grandmother of five, cries out and asks: “What have I done wrong?”

A federal lawsuit that Bottom filed says police stopped her for going 10 mph over the speed limit. It also describes an officer as bragging to his colleagues about grabbing a “handful of dreads.”

The man with the tinted windows also wore dreads. And he, too, was forced from his car against his will.

“I’m not doing nothing,” the man repeated as an officer unbuckled his seat belt and pulled him by his arm, the report says. It describes the man as standing outside the car, bent forward, when an officer grabbed his hair “as if holding a ponytail and pulled it up.” The man, it says, “repeatedly screamed for approximately eleven seconds, ‘You got my hair. Cuz, you got my hair!’ ”

The Office of Police Complaints recently released a report that revealed that fewer D.C. police officers are using force. The report also pointed to 13 occasions since 2018 involving officers unjustifiably using neck restraints to subdue suspects.

Use of force by D.C. police is decreasing, but report also cites improper neck restraints

The use of neck restraints has come under intense scrutiny in recent years, and in July, the D.C. Council enacted emergency legislation that prohibits its use by law enforcement officers. The legislation took what the D.C. police department was already doing even further. The department had barred the use of neck restraints in most circumstances, according to an article that my colleague Peter Hermann wrote about the use-of-force report. In that article, Michael G. Tobin, executive director of the complaints office, describes the police as appearing to “send a message to all of the department members that neck restraints are no longer tolerated.”

When it comes to police restructuring, that’s a positive development.

That’s also only part of the picture.

I reached out to Tobin to ask him about the hair-pulling incident and where it fits into use-of-force practices.

As neck restraints have come under more scrutiny, he has noticed more complaints about hair-pulling, he says. The complaints almost always involve a person of color, he says, and in a couple of instances, hair has been yanked from the scalp.

Tobin says his office plans to look closer at the issue and could put forth recommendations for police policy and training changes.

There will inevitably be people who want to defend the officer who pulled the man’s hair. The truth is that he may have a stellar record — or he may have a concerning one. All I can tell you is what the examiner, who was given the chance to review all the evidence before making a decision, wrote in that report. It doesn’t list the officer’s name, but it describes him as saying he pulled the man’s hair unintentionally, thinking it was his jacket collar or shirt.

The examiner describes the officer as lacking credibility, noting that the man yelled out, and writes that pulling his hair was “neither reasonable nor necessary and it thus constituted an excessive and unnecessary use of force.”

That night, the man was handcuffed and walked to the back of his car.

While standing there, he complained of pain, the report says: “Ya’ll just pulled my head, man. I got a headache and everything man. . . . Just pulled my head to pull me out of the car. My shoulders feel like they hurt.”

The report describes two officers — the one who stood near his window and the one who pulled his hair — talking off to the side about their options. They discussed charging the man with “failure to obey,” and one asked the other: “Does the guy have a warrant or something?” He didn’t.

The officers, in the end, decided to let him go with a warning for the tinted windows. your social media marketing partner