September 24, 2023

And before somebody asks, YES, I have seen both the phone video from the couple and the body cam footage from Atlanta PD and my perspective on the situation has not changed, the officer, the person with power in the situation, was dead ass wrong for dragging that sister and ultimately for there even being an encounter in the first place. Here we will discuss the legal flaws in the officer’s actions, the flaws in Georgia’s signature on a citation rule, as well as why from a policy standpoint finding new ways of criminalizing otherwise non-criminal behavior of Black people through “broken window policies” simply subjects us to the dangers of brutalization and even worse, death.

For those readers who may be unfamiliar, a day or two ago a video surfaced of an Atlanta Police Officer, A Black man by the name of Officer (Bill) Brooks, issuing citations to a Black couple for being in the park past the hours of operation. The first video, filmed from the phone of the man receiving a citation, begins with a woman with obvious fear in her eyes being grabbed by the arm as she says to the officer “Mr. Brooks I’m going to sign.”

The officer, who is wearing a full ski mask like he in the damn Watchmen, holds handcuffs in his hand and wrestles with her as she is now in obvious fear. While this takes place, the man filming, the one with whom she was at the park, pleads with the officer to stop handling her so aggressively and they both state, “I’m going to sign.” Officer Brooks during the tussle says to her, “I’m not here to play games with you.” As the couple attempts to resolve the matter with the woman acquiescing to signing the ticket, Officer Brooks says “you don’t have that option now. Because I gave you two options!” (Hold on to this statement because it’s gonna be important in a few seconds… A paragraph from now). The video continues and the woman cries as officer Brooks aggressively wrestles her to the ground and the man who is caught in the dilemma of protecting the woman from Officer Brooks and not also meeting Officer Brooks’ wrath pleads with him to not treat her as he is treating her.

A masked man who refuses to give you his first name walks up to a Black Woman at night and violently accosts her over a ticket for being in the park too late and she’s supposed to have confidence and trust in leaving the park with him? The historical relationship and dynamics between policing and Black people makes clear not only our apprehensions as it relates to signing anything at the scene of a police stop let alone leaving a scene with them. This woman had not seen this man’s face. Sandra Bland’s tragic demise alone is enough to give anyone pause, and, here, I don’t fault the sister for wanting to know more about the masked man giving her orders on the night in question.

This is the first video we saw shot from the telephone perspective of the man as the woman was being arrested by Officer Brooks of Atlanta PD.

Now the approximately 90 second telephone video is not the beginning of the encounter as it’s quite clear the conflict is already taking place at the time the video begins. Wanting to control the narrative, Atlanta Police Officials released the body cam footage of the encounter along with a statement to highlight the officer’s behavior as well as the couple’s prior to the conflict.

“Upon learning of the incident, members of the APD’s command staff immediately began reviewing the incident to determine the facts surrounding the case,” the statement said. “It has become immediately clear there is more to this story than the short social media video shows and the decision has been made to release the body worn camera footage from the arresting officer.”

When I tell you many a KNEEGREAUX fell for that shit hook line and sinker, they fell and they fell hard. The Switch up was real and suddenly, in the eyes of many, the woman who was a victim in the cell phone video, became the woman “who should have just complied” in the second video. In the eyes of quite a few, Atlanta PD had managed to flip the sweat from themselves to the victim. The Problem is, what their video truly revealed is that Officer Brooks failed to apply the law, as the statute requires.

In the 1 hour long video the encounter begins approximately 2 minutes in. Officer Brooks acknowledges the Ohio plates and states to the couple “I see the Ohio tags and I’m not sure if you’re from here but you can’t be in an Atlanta park between the hours of 11pm and 6am.” The couple looking back at Officer Brooks says, “Thank You.” The couple at this point likely presumed that the warning was issued and that they could be on their way but before they could get “Thank You” all the way out… Officer Brooks started asking for their Identification. The couple looks shocked. All of this transpires within 30 seconds. Both of them give Officer Brooks their license. Now at this point as I watch the video I’m saying to myself… Officer Brooks hatin’ like a mutha fucka… is what I’m saying.

The next 15 minutes, yes 15 minutes consist of Officer Brooks Running the couple’s background for being in a park after hours. (I watched that shit so y’all wouldn’t have to). Who wouldn’t be slightly agitated by something so seemingly trivial? Why couldn’t this have ended in 30 seconds with a warning and the couple keeping it moving? Was Officer Brooks protecting the Park, protecting the couple, protecting the community by carrying out this process? Or was Officer Brooks just being an asshole because the law allowed him to?

Officer Brooks then calls the man over to sign the ticket and the man inquires apprehensively “What am I signing?” “Is this a charge or something?” This apprehension is normal considering that most states don’t require you to sign a ticket in order to receive or accept the ticket and show up to court. The majority of states simply hand you either a ticket or a carbon copy and that is notice that a court appearance or some future matter will occur with regards to the ticket. Officer Brooks responds to the man, “It’s just a ticket.” The man asks “Do I HAVE to sign it?” Still having no desire to sign something of which he is unaware. Keep in mind he has only truly interacted with Officer Brooks for approximately 1 minute and 30 seconds of what has become a 20 minute encounter with a masked man. Officer Brooks replies, “You can sign it or go to jail.” The man signs apprehensively after essentially being left with no alternative or further explanation.

While Officer Brooks is dead ass wrong for even pursuing this matter up until this point (my opinion) he’s citing, or at the very least referencing Section 40-13-2.1 of Georgia’s Uniform code which references signatures on citations required, effect of failure to sign, exemption for out of state drivers and electronic signature capture.

First, I’d like to turn the reader’s attention to subsection a of this statute as it’s significant to this encounter and underscores that Georgia itself UNDERSTOOD that their requirement of signing citations was abnormal and of a nature that warranted more information provided to the person being required to sign the ticket.

Subsection a states: A person who is issued a citation as provided in this chapter or Code Section 17-6-11, relating to display of driver’s license in lieu of bail, shall sign the citation to acknowledge receipt of the citation and of his or her obligation to appear for trial. The officer shall advise the person that signing the citation is not an admission of guilt and that failure to sign will result in the person having to post a cash bond. If the person refuses to sign the citation, it shall constitute reasonable cause to believe that the person will not appear at trial and the officer may bring the person before a judicial officer or traffic violations bureau to post a bond as is otherwise provided by law.

Now what subsection a) Highlights to us is that while the person receiving the citation is required to sign the citation (a really dumb law by the way) The OFFICER IS REQUIRED TO ADVISE THE PERSON SIGNING THE CITATION THAT IT IS NOT AN ADMISSION OF GUILT AND THAT FAILURE TO SIGN WILL RESULT IN THE PERSON HAVING TO POST A CASH BOND. Now let’s get back to the lecture at hand – Officer Brooks was required to provide 2 pieces of information to 2 people and while he may have a plausible argument regarding how he advised the man upon being prompted by the man’s question “It’s just a ticket”, he damn sure doesn’t have one with regard to his failure to also advise the woman that 1. The citation is not an admission of guilt and 2. Failure to sign will result in having to post a cash bond. Officer Brooks’ own inability to fully articulate or apply the law as it is written is ultimately exactly why the couple has no confidence in his requirement that they sign something under duress without actually knowing what their signing represents.

Atlanta Police bodycam video | Viral encounter with woman arrested in park citation incident

Around the 19 minute mark (yes this shit has lasted 19 minutes by this time) Officer Brooks calls the woman to the car, at first she doesn’t hear him and then he calls her again and she walks over. He says to her “You’re going to receive a ticket for being in the park after hours. I need you to sign right here on the X.” This would not be sufficient to advise someone that signing the citation is not an admission of guilt nor would it be sufficient explanation that the alternative to signing will result in having to post a cash bond – both of which Officer Brooks was required to do. Both of which he fails to do prior to the subsequent conflict.

The sister asks him, “I thought you said that since we were both from out of town, that you were aware we wouldn’t know the law?” Officer Brooks replied, “yeah but that’s not a valid reason why you should be in the park because you are from out of town.” The sister then asks “What’s your badge number?” Mind you, these folks been out here 20 fucking minutes so you know she’s pissed. They were chilling and suddenly they went from hanging out to being ticketed after all that time. The sister is obviously bothered now as she asks Officer Brooks several times “What’s your name and What’s your badge number?” He replies with both his last name and his badge number.

She asks “What’s your first name?” Officer Brooks refuses to provide her with his first name. (Let me remind you this dude got on a whole ass ski mask in the summer time in Atlanta). It is at this point when Officer Brooks refuses to provide his first name that the sister says “And I don’t have to sign this, right?” Essentially inquiring if I don’t know who I’m truly interacting with, then do I have to sign something that I’m unsure about? Officer Brooks then says to her “well like I explained to him, if you don’t sign it then you’re going to be physically taken to jail.” Now keep in mind, Officer Brooks never did advise her what she was and wasn’t signing as the law requires him to do, but he does however threaten to take her to jail for refusing to sign what he hasn’t explained to her as Section 40-13-2.1 (a) states. She asks again for his badge number and doesn’t hear it and Officer Brooks who has repeated his badge number twice and refuses to do so again. He asks are you going to sign and she says “No because I don’t have your badge number.” She is very clearly saying to Officer Brooks I don’t trust you nor what I’m signing and I need some assurances. When she replies No Officer Brooks Moves in and the video essentially becomes what we witness in the original telephone video except from the Bodycam perspective. Even after all this Officer Brooks could have resolved this situation through deescalation or through his own discernment as it is not a requirement that he take someone to jail for not signing, it is only at his discretion.

Attorney Lee Merritt offers a good explanation of other constitutional issues that arise in this matter as a result of the encounter:

Another very bright Attorney, Isaac Wright wrote underneath the post, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…” 14th Amendment. While I agree with my brilliant brother @leemerrittesq about the excessive use of force, I believe there is a broader issue that needs to be addressed during the traffic court case. I believe the requirement to sign the citation against the threat of jail is unconstitutional. You have the absolute constitutionally protected right to refuse to “promise” to appear in court. You don’t have the protected right not to appear but you do have the right to refuse to “promise”” to appear. From the very beginning, this entire episode was a constitutional infirmity—beginning with the unconstitutional mandate to sign the ticket “promising” to appear!

We often hear that there is a need for Black police officers as though Black officers don’t ultimately perpetuate the same system of the delusion of white supremacy as their counterparts. Broken Window policies like the park policy that was enforced criminalize otherwise non-criminal conduct and subject mostly Black people to police encounters that can ultimately end in our lives being taken over something as trivial as being in a park after 11pm. Philando Castile was killed when pulled over for having a busted taillight. Alton Sterling was killed for being accused of loitering and selling cds in a convenience store parking lot. Eric Garner was killed outside a bodega for selling loose cigarettes. And this sister was dragged across a parking lot because a Black Officer named Officer Brooks decided she was in the park too long and got too sassy after being held outside for over 20 minutes for a Park curfew ticket instead of receiving a warning or some level of empathy or at least some solidarity.

The coolest shit ever would be if this video, these videos never existed. If the only 3 people who ever knew or heard of this encounter were the 3 in the video or better yet if no encounter ever occurred. It would have been dope to believe that somewhere in the multiverse these same 3 people or some version of them at some park on this same night encountered their Officer Brooks and the officer informed the 2 people that were not from the area and unaware of the law that the park closes at 11 pm and allowed them to leave without requesting their license and registration. Or even a version who did request their license and registration saw that one of them was from Ohio and the Other one was from California, realized this park law is stupid, they not hurting anybody or doing anything criminal and letting them go with a warning as they have now been informed of the Georgia law.

Imagine a world where trying to find a quiet place to chill didn’t end up in being Black with the possibility of a police encounter, assault or arrest existed. Like that’s the place where I wish Officer Brooks was from on that night. But he wasn’t and he isn’t. Officer Brooks had on a mutha fuckin ski mask in Atlanta in the summer time and he was issuing commands to a Black Man and a Black Woman who wanted to 1. Be able to identify who they were dealing with 2. Wanted to understand what it was they had done wrong and 3. Be Clear on what it was they were being demanded to sign. Those signatures that were supposed to ensure they appeared in court were illusory at best. Is it reasonable to believe that a person from California or Ohio is going to travel back to Atlanta to face a ticket for being in the park too late. And if that’s not reasonable, then why am I requiring them to sign it?

Sending love to the sister and brother involved in this encounter. A lot of people jumped ship when they saw a few more seconds of video than they did initially, but the truth remains, you both deserved grace. I’m not saying it went down the way it went down because they were Black, but, it certainly didn’t afford them any courtesies. Wrong Park. Wrong Time. Wrong Black Police officer. It would be nice if SOMETIMES the wrong park at the wrong time could still be the right place at the right time too. For us it rarely is.

CJ is CEO of Black With No Chaser and Has been a practicing Criminal Defense and Civil Rights attorney for over 12 years. He was listening to Tems when he wrote this.

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