Like many of you, this past weekend I saw a horrible video of police brutality that emerged out of Phoenix. I’ve read the police reports. Studied all of the videos. And I wanna unpack and explain why justice is so hard to come by in cases like this. Like you, I’ve called for those officers to be fired, but it’s more complex than you think. The injustice is clear, but the path to justice is murky. Let me break it down.
On Monday, May 27th, a young Black couple, Dravon, who’s 22, and his fiancé, Iesha, who’s 24 and visibly pregnant, went to a Family Dollar store in Phoenix, Arizona, with their 4 year old daughter, and 1 year old baby.
And when they left, their 4 year old walked out of the dollar store with a Barbie Doll. Every single parent has had something like this happen before.
Criminally, 4 year old children are not capable of theft. They don’t understand economics, price points, ownership, criminal codes, ethics, or social responsibility. Every parent has had a young child walk out of a place with something they didn’t pay for.
But when the Phoenix Police were called, they didn’t treat this like a petty theft call. At the most we’re talking about a misdemeanor. We’re talking about under $50. Instead, they treated the call like it was a strong armed robbery. They treated that Barbie Doll like the nuclear codes had just been stolen. And it’s clear why. I’ve read the reports.
The police knew it was a Barbie Doll. They knew the car. They knew it was full of children. But they also knew one fact that made all the difference in the world. They knew they were looking for a Black family. And here’s what I know. And here’s what every reasonable person listening to this podcast knows.
No white family – from any zip code – from any background – from any social status – no white family with little kids who stole a Barbie would EVER be treated the way this young family was treated. From the moment the police arrived, until the moment these young parents were handcuffed and assaulted, having their baby snatched away, these police were belligerent, vulgar, violent, crass, and out of control.
It was so outrageous – police were literally threatening to shoot the parents in the head and kill them – straight away –that it was the extreme nature of the arrests – that really caused the video to go super viral. It may very well be the most extreme, most angry, most out of control non-lethal arrest I’ve ever witnessed – and I’ve seen thousands. It’s 107 degrees outside, and police are trying to rip a 1 year old baby from the mother’s arms – demanding that she sit the baby, who cannot walk, on the scorching hot concrete so that she can be arrested.
And at the end of the police report, one of the officers on the scene documented, “I retrieved and secured the Barbie box from the back seat of the vehicle.”
And guess what? After they did all of that – guess what happened? They couldn’t even arrest Dravon or Iesha. They didn’t even file charges. All of that was for sport. The officers, of course, told the same lies they always tell about being afraid for their lives. Afraid that Dravon & Iesha had guns, but again, all of that is code for their fear of Blackness itself. American police have effectively weaponized Blackness. Because NONE of that would’ve happened with a young white family over a Barbie Doll.
And so the Mayor of Phoenix apologized.
And the Chief of Police kind of apologized.
But yesterday, Dravon and Iesha, said what we wish we’d hear more often. They said they weren’t accepting the apologies. That they were hollow. That an apology with a termination or consequences means nothing. And they’re right. I agree completely, but I need to break something down for us.
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Police officers are among the most difficult people to fire in all of America. Even when they openly violate policy. Even when they have clearly done wrong. And it took me years to understand this. And Mayors and city councils don’t like to talk about it because it’s a dirty little secret.
The United States has 17,985 police departments. That’s the most of any country in the world. And each of those departments have created complex contracts and union agreements with the cities and counties they serve in. And those contracts are literally the most ridiculous contracts of any profession in the nation – giving police almost complete autonomy from any real supervision. They investigate themselves. They can only fire themselves. Misconduct records are sealed. Investigations are allowed to take years and years. But then those same departments often have in their contract that employees can only be fired within a certain period of time of when misconduct took place. They are the worst negotiated contracts and do more to protect bad police, violent police, corrupt cops, racist and bigoted and sexist cops, than any person in any other profession in the nation.
And just as we must elect new District Attorneys county by county, we must review and renegotiate each of these 17,985 contracts. Because they are at the root of why police, like the officers in this clear case of misconduct in Phoenix, can’t be fired immediately. That needs to change – and change right away.
Because right now, lawsuits are our only consistent recourse – and this family is suing the City of Phoenix for $10 million – as they should – but what we’ve seen across the country is that cities are willing to write those checks – with our tax dollars – without ever addressing the underlying policies that caused the misconduct in the first place.
We have to fight hard, but we have to fight smart as well.