A black man advocating on behalf of a handcuffed black child who had been falsely accused of threatening commuters ended up tasered and arrested inside a Washington Metro station Saturday.
The video shows the man, Tapiwa Musonza, standing on one side of a concrete bench speaking to two officers who were detaining the 13-year-old boy. Police and the boy are on the other side of the bench. The cops appear more annoyed than threatened.
The boy was part of a larger group of boys accused of threatening commuters with sticks and fireworks but no sticks or fireworks were found on the boys.
The video was recorded by bystander Che’mere Jones who posted it to Facebook.
“I get off the train, and I see two transit police officers with their hands on one little African-American boy,” Jones told the Washington Post.
“His hands were behind his back, and one of the transit officers had his knee in between the middle of his shoulder blades.”
The scene is calm as Jones tells the boy’s friends that “I just want to make sure y’all alright because I see them looking at y’all and what I’m not about to do is have none of y’all get hurt right here.”
But then a third cop wearing black gloves comes charging in and begins pushing and shoving Musonza.
Musonza responds by opening his arms as if to say “what was that for?” although it is not clear in that moment what he was saying.
The officer, who is much larger than Musonza, responds by pulling out his taser and tasering him. The other cops assist by holding him down as the first cop continues tasering him.
Police claim Musonza “took an aggressive stance with a balled fist and began to approach the officer appearing to be readying for a fight,” according to the Washington Post.
But the video shows he never balled up his fists. He just wanted an explanation as to why he had been shoved.
Police released the boy and his friends but arrested Musonza on a charge of assault on a police officer and obstruction of justice.
He was released the next day with no charges filed against him, although the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has made it clear to WTOP that charges could be filed later on.
The Metro Transit Police Department has initiated an investigation into the incident and councilmembers called for keeping the officer involved away from the public until the investigation concludes.
“I’ve seen enough to condemn the actions of that officer. The video leaves little doubt in my mind what happened was unacceptable,” Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who represents the area the incident took place in, said in a statement.
“Such an action is only a remedy to the symptoms of systemic issues we continue to see in our police forces,” At-Large D.C. Councilmember David Grosso tweeted.
At-Large D.C. Councilmember Robert White seemed to have the most to say, recounting multiple times the Metro Transit Police Department racially profiled and aggressively treated children of color, in his letter to the Board of Directors for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
White brought up two other instances in his letter leading him to believe the MTPD needs a reform.
He received a call in February of this year from the parent of a 16-year-old boy who was detained by a Metro Transit officer for being a suspect in an armed robbery. After concluding the boy was not involved, the officer took a picture of him, telling the boy it was to store in a database so he would not be arrested by accident again.
In December of last year, White saw for himself the horrors some children of color face when dealing with police. He saw “approximately a dozen MTPD officers surround and detain a child who looked to be 13-15 years old” and question “the visibly scared child.”
Even after an officer confirmed the detained child was not involved in the case they were investigating, White wrote, “the officers did not leave, but continued to surround and question him.”
Due to his limited jurisdiction over the police department, White called for a public roundtable concerning the MTPD’s “tactics for policing minors, particularly children of color” to be held soon.
In the video she recorded, Jones is heard pleading with the two officers tackling Musonza, yelling “chill” and calling their actions “unnecessary.”
“I was scared, I was ashamed and I was frustrated,” Jones told WTOP. “There were seven officers around him and more coming down the escalator.”
“Hold your brothers in blue accountable,” she added, in a statement directed at the police. “Not once did you offer any sense of security to anybody on that platform.”
“I think it’s important we hold the police accountable for what they’re doing,” a white witness told WUSA 9. “I had been about as close to the kid previous to that and the fact that police never gave me any problems but gave him a problem really highlights for you the sort of privilege white people live with in this.”
Melissa Laws, mother of the 13-year-old boy who was arrested said she wants to find and thank Musonza.
“He’s a hero. If he had not done that, it could have been worse.”