My family’s dinner was disrupted this past Friday night, January 18th by sirens and flashing lights.
There in the midst of our bucolic neighborhood, on a private road to what was once an estate in Menands, was a number of Troy police officers, with a number of Troy police cars—marked and unmarked--to match. The five of us sitting at the table—Alex, my son, Dale, his father, Gerri, his step-mom, Courtney, his girlfriend and I—went out the front door to see what was up.
We stopped dead in our tracks about 25 to 30 feet away from the action. It was from there that we witnessed a police brutality reality show.
The cops had chased two guys in a car through the streets of Troy, across the Hudson River, and into our road. By the time I was out there, the two suspects—Marquese Hill and Jamel DeWitt—were face down on the ground and were individually being beaten by two officers.
It was very film noir. It was dark and the scene was lit from behind by the lights from all the cars. The silhouette of one of the officers standing over one of the suspects repeatedly raising his baton high over his head and then crashing it down on the suspect’s body will stay with me for quite some time. So will the sound the baton made every time it hit the face-down body. It happened over and over again lasting for about 25-30 seconds.
We all started screaming for the cops to stop. When they finally did, two of the cops came running over to us and told us to “Shut Up,” “Get in the house,” “They had a gun and could have come into your house,” and “This is none of your business.” It certainly was our business, We stood our ground. They walked away saying we were “probably on the jury that let that killer go free in Troy” referring to a jury verdict last week that found a member of the 69ers motorcycle club not guilty of stabbing another person to death outside a bar.
By now Hill and DeWitt were cuffed and being put into police cars. That’s when one of the officers at the scene told them loudly enough for us to hear, “They’ll probably invite you over for Sunday brunch.”
I dug into my pocket, got out my cell phone and immediately called Rex Smith, the editor of the Times-Union at home. Needless to say, what followed next was a hailstorm of media coverage with my face plastered all over the TV, my voice on local radio and my name in our local papers.
What we witnessed was an injustice that is much graver than Hill’s parole violation or the police wanting to question DeWitt regarding a shooting.
The Troy police and the city’s mayor are calling the actions by the two officers a reasonable use of force. I call it a travesty. Once the two suspects were face down on the ground all the officers needed to do was put their knees in their backs and cuff them. Instead, the adrenaline rush of a chase in hot pursuit lead to excessive use of force.
There will be an internal affairs investigation but how effectively can the police police themselves?
This isn’t about me being soft on crime. This is about our police acting professionally and responsibly. If Hill and DeWitt committed crimes they should go through the legal process and do their time, if that’s what needs to happen. They don’t, however, deserve to be beaten.
Do the police who patrol the tri-cities’ inner-city neighborhoods have a challenge on their hands? Absolutely. But using violence to combat violence only works on the battlefield—and as we see in Iraq, that approach doesn’t work too well either.
Instead of approaching their jobs with suspicion and violence, why can’t the police take the opportunity to make real change in those neighborhoods by setting a positive example—acting professionally and responsibly would be a good first step. There’s a reason why folks in the inner city don’t trust the police—Friday night was just the tip of the iceberg of distrust.
I’m not saying the police shouldn’t do their job in tracking down criminals but not everyone who lives in inner-city neighborhoods commit crimes. All this incident has done is heightened the tension between Troy’s police and those who they are sworn to serve and protect.
I’ve received a lot of support from folks I know and some I don’t. A few have even called my actions a public service. I call it being a responsible citizen and taxpayer.
Here are the articles that have appeared in the Times Union, including an editorial calling for an independent investigation.