Jason Goolsby stood outside a bank on Pennsylvania Avenue SE on Monday evening pondering whether to withdraw money from the ATM. The teen said a woman pushing a baby stroller approached, and he held the vestibule door open for her.
The 18-year-old, who was with two friends, lingered about 20 seconds outside the Citibank near Eastern Market on Capitol Hill before leaving. Moments later, Goolsby said, he saw D.C. police cars racing toward him. One, he said, nearly hit him. The college freshman said he ran.
Three blocks away near Barracks Row, officers caught him. One of his friends recorded the tail end of Goolsby’s forceful detention — two white police officers on top of the screaming black teenager, trying to force his hands to his back while saying, “Stop resisting.” The friend aiming the cellphone camera repeatedly yelled, “He didn’t do anything.”
Goolsby didn’t know that he and his friends had been suspected of casing the ATM for a possible robbery. A caller to 911 reported suspicious youths loitering at the bank’s entrance and according to a transcript of her call made available Wednesday, said, “we just left but we felt like if we had taken money out we might’ve gotten robbed.”
What happened next is a sign of the power of social media to drive activism amid a climate of distrust of police and heightened concerns about racial profiling. Goolsby said an officer told him that the woman, who is white, called 911 because he had made her feel “uncomfortable.”
Within hours, the video and the explanation for the stop were circulating widely on the Internet, prompting criticism of the police and the 911 caller. On Tuesday afternoon, activists from the Black Lives Matter movement blocked parts of Pennsylvania Avenue on Capitol Hill, shouting what they believed to be the badge number of one of the officers involved and threatening to “shut it down” to get “justice for Jason.”
In an interview Tuesday, Goolsby said he wasn’t aware people were protesting in his name. But he expressed anger toward police and the woman at the bank, saying that he and his friends were seen as a threat simply because they are black. “This whole thing is making my head spin,” Goolsby said.
Lt. Sean Conboy, a D.C. police spokesman, said the department is “reviewing the circumstances surrounding the stop to ensure that policies and procedures were followed.”
Neither Goolsby nor his friend was arrested. A brief D.C. police report, which omits any reference to force being used to subdue Goolsby, said that officers “determined no crime was committed” and that Goolsby and his friend “were sent on their way.” Police said in a statement that the 911 call was a report of suspicious people who may be trying to rob someone at an ATM.
Goolsby’s friend, a high school senior, posted the video on Twitter not long after the incident, writing that they were “approached because a white couple felt uncomfortable around me and my friend in the bank, this is how the police responded . . .”
Reaction and speculation came quickly and continued through the night. One person tweeted that the video made them “sick to my stomach.” Another said that Goolsby had been “racially profiled for taking money out.”
Activists searching the D.C. police department’s social media feed to find reference to the incident found a police tweet that read: “Robbery Fear” with a lookout for five black teens. Robbery fear is police parlance for an unarmed robbery, but protesters said it proved that officers had chased down Goolsby because someone feared a robbery. In fact, police were referencing a robbery that occurred six blocks away and two hours after the incident involving Goolsby.
At 12:10 a.m., D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier promised additional information and sent a text to a reporter saying, “Obviously [official] report is very different than Twitter narrative.”
Goolsby grew up in the District and graduated last year from Richard Wright Public Charter School, near the Washington Navy Yard. He is a freshman studying music at the University of the District of Columbia and a model. Monday night, he was wearing a shirt that his brother designed, with the words “Sleepy Face Attire” written down the side.
In an interview Tuesday, Goolsby said that he and the woman at the bank did not exchange a word. He said he paused after opening the door for her because he had just learned that a scheduled studio session had been canceled, and he was thinking about whether he still needed to withdraw money.
One of Goolsby’s former high school teachers, Erika Totten, is a District activist and leader in the Black Lives Matter movement. She was front and center at Tuesday’s protest, and she called Goolsby “one of the sweetest kids I’ve had the honor of teaching.” She said: “If you’re black, you’re an automatic threat. That’s the reality of the world we live in, and it’s supported by the justice system.
Totten added, “White fear of a black boy caused that.”
The incident began just before 6:15 p.m. Monday. In a statement, police said that officers near the bank heard the emergency call and sped to Sixth Street SE and Pennsylvania Avenue SE. According to police, the 911 caller said that the men who she thought may have been targeting ATM users were wearing backpacks and had “flat-top bush hairstyles.” Goolsby said he was wearing a backpack and bright blue headphones.
The account given by the person who called 911 differs in some spots from Goolsby’s version. The caller, whose identity was redacted from a transcript of the call released by the city, told the dispatcher that after she left, three teens stayed outside the ATM without withdrawing money. The caller said the teens “are waiting at the door to let people in, but aren’t doing anything inside of the bank.”
The caller added: “And I have to reiterate the only issue that really made it stand out was that they were just, they weren’t doing anything in the bank and as soon as we left they stayed. So, umm, that was suspicious.”
The call-taker with the D.C. Office of Unified Communications, the city’s 911 center, told the caller, “Okay, we’ll have the police to respond out to check them out.”
The police statement says that after officers arrived, “one individual fled on foot from police, was chased and then taken down. The individual resisted, and was handcuffed while resisting after he refused to stop.”
Goolsby said that he ran only after a police cruiser nearly hit him — he believes intentionally — and that officers who caught him “threw me on the ground. They never read me my rights after they handcuffed me. . . . They never apologized.”
This story has been updated.
Jennifer Jenkins and Justin Jouvenal contributed to this report.