Transit police in Washington, D.C., violently arrested a young black woman on Tuesday night because she was carrying snacks.
Videos posted Wednesday do not capture the beginning of the interaction between a trio of Metro Transit Police officers and the unnamed teenager.
But they show one of the cops kicking the woman’s feet out from under her and shoving her to the ground, while she is in handcuffs. And officers in the video confirm to angry bystanders that the arrest happened because the teenager wouldn’t relinquish a bag of chips and a lollipop when they confronted her in the Columbia Heights metro station.
After the takedown, the heavy-set officer who knocked the teenager down seems to realize the rough arrest has attracted a crowd. “Have a good day, folks,” he says. “If you wanna ride the system, put your card through and go attend the trains. If not, leave the station.”
In the first video, the teenager expresses distress at how tightly they cinched her handcuffs and shouts at a second officer who starts rifling through her backpack.
“You acting like it was a four-course meal,” she says. A moment later, one of the bystanders begins to address the officers directly, telling them their actions are ridiculous. The officer who earlier knocked the handcuffed girl to the ground and a second officer in a bike helmet argue with the woman criticizing them briefly.
“Little girls break the law, little girls get arrested like anybody else. And she goes to juvenile detention and her mom comes and picks her up, that’s how it works,” the bike cop says.
System policies theoretically make it illegal to eat or drink inside the capital’s train system, though anyone who’s ever commuted through the District in the morning has seen plenty of on-the-go breakfasts aboard trains. MTPD sometimes gives $10 citations to adults eating inside the system. But they are not allowed to fine minors, according to the Washington Post, which notes that the same agency arrested and charged a 12-year-old girl for eating a french fry inside a station in 2000.
But MTPD is not charging the teenager arrested Tuesday night, a spokesman told ThinkProgress. Asked to explain why it would be worth dragging someone to juvenile detention in handcuffs if what she did didn’t merit charges, the agency said only that it was the local prosecutor’s decision, not MTPD’s.
Officers rarely arrest or fine people for violations of the food and drink law inside the transit system, the spokesman said. The narrative section of the MTPD report on Tuesday’s arrest is therefore the best explanation for why officers felt the need to break the cuffs out in this case:
R/O REPORTS ON 10/18/2016 AT APPROXIMATELY 1835 HOURS AT THE COLUMBIA HEIGHTS METRO STATION LOCATED AT 3101 14TH STREET NW, WASHINGTON DC 20010 OBSERVED OFFICER #388 ADVISING A-01 TO PUT HER BAG OF POTATO CHIPS AWAY WHILE SHE IS ON THE PAID SIDE OF THE FARE GATES. A-01 RESPONDED WITH A DEFIANT, “NO!”. R/O WALKED OVER TO A-01 AND STATED THAT IF SHE DID NOT PUT HER FOOD AWAY, SHE IS TO LEAVE THE COLUMBIA HEIGHTS METRO STATION. A-01 STATED, “NO, I’M NOT GOING ANYWHERE!” R/O ORDERED A-01 TO LEAVE THE STATION TWO MORE TIMES. A-01 REFUSED TO COMPLY. R/O THEN REACHED FOR HER WRIST AND PLACED HANDCUFFS ON HER. A-01 BEGAN TO RESIST AND CONTINUED TO TURN HER BODY AWAY FROM R/O YELLING AND SCREAMING, “GOT OFF ME!!” NUMEROUS TIMES CAUSING THE SOME PATRONS TO GATHER AND OTHERS TO FLEE. A-01 WAS ARRESTED FOR UNLAWFUL ENTRY. FURTHER INVESTIGATION REVEALED A-01 IS 18 YEARS OF AGE. A-01 WAS TRANSPORTED TO MPD 5TH DISTRICT FOR FURTHER PROCESS. A-01 DID NOT ACQUIRE ANY INJURIES OR ILLNESS FROM THE ARREST. ALL EVENTS OCCURRED IN WASHINGTON DC.
In a second video, the officers escort the handcuffed girl up an escalator to the street level. The same officer who knocked her down inside the station puts her in a shoulder lock while another officer checks her pockets and hair. “You just slammed my face against the car, what the fuck?” the girl shouts.
Tight handcuffs, physical force in response to verbal defiance, and an arrest that leads to no charges are hallmarks of one of the worst-kept secrets of policing. It’s called “contempt of cop” in law enforcement industry lingo. And it’s based on an attitude some veteran officers are willing to express out in the open, as cop-turned-academic Sunil Dutta did in a 2014 op-ed titled “I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.”
Think of the 2009 arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., by a white cop who thought the renowned academic was trying to break into his own home. Or the North Carolina cops who beat and arrested a black man sitting on his mother’s front porch in June, after he grew frustrated with the white officer who continued to treat him suspiciously after initially conceding he believed the man’s explanation.
In Tuesday night’s case, the negative effects of officers’ determination to enforce a macho code of respect against a black teenager holding snacks is likely to have a long tail. Juvenile arrests — which disproportionately target black and brown Americans — are connected with higher high school dropout rates and worse future educational and economic outcomes.
Whatever impact the incident does or doesn’t have on this one young woman’s life, it will help widen the chasm between law enforcement agencies and the communities they’re supposed to serve.