TRUE DEMOCRACY SPRING 2001 TABLE OF CONTENTS
Some Fear Pattern of Police Brutality
by Jannell McGraw
Reprinted with permission from the Montgomery Advertiser
200 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama 36104 (334) 262-1611
July 30, 2000
It was almost 25 years ago when Bernard Whitehurst was killed by a Montgomery police officer.
Police shot and killed Whitehurst, then 32, as he hid underneath a house near the scene of a robbery. It was Dec. 2, 1975.
An investigation revealed a gun found by Whitehurst's body had been confiscated by police in a drug raid the year before.
"There has been a pattern that goes back 25 years. This is not a new venue," said the Rev. John Alford Sr., president of the Montgomery County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who has called for the resignation of Montgomery Police Chief John Wilson following the alleged beating of Samuel Day as he was arrested earlier this month.
Alford recently announced he had at least 16 cases where people of various ethnic backgrounds have accused Montgomery police officers of brutality.
In the past five years, there have been at least four federal and circuit court cases accusing Montgomery police officers of brutality.
In the past five years, there have been at least four federal and circuit court cases accusing Montgomery police of brutality or misconduct, according to records obtained by the Montgomery Advertiser. All four were dismissed.
While there are few cases actually filed in court, Alford claims dozens of police brutality and misconduct charges have been made against the city's police department. Wilson said he does not condone excessive force and he wants to make sure his officers are aware and don't cross that line.
"As long as they do their job they know in their heart they don't have to fear that one misstep will get them fired," Wilson said. "People understand mistakes, but they don't understand dishonesty."
The Whitehurst family members said they agree there is a history of police brutality and misconduct in Montgomery. They said the Samuel Day case and others are a "sad commentary" on the city's police force.
Day accused two Montgomery police officers of beating him at the Quick Serve convenience store at the corner of Wares Ferry Road and Burbank Drive July 11. He suffered a fractured skull and broken arm.
Florence Whitehurst, wife of Bernard Whitehurst, said the Day incident brought back terrible memories of her husband's death.
"They killed my husband. I didn't even know he was dead. My mother-in-law called me the next day. Police officers didn't come tell me anything," said Florence Whitehurst, who was 22 when her husband died.
While no federal charges ever resulted from that investigation, it prompted the resignation of then-Montgomery Mayor James Robinson and Ed Wright, who had served as the city's public safety director.
Other cases were not as high profile.
--Mark Knox claimed he was brutalized by Montgomery police in 1996. Knox claimed that on June 18 officers came to his home and used unnecessary force. When officers arrested him, they pushed him up against the wall. They handcuffed and dragged him down the stairs of his apartment building. He claimed the officers denied him a cervical collar and a walking cane. Knox stated he suffered injuries to his neck and knees.
Officers said they went to Knox's home because of a complaint of loud music. The case was dismissed.
--DeRome A. Seals accused two Montgomery policemen of causing him humiliation, embarrassment and undue stress in an incident on Dec. 3, 1995. Seals claimed an officer shouted obscenities at him and gave him a fictitious badge number. The case was dismissed.
--Quanda Wigfall claimed that she was abused by Montgomery police in 1995. Wigfall, who was arrested, claimed that an officer lifted up her skirt and put his hands down into her pants and "grouped in her private areas."
Attorney Julian McPhillips withdrew the case because he could not reach his client. The case was dismissed.
--Joseph Boswell Sr. accused police and other authorities of harassment in 1995 and 1996-tapping his private telephone, tampering with items in his home and having others break into his home. But Boswell asked for the case to be dismissed.
Florence Whitehurst, the wife of Bernard Whitehurst, said she never received compensation for the death of her husband. She said the police department's reputation is growing worse in light of the Day case and other recent allegations of brutality and misconduct.
"People are probably scared to report or they are threatened not to," she said.
Whitehurst said she knows of several incidents where people experienced police brutality but never filed a formal complaint for fear of reprisal.
Sen. Charles Steele, D-Tuscaloosa, state president of the SCLC, said much of the problem has to do with the lack of progressive leadership and communication. He said the city and its police must show communities they care about protecting and serving the public.
"It all starts and ends with leadership, the mayor and the chief of police," Steele said. "At the top, the chief works with the community. You have to build relationships," he said.
Steele said he worked closely with the chief of police in Tuscaloosa to reach out to communities, particularly areas where the population is predominantly black.
"This is not a unique problem to Montgomery, Alabama, and it appears at this point this is a universal epidemic," Alford said. "There is a pattern all across this country of police brutality."
Whitehurst's son, Stacy, said he is angry because of what happened in his father's case and because of recent cases.
"The same old thing keeps happening and you always hear people say they are going to stop it and help people out," said Stacy Whitehurst, 27. "To me, it's not going to change. The system is not doing what it is supposed to do.
"If people do not stand up to it right now, for years to come, the same old problem will continue."
Jannell McGrew, who covers race relations and religion for the Montgomery Advertiser, can be reached at 240-0121 or by fax at 261-1521. Staff writer Ken Roedl contributed to this report.
Editor's note: The Montgomery reporters are correct; police brutality occurs nationwide. Laws need to be passed to prosecute those who deliberately brutalize people, most if not all of whom are people of color because it is so clear that this is intentional. Why?
Could it have to do with the FBI's agenda? It seems to clear to me that the answer is yes. Claims and lawsuits in New York City alone reached $40 million in 1999.
In Seattle, Washington on September 9, 2000 a protester who is a person of color stood in Pioneer Square with a cardboard sign on his chest in which a bullseye was drawn. The sign said, "This is where they shoot." Clearly, police brutality is a deep concern to people of color. If we don't stop this, the lives of all will continue to be affected from the people of color who suffer from this siege to the "white" community who pay with their taxes to settle the lawsuits.
Join me won't you whatever your ethnicity is to put a stop to this brutality for it is all around us all over the United States.