A video depicting a black man being detained by a white police officer in the affluent Minneapolis suburb of Edina is causing waves throughout the Twin Cities and beyond.
In footage taken and uploaded to YouTube on October 12, a plainclothes officer can be seen grabbing and detaining 34-year-old Larnie B. Thomas after Thomas was stopped for walking along the shoulder of a busy road.
"You can't just put your hands on me, man," Thomas is seen exclaiming, as Lt. T.F. Olson grabs his jacket and leads him toward a parked police car. "This is bullshit."
Thomas grows increasingly agitated as his detention continues, explaining that he was forced to walk in the street since the sidewalk was closed—something seemingly corroborated by the woman filming the incident, identified by the Minneapolis NAACP as Janet Rowles. Rowles wrote on YouTube:
I passed by a man who was walking on the white line of the shoulder of the street. There was construction and it was obvious that the sidewalk was not available right there so he was hugging the right side as far as he could go. I went around him and noticed in my rearview mirror that an unmarked SUV turned on police lights. The officer pulled in front of the pedestrian to cut him off and proceeded to accuse him of walking in the middle of the street.
Rowles told the Star Tribune that she stopped to film Thomas because "didn’t think [his arrest] was very fair." The paper reported that Thomas was subsequently cited for failure to obey a traffic signal and disorderly conduct.
Since posting the video, Rowles' footage has been viewed nearly 300,000 times on Youtube, and has generated intense criticism from Twin Cities community leaders such as rapper Toki Wright, and Minneapolis NAACP head Nekima Levy-Pounds, who described Thomas' arrest as "a prime example of the urgent need for police reform in our state and in this nation."
In a statement posted to its Facebook page, the city of Edina attempted to mitigate the outrage, describing Thomas as "defiant" and claiming he subsequently failed a breathalyzer test after an officer smelled alcohol on his breath. The city also seemed to offer a half-hearted defense of Rowles' role in Thomas' arrest, stating "as a bystander, it’s your right to film officer interactions. However, it’s important to note that attempting to interact with the officer and/or suspect creates a greater risk to the safety of the officer, suspect and bystanders."
Rowles, for her part, was adamant regarding what she saw. "I’m a mediator, and I see people all the time be upset in ways that aren’t very pretty," Rowles told the Star Tribune. "We’re human. It’s the job of the police to deal with it in a good manner, not the [one] who is being falsely accused."
At one point in her tape, as Thomas is seen growing increasingly agitated, Rowles explained Lt. Olson that Thomas "is scared, sir. It's scary."
In a statement released by the NAACP, Rowles is quoted as saying:
I have no interest in vilifying the police, but obviously I got out of my car in the first place because I perceive the pedestrian might not get treated fairly because of his ethnicity.
According to a Census Bureau estimate for 2014, the city of Edina is just 2.2 percent African American.
Thomas' arrest comes just over four months after police in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights shot and killed Philando Castile, who was black. Footage of Castile's death, broadcast over Facebook by his girlfriend who was in the car with him at the time, sent waves of outrage across the Twin Cities, and throughout nation as a whole, prompting calls for justice and accountability from law enforcement.
"It is sad to say, but that man in the video could easily have been the next #PhilandoCastile or #JamarClark, two unarmed black men who were killed by police within the last year," the NAACP wrote in their release.
"When will we say #EnoughisEnough?"