George Madison, Jr. is a firefighter in Evansville, Indiana. Last month, Mr. Madison was riding his bike on a Tuesday afternoon when he saw two officers on patrol rode by. Mr. Madison waved hello. A few minutes later, the father of four and youth pastor was threatened with a taser, handcuffed and forced to lie on the ground.
As reported by the Evansville Courier & Press, he admits that he did not stop at the intersection of the four-way stop when the officers made a sudden turn in front of him. As they passed by, he thought he recognized one of them and he raised his hand to wave. They instructed him to pull his bicycle over to the side of the road. The officers jumped out and went towards him and shouted, “What are you doing throwing your hands up at us?”
Apparently these officers aren’t used to people waving at them. Here is how they reported this part of the story:
“Mr. Madison failed to stop his bike and continued through the intersection. Mr. Madison then raised his right arm in a [sic] apparent aggravated manor [sic] at officers. Officers turned around and stopped Mr. Madison at Weinbach and Kathleen.”
Is aggravated waving a crime?
Madison tried to explain, but the officers weren’t interested in listening. It was at this point, Madison realized he didn’t know the officers and felt things were getting out of control. He decided to call the Police Chief Bolin, having worked with him on various community efforts to see if he could help calm the situation.
That just made things worse.
The officer told him to put the phone down. Madison tried to explain who he was calling and the officer grabbed the phone, which made Madison reflexively flinch.
Or as Officers Clifton and Clegg reported:
“Mr. Madison refused to put his phone down and told officers to hold on a minute. Officer Clegg reached for Mr. Madison’s phone and Mr. Madison postured up and pulled his arm back in a [sic] aggressive manor [sic].”
What is it with arms that Evansville police find so aggressive?
Officer Clegg then pulls out his taser and orders Madison to the ground. “It was literally maybe inches from my face,” Madison said. “I immediately threw my hands in the air. What he asked me to do I was more than willing to do. I said ‘Please don’t hurt me.’ The next thing I know I’m laying down on the ground and they cuffed me.”
They then began to interrogate Mr. Madison who, at this point, has only committed a minor traffic violation of failing to stop at a stop sign while riding a bike. Nevertheless, they ask for his name, identification and where he worked. When Mr. Madison stated that he was a firefighter, things took a decidedly different turn.
This is also when Officer Clegg remembered to turn on the camera he was wearing.
The ten minute video shows how the officers suddenly realize they may have stepped over the line with a fellow public servant. They spend the time trying to recap events and making sure Madison understands what he did wrong and why they had to handcuff him. It wasn’t about waving, it was because he failed to stop at a stop sign. Plus, they had no idea who he was calling. He could have been calling his buddies and they would have had a situation where they would have been in danger.
It was about the officers’ safety, you see.
Madison often disagrees with their assessment, but is constantly told differently. Madison realizes the futility of the situation and simply starts agreeing with them. Assured he had “calmed down,” they release him from the handcuffs. They once again want to make sure that he knew all the things he did wrong in the situation. They explained that he’s supposed to stop at stop signs and that he shouldn’t bring attention to himself.
In other words, they wanted him to understand that everything that happened was entirely his fault.
At one point, a visibly shaken Madison tries to explain that, as a black man, he was afraid of the aggressiveness of the officer. “The only thing anybody wants is to be treated like a human.”
Most would look at this as the latest example of how the most innocent of activities can be blown out of proportion — when a black person is involved. Just as mundane activities such as driving or walking (see stop and frisk) seem to be justifiable reasons for law enforcement to harass people of color, it would appear that waving is also worthy of police attention.
George Madison does not agree.
In a statement posted to the Facebook page of the Evansville Courier & Press, Madison says, “I have never said this was a race issue. I haven’t said one derogatory word about anyone involved. I felt as if I was treated unfairly and I filed a complaint, which is my right. I have trusted the system and continually supported Chief Bolin and our police department. I agreed with the decision that my complaint was unfounded by internal affairs and that no standard operating procedures were violated. My major concern is that my dignity and right to be treated like a human being was violated. I still believe and will continue to trust the system.”
Mr. Madison was never cited for his traffic violation.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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