Chicago, IL — It took police less than 60 seconds to yank 20-year-old Corey Williams out of his car and place him in handcuffs, all for failing to use his turn signal, and having a burned out license plate light. Those are the reasons why Chicago police said they had probable cause to pull him over. But Williams' subsequent arrest for "resisting arrest" and the interactions the officers had with onlookers is the subject of a more serious discussion about police use of force and harassment of the African American community under a police state.
Williams stopped to fill up his gas tank but ended up face down on the ground in handcuffs. While, arguably, no laws were supposedly broken, Williams claimed he was racially profiled so officers could search his vehicle for guns or drugs.
So after they pulled me over, they were trying to find something, like, 'OK, maybe this is the reason we pulled him over.'
From the body camera footage worn by one of the officers, it appears Williams was in a state of shock when he was confronted by Chicago police at the Southend gas station. "Are you serious?" he kept repeating, all the while cooperating with police.
He lowered the window as instructed, took out his keys, and must have presumed the police wanted him to step out of the vehicle. He moved to exit the vehicle and was immediately reprimanded by the police officer who, of course, demanded 100 percent compliance with his orders.
After still appearing to be in a state of shock, Williams took one step backward and it was enough for police to justify violently taking him to the ground and placing him in handcuffs. The young man stated his arm was dislocated and later told the Chicago Tribune it was, instead, fractured as a result of the violent handling by police.
The Tribune interviewed Williams who said:
I literally hadn't broken any, like, life-endangering laws, anything that's really serious...I'm just thinking to myself, 'Are they really treating me like this over a light on a car?'
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While police apologists will likely contend the officers were just doing their jobs, and they have to deal with the general public "at their worst," day in and day out, others see Williams' treatment as a form of social injustice. In other words, many feel the same kind of treatment is not directed at white motorists with the same frequency as towards black drivers.
David Klinger is a professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri. He told the Tribune no crime was committed in the interaction with Williams but added the officers missed an opportunity to establish trust with the community. For example, when the officers were warrantlessly searching Williams' car looking for drugs or guns, they treated a bystander very harshly. Some might say they spoke to her as if she were not human. Klinger stated:
That person is a person that you can either win to your side or you can piss off...(Officers) need to figure out that the audience to their public encounters are people that are curious and they don't see everything. And you have an opportunity to explain things to people.
Ultimately, police officers are accountable to the community in which they are sworn to protect and serve. But as TFTP has reported, few police departments ever face any real punitive actions for how they interact with those who pay their salaries.
Adding insult to injury, the officer who arrested Williams approached him while he was chained to a jail chair. He pretended to care about Williams' mental health, and in seemingly a condescending way, show his concern. Police often bring up mental health issues so they can further investigate someone, possibly drawing blood or urine samples via catheter against someone's will, using their own bodily fluids against them in a court of law.
Williams' charges were all dropped, and he filed a complaint against the officers and the department. He'll likely sue the officers for having violated his civil rights. But there are many lessons to be learned from examining his nightmarish encounter with officers who could have easily ticket him and let him go on his way.
Know your rights. Some states have laws which state someone must identify themselves at a traffic stop. Other states have no such laws. As Phillip Turner demonstrates, drivers do not need to roll down their windows. Doing so only gives the officers quick access to the door locks so they can open the door to gain entry.
As TFTP reported recently, Turner barely cracks his windows during traffic stops, allowing passage only for his driver's license, registration, and insurance information. He also does not answer police officers' questions in which they try and bait a driver into giving up more information than is necessary to be ticketed. Remaining silent is the best option.
Turner knows it's just a game police play to gain entry into one's vehicle, to search for things, and as TFTP recently reported, possibly plant evidence on someone. After evidence is collected, one's car can be towed and possibly confiscated in civil asset forfeiture schemes. Arrests generate hundreds if not thousands in court costs. Don't be a victim. Know your rights and beat them at their own game. Keep in mind Williams' encounter with police should have ended with a citation only.