The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is requesting that representatives from D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department not attend a public safety meeting where residents are expected to voice concerns about the agency. The request highlights growing tensions between officers and residents in the nation's capital, as well as the ACLU's own rapidly evolving position on balancing speech and assembly rights against concerns about safety and comfort in the public arena.
The meeting was called by the D.C. City Council's Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety after an incident occurred earlier in the week between police and a resident of the Deanwood neighborhood on the north side of Ward 7, which is predominantly black. Two police officers identified as Whitehead and Gupton descended upon a residency and began to conduct a questionable search. One was seen peering through a truck window before heading to the backyard. The events were captured by Jay Brown on his cellphone, who asked whether or not they had a warrant to search the home where his sister and niece live.
Brown asked Gupton what he was looking for, and Gupton would not tell him. Police later told the family that they believed a suspect dumped a gun in the area, but surrounding neighbors and children in the area were not alerted.
Brown and his family believe the search was a form of intimidation, as they are currently in the middle of a legal battle with the Metropolitan Police Department. Brown's nephew, Jeffrey Price, died in May after his illegal dirt bike crashed into a police SUV. Police told the family that Price was speeding and going down the wrong side of the road when the crash ensued. The story was challenged when witnesses and video from the scene indicated that an officer later identified as Michael Pearson pursued Price, which is against police policy, and attempted to cut off the dirt bike with his police SUV, leading to the crash.
Brown said the officers' search "further traumatized the family." He added, "There will be no trust in the community unless we have some type of change in the way our police are operating in our city, because right now they're conducting themselves like a lawless gang with no supervision."
After the search, the family filed a suit with the ACLU. In turn, the ACLU's D.C. office delivered a request on behalf of the Public Oversight Roundtable organizers regarding police presence at Thursday's meeting. A press release asked police to "respect organizers' request and keep a minimal, if any, presence" at the meeting, which was held in the Deanwood Recreation Center. The request cited "recent events."
Monica Hopkins, executive director of the D.C. office, said that while the organization was pleased that Chief of Police Peter Newsham planned to attend the event, it was equally important "for community members to have an opportunity to share their concerns without feeling pressure from law enforcement."
We are asking DC police respect organizers' wishes at tomorrow's public safety hearing. pic.twitter.com/haFWxIOh4t
— ACLU of DC (@ACLU_DC) July 11, 2018