The video which emerged on social media Sunday is disturbing. In it, a white police officer physically restrains a distraught young African-American boy face down on the ground, then threatens to handcuff him.
“I found it nauseating,” Athens NAACP President Alvin Sheats, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. “That wouldn’t have happened to a white child.”
But Athens-Clarke County police said it only told part of the story. The boy, they said, lunged at the officers as his father was being arrested. Seeking to tamp down the growing controversy as the video gathered steam on Facebook, Athens police on Monday afternoon hastily released body camera footage which they say shows the officers acted reasonably and, in the end, with compassion.
“The only way (the officer) could get that situation under control was to place him on the ground,” Athens-Clarke County police spokesman Epifanio Rodriguez told reporters. The department does not have a specific protocol for handling children, he said.
It all started Friday afternoon with the arrest of Jawoski Collins, on charges of aggravated assault and false imprisonment. The police body camera footage released by the police shows Collins’ son, visibly upset, imploring the two officers on the scene not to take his father into custody. Relatives try to restrain the child and eventually get him inside their house on Sartain Drive.
But the boy will not be contained, sprinting towards the two officers on the scene, then leaping towards one of them. The officer, Shawn Bond, is knocked backwards but manages to pick the boy up in mid-air, the body camera footage shows.
Bond, forcibly restrains the child, face first, in a patch of grass, his arms pulled behind his back. The boy is visibly afraid as Bond, with handcuffs at the ready, barks orders.
“Stop resisting!” Bond commands.
“I don’t want to go to jail!” the boy responds.
Meanwhile, relatives are yelling at the officers.
“How ya’ll gonna do a child like that?” says one.
“He attacked my officer,” Bond shouts.
That’s where the video ends. Posted on Facebook, it had been viewed more than 775,000 times.
Sheats said the officer, instead of de-escalating the tension, only exacerbated it.
“These officers have got to get more de-escalation training,” he said. “The madness has got to stop.”
But while the actions of Bond and his partner, James Trotter, will be under investigation by the department’s internal affairs division, it was clear their superiors felt they handled the situation appropriately.
“We ask the public to take a step back. We know what they saw,” Rodriguez said. “We fully believe after watching the bodycam footage that they’ll understand there are two sides to this story, that the officers had what they had in front of them and had to deal with what they had directly in front of them.”
Bond can be heard reassuring the scared child that he was not going to jail. The boy (police said he was 10 and family members put his age at 9) apologized and promised to calm down. Still distraught, he asked to see his father, his sole legal guardian, according to relatives.
The officers walked him over the the car, where the boy told Collins, “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” the father said. “Be strong, be strong.”
It’s doubtful the body camera video will get nearly the page views, or shares, of the initial video. And it may not matter as much as Athens police believe.
“You’re still not seeing everything that’s going on,” said retired Atlanta olice Lt. Trudy Boyce. “Video doesn’t always tell the whole story.”
But for some, that one image, of a child pinned under an officer, said it all.
“Young folks are tired of this foolishness,” said Sheats, who worries tensions could boil over between Athens’ black community and police. “We are prime for a Ferguson-type situation.”
“We are not going to sit idly by,” said Sheats, adding he plans to speak with Athens-Clarke police Chief Scott Freeman and community leaders in the coming days.
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