She’s 15. She was hanging out with her friends in her own Winston-Salem neighborhood, like they’d been doing for months in these days when there is precious little for teenagers to do that doesn’t involve staring at screens.
She was terrified — what Black teenager isn’t when confronted by a white police officer shouting at them? And this was before the officer tackled her to the ground, handcuffed her and forced her into the back of a patrol car.
It’s important to note that the police were there because someone claimed that some Black teenagers were trying to break into a house. This accusation seems to have been accepted immediately as gospel truth.
A 10-minute video, shot by a neighbor on the night of this incident, is the only reason this case has bubbled to the surface of this community’s consciousness. And the footage itself is emblematic, depicting the problems with white policing in Black neighborhoods in a way no lecture, study or class can accomplish.
Now, Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines and police Chief Catrina Thompson, are on high alert. They’ve promised a neutral investigation, transparency. But what does that even look like?
Law-enforcement agencies in the United States have an astounding record of clearing themselves of wrongdoing, one of the ways in which the deck is stacked in their favor.
Both Greensboro and Winston-Salem have civilian police-review boards, none of them have any teeth: no subpoena power, no authority, no agency. The Winston-Salem Police Review Board doesn’t even become engaged until after the chief has made a decision and a citizen requests an appeal, according to the city website.
Police body-camera footage of the incident cannot be shown to the public, by state law, unless a judge signs off on it. This is a fairly rare thing, especially when the footage does not vindicate police. And it’s complicated by the fact that that all of those detained that night by Winston-Salem police were minors. That’s legal-speak for “children.”
And where would we be if one neighbor didn’t leave her home to document what happened that night in Winston-Salem?