WASHINGTON – Under pressure from the DC Council, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department released body and security images on Friday of the deaths of three young blacks in 2018. The launch was bound by an emergency police reform law that Mayor Muriel Bowser criticized it as rushed.
“The council has determined that this is the statute, that it is the law of the land and we will comply with it,” said MPD chief Peter Newsham.
The videos concern the deaths of three men who have become enduring causes for local activists: Marqueese Alston, 22, who was shot by police during a foot chase on June 12, 2018; D’Quan Young, 24, who was shot by a civilian off duty officer on May 9, 2018; and Jeffrey Price, 22, who died on May 4, 2018, after his bike collided with an MPD cruiser.
Young and Alston’s murders were reviewed by the US law firm in the District of Columbia, which refused to prosecute the two cases. Both were classified as justified by the MPD Force Use Review Board. Price’s death was considered an accident.
The Price family is suing the MPD for wrongful death. Newsham, citing the lawsuit, declined to discuss the case in detail, but called it “preventable” and “a tragic accident in which a young man lost his life”.
Bowser found himself caught between the MPD and a reformist City Council, with a resurgent street activist movement pressing on all sides. For weeks, a collective of activists, including the Black Lives Matter, regularly make loud protests outside the homes of Bowser, council members and Newsham. Earlier this month, Bowser tried, but failed to avoid cuts demanded by the council to finance the police in the new budget.
The council unanimously approved the emergency reform project on June 9, after a wave of protests across the country against police brutality. With public opinion shifting to police reform, the new law prohibits the use of bottlenecks and prohibits the use of tear gas or rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. It also requires the rapid release of names and footage from body cameras for police officers involved in a serious use of force against civilians.
Bowser criticized the process by chance, with little public participation. On Friday, she acknowledged that the council had addressed some of her objections, including clarifying that the victims’ relatives could prevent certain images from being released.
But she said she remains concerned about the council “rushing to make changes to the law without proper public participation”.
The local chapter of Black Lives Matter fought against Bowser’s claim of insufficient inputs, calling it “a blatant lie”. The chapter’s Twitter feed said on Friday that there have been “tons of hearings” over the years on the issue of releasing images of police bodies cameras.
All three videos are available on the MPD page on YouTube. Some contain graphic images of injuries and consequences. The two filming-related videos begin with a statement by the MPD that the department “recognizes the sanctity of human life and that any loss of life is a tragic result for a family and a community”.
The videos also contain detailed explanations of the department’s evidence in its favor, using a frozen frame and graphics to highlight a gun in Alston’s hand, just before filming began. Price was being chased by the police when a cruiser gave a stop signal to block his path. The released video emphasizes that he was speeding on a stolen motorcycle on the opposite lane. The Young video shows the department’s position that the off-duty officer was on his way to a barbecue when Young crossed the street to confront him and “brandished a gun”.
Later, Black Lives Matter DC issued a statement calling the videos “handpicked, highly narrated clips” that don’t reveal much.
April Goggans, one of the main organizers of the local chapter, said: “It is clear that there are more images and that the whole of DC must be on the streets demanding to know why MPD chose these short, hand-edited clips. It looks like more of the same purposefully evasive game that Mayor Bowser and Chief Newsham have been playing with transparency and accountability. “
The policeman who killed Young wore civilian clothes and did not use a body camera; therefore, the city provided images from a security camera at a nearby public recreation center and images of the first police officers to respond to the scene.
Kevin Donahue, deputy mayor of public security, called it “our attempt to show this is what we have” and added, “We did the best we could, trying to get the spirit of the law and apply it to it.”
Bowser and Donahue described the videos as often inconclusive.
“I think people think it will be like watching a TV show, where all the images are clear, coming from different angles. In fact, what it is is a camera on a policeman’s chest, which sometimes shows nothing, ”said Bowser. “But in the end, someone died, and that is difficult and painful to watch, but it also shows the very difficult positions that our officers face.”
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