To the Editor:
On Aug. 24, the DeKalb Police Department detained and arrested Elonte McDowell, a young black man. First McDowell, and then his girlfriend, recorded the moments of the detention, which have been made publicly available on the internet, and in the news.
The DeKalb Police Department has released a press statement. The reason for this statement is obvious: The publicly available videos makes them look very, very bad.
The first video includes McDowell’s questions about the reason for his detention and the moments leading up to him being forcefully flattened against the ground. In the second video, McDowell is clearly in a chokehold and does not appear to be breathing.
His girlfriend offers comfort and asks if he’s breathing. While one officer has a cuff on McDowell’s wrist, another tases the young man. McDowell’s body jerks violently and he passes out. The police threaten McDowell’s girlfriend with the K-9 unit and mock McDowell’s unconsciousness as “a nice fake.”
The press release states that cannabis was found in the car in a “felony amount.” On June 25, Gov. JB Pritzker signed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (HB1438-SFA2), going into effect Jan. 1. We are not yet at this start date.
However, a glance through the schedules of restriction for marijuana possession, when compared with the specifics of the new law, show substantial overlap both for expungement of past offenses and decriminalization of new ones. Since we don’t yet know the specific quantity, we can only speculate on whether McDowell was or was not within the allowable amounts under the upcoming law.
But here’s the thing: Even if McDowell had in his vehicle a mountain of cannabis, the police should not throw a human being to the ground without violent provocation. In an interview afterwards, McDowell said it better than I can: “Eric Garner is in the back of my mind.”
Eric Garner needs to be in the back of every police officer’s mind, every day, during every arrest situation. Police officers must make it their mission to de-escalate and refrain from abusing their power and position.
Police departments must demonstrate that they will be disciplining the officers involved, transparently enumerate their steps to prevent such events in the future, accept investigation from a civilian committee and prove that they are working to eliminate bias (implicit or explicit) from their ranks.