Two black men in Iowa were recently pulled over by Des Moines police officers for seemingly no reason, and now the cops are being accused of racial profiling.
Last Wednesday, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement released dash camera and body camera footage of the stop to the public. They obtained the videos through an open records request, according to local NBC affiliate WHOTV.
Officers Kyle Thies and Natalie Heinemann pulled over motorist Montray Little, who had a passenger, Jared Clinton, with him. Both men are African-American.
The footage appears to show no clear signs of traffic violations, yet the men were pulled over and accused of having drugs in the car and acting like they had a weapon.
Little was placed in handcuffs and escorted to sit in the back of the squad car as if he was under arrest, even though Thies kept attempting to reassure him that he wasn’t.
Clinton was removed from the vehicle and asked to stand off to the side with Heinemann while the officers conducted a search. They found no drugs or weapons; however, they did come across an open bottle of alcohol, which they instructed the men to pour out.
The footage from the stop, which occurred last month, was also shared by WHOTV. After it picked up steam and more people began to question the officers’ actions, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa got involved.
"In the very beginning, in the first few minutes of the video, you see the driver put his hands up, literally put his hands up," said Daniel Zeno, the ACLU of Iowa's policy director. "This visual reminder, this visual confirmation, tells us we got a lot of work to do. It reminds us of what people of color have consistently said about the fear they feel when they are stopped by police in every police encounter."
In the video, Thies accused Little and Clinton of “acting funny” and even made a comment about how fast Little’s heart was beating as he was being escorted to the squad car.
The cop made it seem like their behavior was suspicious, but as Zeno noted, minorities are often nervous and uncomfortable during interactions with law enforcement because so many people of color haven’t made it out of police encounters alive.
"We know there are sometimes when black people are stopped, people of color are stopped, and it results in injury or death," said Zeno. "We also know there are thousands of other cases like this, where this stop, this encounter happens, and then the people are let go. That leads to more distrust, more fear, and we believe, we can do better, and we should do better."
The Des Moines Police Department is conducting an administrative review to determine if their officers’ actions were appropriate. However, Zeno said that the ACLU wants the department to start collecting race data on every single stop as opposed to just the ones that result in an arrest.
“We think it’s partly implicit bias, partly racial profiling by the police. I mean, we can’t know, we don’t know the actual reason why this officer stopped these two men," Zeno said.
He continued: "All we know is two black men were driving in Des Moines in a car, appearing to follow all the rules and then they were stopped by the police. And, that’s a story that people of color have consistently said, 'I get stopped by the police all the time. I don’t know the reason, they don’t give me a reason, and it appears it’s because I’m black and it happens to me and other people who look like me and it just keeps happening and there’s no data about it.'”
Let's face it: This behavior is nothing new, and the department will likely determine that the officers were justified in stopping Little and all of the actions that followed.
The silver lining, however, is that the introduction of body cameras and dash cameras into departments across the country has allowed much of this conduct to be exposed and called into question, forcing police departments to hold their officers more accountable for what they do in the field. Alas, time will tell if that ever translates to real change.
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