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A Time for Change

Only weeks ago a man named Eric Garner, described as a gentle giant, was choked to death by
at least 6 NYPD officers in broad daylight on a New York street. Ferguson Missouri erupted in a
hailstorm of protest when an unarmed young man named Michael Brown was gunned down by officer
Darren Wilson while allegedly while holding his hands in the air. Whether these officers are guilty of
murder will surely be debated in a court of law at some point. In my mind one thing is certain at this
moment. These incidents are hauntingly familiar to many young black men are in danger of
experiencing every day they step out of their homes. What happened to me and my then girlfriend three
years ago in the Gallery Place Chinatown Metro stop here in Washington, D.C is evidence of that truth.
We can debate police tactics and race relations between officers and African-Americans another time
but this is a personal story.
I avoided Eric Garners story when I first saw it. Repeatedly, friends sent me the link and again, I
avoided it. Finally, the story flashed across my screen at the news hour Saturday night July 19
. A man
had been choked to death while grasping for air and begging for his life. His only crime was breaking up
a fight. Instantly, it was eerily familiar. Half a dozen or more officers swarming and tackling a man who is
not resisting. In my case, my girlfriend had just been assaulted so I asked an officer for help. When the
officer refused to help me, I asked him for his name and badge number. His response was, Are you
telling me what to do? He then threatened to arrest me and my girlfriend for assault. Next, he promptly
struck me in my chest and radioed that he had been assaulted. What happened next is what happens to
black men just about every day of the week in America. A wildly brutal effort to subdue a single
person with wholly unnecessary force. These crimes are typically perpetrated against people who can
easily be blamed for either resisting or threatening a police officers safety, a common thread in each
and every one of these cases.
After being brutally assaulted, I was dragged like a rag doll through the Metro station and up
two flights of stairs by at least half a dozen officers. I suffered various scrapes and bruises along the
way, even losing my shoe in the chaos. I was falsely arrested and taken to the second district station and
further assaulted by another officer. This officer crushed my hand and repeatedly banged my head
against the wall after asking me, You think you can take my partner because hes a little guy? The
bloody evidence of which was promptly cleaned off the wall when while I was taken to the hospital by
these same officers. I was charged with assaulting a police officer, disorderly conduct, and unlawful
entry (into the Metro that I was already standing in requesting help from an officer). When I went to
court to defend myself with an overly priced and absentee lawyer, the prosecutor threw out the assault
charge and the unlawful entry charge immediately seeing that the police mishandled their paperwork.
The judge offered me community service which I promptly rejected. My lawyers assistant whom I had
just met that day, pushed me to do a Post and forfeit, which is essentially a plea of not guilty with a
$35 fine in the District of Columbia, so I did.
The most painful part of this incident was not the physical wounds, but the psychological ones. I
was forced to accept that after 23 years of avoiding confrontation with officers who always seem to
target me, I now had a criminal arrest record. Physically, my hand was so badly injured that I had to
wear a hand cast for a month. I avoided going to therapy for my hand because I was too depressed to
deal with the reality of my situation. The one thing I did right was to take pictures of all my wounds and
save the bloody shirt upon which my blood had been splattered that night. Also, the girl I was dating
sent a letter to our local councilman Jim Graham, to no avail. She received an auto response and simple
forward to several uninvolved parties. When the dust settled I had lost my girlfriend, pride in my ability
to protect a woman, and sense of personal safety in my own country.
I decided to sue, thinking that I could help prevent other young people from being mistreated by
the same officers. I knew that my constitutional rights had been violated and I wasnt going to let this
go. In the end, WMATAs top tort attorney offered a pittance to settle the case after trying to intimidate
me. I rejected it. I waited three years for justice and we went to trial on July 7, 2014. The trial lasted
four agonizing days. Luckily I got a jury of 8 people who truly were my peers and a judge who was
extremely fair to both attorneys. My attorney and I sued for four charges, and due to the skill of a
seasoned attorney paid for by WMATA and imbalance of the law, the jury was only able to rule in our
favor on one charge of excessive force, which was against the officer who banged my head against the
wall and injured my hand. Because of a loophole involving the definition of unlawful entry and
complicated jury instructions, I was unable to win my claim of false arrest against the man who started
the entire incident.
I went to trial to make sure that this wouldnt happen to anyone else. It took patience, time and
money to pull this off. In Garners case, these officers will say they feared for their safety and that he
was acting resisting arrest. In Browns Case, his character will be attacked and his name smeared.
Predictably, each officers story will match claiming procedure and safety measures were followed. Each
witness will be discredited and video tape will be scrutinized. I can only image what Eric Garner and
Michael Browns families are going through and will have to endure for the rest of their lives. Hopefully
a fair and impartial investigation will follow. After turning on the television and seeing this latest
incident, I am forced to relive my personal tragedy as one real question comes to mind. If media,
attorneys, and unions protect officers rights, who is protecting mine?

Larry Williams Jr.
Concerned Citizen Labor Organizer/Historian