By Elaine Magliaro
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) obtained a video taken in January outside a school building by a police body camera of an officer “responding to an apparent traffic dispute.” The dispute was between Charlena Michelle Cooks, who was 8 months pregnant and black, and an unidentified white woman. After arriving on the scene, the officer spoke with the white woman who had called police and had accused Cooks of acting “all crazy.” After examining the woman’s car, the officer said, “I don’t see a crime that has been committed.” After promising the unidentified woman a police report, the police officer headed over and spoke to Cooks.
David Edwards (Raw Story):
Cooks explains that the argument occurred because the woman disagreed with the way she was driving in the parking lot. Cooks also said that the woman frightened her daughter, who was in second grade.
“She called the police for whatever reason, I don’t know,” Cooks says. “Should I feel threatened by her because she’s white? Because she’s white and she’s making threats to me?”
At that point the officer asks for Cooks’ name, but she insists that she does not have to tell him.
The officer responded, “I actually do have the right to ask you for your name.”
Cooks said that she wanted to “make sure” that she had to provide her name to the officer. Then she called someone on her cell phone.
The police officer said that he’d give Cooks “two minutes to verify his right to ask for her identification.” Less than 20 seconds later, however, the officer and a colleague performed a painful wristlock takedown on Cooks. The pregnant woman screamed as she was “forced belly first into the ground.”
Adrienna Wong, a staff attorney for ACLU SoCal “pointed out that Cooks had a right to refuse to show her ID.” Wong said that if a California police officer arrests someone for failure to produce identification, it “would be a wrongful arrest, but it would be an arrest.” She added, “Even if an officer is conducting an investigation, in California, unlike some other states, he can’t just require a person to provide ID for no reason.”
Cooks was charged with resisting arrest. A judge later dismissed the charges.
The officer can ask, Wong said, but the person can say no. “Officers in California should not be using the obstruction law, Penal Code 148, to arrest someone for failing to provide ID, when they can’t find any other reason to arrest them,” she said.
Cooks’ arrest was captured on the officer’s body camera, and the video shows an interaction between law enforcement and individuals of different races.
Price* asked whether race played a role in the difference in treatment.
“Imagine getting wrestled to the ground and handcuffed in front of your child’s elementary school,” Price said. “Imagine interacting with other parents afterwards. Imagine what kids who saw the incident tell your child. And if you think the whole incident happened because of your race, how does that impact your view of police?”
Price said the public should not have to speculate about the role of race in law enforcement. “We should know,” she said.
(*Jessica Price is a staff attorney for ACLU SoCal.)
To make matters worse, Cooks was banned from her daughter’s school until the charges were dismissed. She said that she has not decided whether or not she wants to sue the city. But ultimately, her goal is to move out of Barstow as soon as possible.
“I’m still trying to process everything and get in a good state of mind,” she told the Desert Dispatch. “I’m in a very fearful state of mind. Barstow is so small and I used to be comfortable living here. Not anymore. I really felt like after all that happened I had some of my everyday freedoms taken from me.”
Two bills pending in the legislature, AB 953 and AB 619, would require officers to record data about their stops and uses of force, including the race of the individuals involved, and report that data to the attorney general.
Price said, “We give police a great deal of authority to stop people, to detain them, to search them, even to shoot them…Requiring police to report how they use those powers, in an effort to measure racial disparities and help identify solutions, is a small price to pay for fairer policing.”
In a separate settlement with ACLU SoCal, the City of Barstow agreed to provide training to its officers after two brothers were arrested for refusing to provide identification. Charges against the brothers were dropped and the city agreed to pay $30,000 in damages.
Barstow Police Department (01/26/15)
City of Barstow and ACLU settlement seeks to end “Stop and Identify” arrests (American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California)