Mount Pleasant neighbors Michael Sims and Charles Tracey worry about the safety of their teenage sons. They said both youths, who are friends, have been stopped and detained repeatedly by D.C. police in the past year.
Sims and Tracey, who are African American, brought their concerns to a D.C. Council hearing Wednesday night at Howard University. The men were among at least 75 residents and activists who packed an auditorium to hear testimony concerning D.C. police tactics and procedures when officers make traffic stops that drivers think are not justified, or detain people and sometimes handcuff them on the street.
Tracey said his 16-year-old son, Jamal, was stopped last week on his bicycle up the street from his home. He wasn’t released until an officer returned to the house and asked his father whether anything had been stolen. And last summer, Jamal and Sims’s 16-year-old son were stopped in their neighborhood as police searched for the robber of a stolen cellphone.
“They didn’t know who stopped them,” Sims told four council members at the forum. “The police made no attempt to call the parents. There’s no protocol for calling parents.”
Judiciary Committee Chair Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said he held the meeting in part because of a tense traffic stop he had experienced during a ride with an acquaintance in recent years and also because of high-profile police incidents such as the shooting death of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., in August.
“No community is immune. As elected officials, it is our responsibility to examine what’s in our own back yard,” Wells said at a news conference before the hearing. Several witnesses and Wells said they support a pilot program in which officers wear body cameras to record such interactions.
Many witnesses said they hope to see the council pass legislation that creates detailed accounting of all detainments and stops by police, along with complaint mechanisms that would provide more accountability to discipline officers found guilty of misconduct.
Seema Sadanandan, policy and advocacy director of the American Civil Liberties Union in the District, criticized aggressive jump-out and stop-and-frisk tactics used by some officers. She also said the police department needs to provide more documentation and oversight for every search it conducts, to help determine patterns of racial profiling and abuse in poor neighborhoods.
“Lack of documentation leads to the lack of accountability,” she said.
Patrice Sulton, who testified on behalf of the NAACP’s D.C. branch, said police officers “treat people like animals on a daily basis” during arrests, stops and searches. She added that residents and legislators bear responsibility along with police officials.
“We don’t need a little change; we need a lot of change,” Sulton said.
A second hearing is scheduled for Oct. 27 at the John A. Wilson Building, where police officials are scheduled to testify, Wells said.
Police spokeswoman Gwen Crump, who attended the forum, said, “We are here listening to the concerns of the community, as we do every day. Chief [Cathy L.] Lanier will be addressing the issues at length at the follow-up hearing.’’