Written by Radio Rahim on June 20, 2011
Police brutality is a daily occurrence; it is not weird, nor unusual. Unarmed, non-violent citizens are victimized by officers of law who use physical force as a means of communication. Contrary to what some may believe, this is not the exception, but the rule. Since the horrific attacks on 9-11, police policy has institutionalized racial and ethnic profiling, especially against Muslims. This human rights violation targets minorities, either because of their faith, ethnicity, political views and/or activism. Under the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act passed by Congress, local police departments are not required to maintain records of police brutality nor does the Act criminalize police brutality as a human rights violation.
And so, on Sunday May 22, 2011 when I was aggressively choked by a Washington DC metropolitan police officer on a public sidewalk, without any provocation, it really didn’t surprise me.
It was the annual AIPAC convention in Washington DC and I was focused on informing those attending that Americans of conscience would not be silent in light of the conference’s anti-American agenda. Some may be surprised that I am describing AIPAC as anti-American, but I believe that it is anti-American to pressure policy makers to use taxpayers’ money for the funding of the ethnic cleansing of the native people of Palestine.
It was approximately 9:30AM and the convention was finally beginning- and so did we. We crossed the street towards the convention center and began marching slowly towards 7th Street on the sidewalk. At this point I began leading the chants with my large boom box. I noticed three undercover Caucasian police officers directing the main security individuals (who all happened to be of African-American descent) around our group. There was a few times where one of these officers brushed passed me, almost whispering something. I completely ignored these incidences and continued to participate in the protest. Our loud chants of “Freedom for Palestine!” were further amplified between the towering buildings, and convention attendees were peering through windows at us. Here, I have to express my gratitude for the organization and leadership of CodePink. By the time we made it back to the main protest location, we were unified and cohesive in our march, without any confrontation with the security personnel.
At this point, I was exhausted and thirsty and took shade under one of the tents that we had put up earlier in the morning. I sat there for a short while, reflecting on the purpose of attending such a protest. We were protesting a convention that symbolized a continued ethnic cleansing, no different to that which occurred on American soil against the indigenous population, my ancestors. I felt slightly exhilarated that I was, at the very least, trying to do something to fulfill my responsibility towards humanity and to the souls of my ancestors, even if this was through a simple protest.
It was then announced that President Obama’s motorcade was approaching. I picked up a sign and walked towards the sidewalk, and sure enough, his secret service SUVs began rolling by and the President’s limousine soon followed. I felt a nudge and noticed one of the African-American police officers standing next to me. First, I thought that it was strange for the officer to be so far away from the main protest and secondly, that he was touching me, as if trying to instigate a response. I stepped away from him and confidently told him with a respectful tone that he did not have the right to touch me. Needless to say, he did not like that. In the matter of a few seconds, he grabbed me aggressively by the throat and began squeezing intensely. I could feel his thumb pushing against my jugular vein and my throat began burning. From the moment that he gripped my throat, I did not resist, and simply stared at his face. It really seemed like an attempt to force me to react in self-defense, in order to “escalate” the situation, which of course would have lead to more force on his behalf and inevitably, my arrest. Therefore, I did not scream, touch, kick, or even breathe. After several seconds of this assault, the officer let go and immediately turned and walked away towards the main protest. He had an arrogant swag to his walk, as though he knew he could get away with such brutal force and aggression against a non-violent pedestrian. Unfortunately, I knew that there was little I could do without getting arrested. I did not defend myself which prevented me from getting arrested but it also meant that my throat was burning intensely and that my neck was in pain. The whole debacle made me recall various friends and family members who had also been assaulted and attacked by law enforcement for no apparent reason. They too, had not received justice. It makes me think of the final Radio Raheem scene from Do The Right Thing when the white cops choke Raheem to death. This resembled that scene except in this case; it was an African-American choking a Native American.
After the assault, I was thinking to go to a nearby clinic, but then decided to obtain the officer’s information and let him know that he did not have the right to touch me, nor choke me. I found him speaking with a group of other officers in the middle of Mass. Avenue. When they saw that I was approaching, they rushed towards me and began to yell aggressively. I did not respond, but put my hands in the air showing that I was unarmed and simply wanted to talk. I looked at the officer who choked me and inquired if I could ask a question. After ranting for a minute, he finally asked what I wanted. I asked him, “Did you find it necessary to choke me a few minutes ago?” He did not respond immediately but then said “You were standing in the road”. I knew it was pointless to argue with such an arrogant and power hungry individual. To say I was standing in the road was completely absurd – at the time, there were several secret service SUVs covering the entire road, making it impossible for me to be standing on the road. I did not ask the officer anything further but told him “Today is a great day, a black cop choking a minority”.
I turned and walked back to the tent to pick up my boom box. At the tent, I met a kind, young Jewish woman who informed me that she had witnessed the entire incident and that my neck was extremely red. I then noticed the pain that my body was in, especially my neck and head. After obtaining the young lady’s information for a witness report, I gathered my belongings and went to the clinic on Connecticut Avenue. After two hours of waiting with other injured people the doctor took a look at me and noted extreme strain and swelling to my neck muscles. He prescribed some pain-killers and anti-swelling medicine for the remainder of the week.
I headed home and until today, I’ve been reflecting on the day’s events, and the bitter situation of the world. While our economy is suffering, and many Americans suffer in poverty, billions of US tax dollars are being sent across the globe to a small country in the Middle East to ensure that it continues its policy of colonialism. The native inhabitants of Palestine live under tyranny, and this only increases the hatred that I feel for the foreign policies of my own country. Being of native descent and a person of conscience, who cares for the peace and security of all people on earth, I cannot be silent on the great injustices against the natives of Palestine. The pain that I felt was only a sample of the pain that Palestinians feel under a life of occupation. It was a fraction of the humiliation that those living in apartheid in the West Bank have to go through when passing through hundreds of illegal Israeli checkpoints. There were numerous other cases of brute force against the protestors – most notably, Rae Abileah, who ended up in the hospital with a neck brace after being assaulted by AIPAC members. And yet again, nobody has been charged with assault.
If it takes being assaulted in my own country on a public sidewalk to object to anti-American appeal to consume my tax dollars to continue crimes against humanity and freedom, then so be it. I have learned from the civil rights movement that those with truth and justice on their side will be victorious and more importantly, that I should not fear standing up for it. The continued criminalization of pro-Palestinian activism in the United States is becoming a stark reality. The anti-boycott legislation, the lawsuit against the Irvine 11, and increased police brutality are only a few signs of a reality that becomes clear as each day passes. Americans must educate themselves, not only of the human rights abuses it sponsors across the globe, but of the ones it inflicts on its own population.