From Sally Nelson O’Donnell, one of my former students at Hillsdale College:
My brother and sister-in-law were victims of police brutality on Sunday night.
Thank God, they’re home safe and their injuries, while painful, pale in comparison to what many have experienced. Seeing the trauma that Alex and Iris went through has forever changed my thoughts about the police in our country. I would encourage you to read this, even though it’s long, as this could happen to you or someone you love.
Alex and Iris were outside of their downtown loft at about 11 pm Sunday night when police formed a kettle in the Washington and Tucker intersection. In a kettle formation, police advance slowly and to force people into a smaller and smaller circle. Often, they grunt and bang their riot shields and bicycles on the ground to intimidate the people in the kettle.
Some people in the kettle that night were out walking their pets. Others were walking home, like Alex and Iris. Some had been protesting earlier that night but, from the footage I’ve seen, there were no active protests at the time on that area of St. Louis.
For seemingly no reason, police ordered everyone they had encircled to the ground. From all of the footage I’ve seen, no one resisted. And as people were on their hands and knees on the ground, police – clad in riot gear – began to pepper spray them. They put Alex, my brother, in handcuffs. They pepper sprayed him in the face even though he couldn’t move to resist arrest or fight back. He couldn’t protect his eyes or mouth with his hands.
After they handcuffed him, they drug him across blacktop so violently his shoes came off. They kicked him in the face repeatedly and separated him from his wife. Because he was blinded by the pepper spray, he couldn’t see his wife but could only hear her screaming.
Iris, meanwhile, was also being pepper sprayed. While she did not experience the same extreme violence that Alex did, the pepper spray burned her skin. The last thing she saw before she too could no longer see was her husband being beaten.
They were both arrested and brought to the St Louis police station where they were denied water for more than 8 hours, were denied access to a phone, and were not told what they were being charged with. They were separated from each other with no way to confirm the other person was OK. Iris remained in jail for more than 22 hours. Alex was released after almost 18 hours.
They both were treated like criminals even though they did nothing wrong. Both Alex and Iris were well within their rights as residents of St. Louis and their neighborhood.
Alex and Iris are the kinds of people that, if you follow conventional wisdom, should be safe from police brutality. My brother is a decorated officer in the Air Force. He’s served his country for years. He and his wife are both college educated. They own a beautiful loft in downtown St. Louis that looks like something out of the sitcom New Girl. They have clean records. Neither had been drinking or doing drugs when they were brutalized. They weren’t vandalizing. They weren’t even protesting. They were trying to walk home.
Yet none of these things mattered. The police, some politicians, and some in the media would have you believe that you will be safe if you don’t break the law. We’re presented the narrative that cops only hurt thugs but this was not true with my brother and his wife.
It has been shocking to me to watch the police and, in turn, the media twist what happened on Sunday night. The narrative they present is nothing like what happened. Alex and Iris’ story is confirmed by the multiple videos recorded of the arrest. At some point, I will share this information but, for now, this information must be kept private due to impending lawsuits against the police in St. Louis.
The media and police have said that the 80 arrests made were a response to the violence and vandalism that happened that night. This is impossible. First: the violence happened in an area area far from where Alex and Iris live. Second, the vandalism and bad behavior happened before 9:20 pm. The St. Louis police Twitter feed confirms this. Alex and Iris were arrested and brutalized after 11:15 pm that night, almost two hours later. There is no world in which it would make sense to arrest random bystanders for a crime that took place two hours before in a different part of the city.
From my outsider’s perspective, it appears that the police made a show of force in an attempt to prevent the St. Louis protests from escalating a la Ferguson. It seems they wanted to show people that they were serious and wanted to present high arrest numbers to tout in the media. Given that my brother and his wife were doing nothing illegal (a reality affirmed by multiple videos, GPS coordinates, and photos), this is the only explanation that makes sense.
For too long, I’ve been quiet about police violence. While I long knew such violence occurred, I did nothing. Now that police beat, pepper sprayed, verbally abused, and seriously hurt my brother and sister-in-law, I will not sit idly by while those who supposedly “protect and serve” abuse their power.
Please know this: I am not anti-policemen. I do not hate individual officers. There are some good people in the police force. There are some neutral people. There are some bad people. I am, however, deeply opposed to the system that we’ve created. I am opposed to a system that would allow this kind of violence to be inflicted upon an innocent person I love, a person who the police of St. Louis swore an oath to protect.
The founding fathers of this nation believed that a standing army of trained soldiers on our soil would oppress our people if it existed. I have only realized this week that the police in our country have become that standing army. Police clad in riot gear pounding the ground with their riot shields and surrounding innocent civilians only to terrorize and brutalize them is exactly what the founders warned of. They warned of governments staging a war on their citizens. Alex and Iris were victims of that war.
James Madison called standing armies the “greatest mischief that can happen.” Alexander Hamilton opposed them. Standing armies were called the dual temptations of international aggression and domestic oppression.
George Mason, delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, wrote: “No man has a greater regard for the military gentlemen than I have. I admire their intrepidity, perseverance, and valor. But when once a standing army is established in any country, the people lose their liberty. When, against a regular and disciplined army, yeomanry are the only defence [sic], — yeomanry, unskilful and unarmed, — what chance is there for preserving freedom? Give me leave to recur to the page of history, to warn you of your present danger. Recollect the history of most nations of the world. What havoc, desolation, and destruction, have been perpetrated by standing armies!”
Through unchecked power and a ever-increasing militarization, our police have become standing army. Our police state is inconsistent with liberty. The people who founded our country opposed standing armies as they saw how the English Monarchy used it’s armies on its people.
That the police oppressed my brother and his wife and lied about what they did has rattled my conception of the world. The past week has been more surreal than I can describe. If you don’t believe this story, that’s fine. It’s understandable as it’s shocking and hard to process. Soon, the video, photographic, and GPS evidence will be public and you can decide for yourself.
What I know is this: my brother experienced something horrific and what happened to him has been affirmed through several videos and photos. The police and the media presented what happened Sunday night in a wildly inaccurate, imprecise manner. For instance: the videos presented on St. Louis news channels showed the vandalism that happened 15 minutes from Alex and Iris’ house in the same segment as the aerial footage of their arrest, linking together two events that were geographically and chronologically unrelated.
It’s been hard to know that this happened to two people that I love so very much. If you know my brother, you know he is a gentle, non-violent man and a kind, hard-working servant of the people around him. If you know Iris, you’d know that she is funny, creative, and kind and she fits in beautifully with my family. They both are so much fun to be around.
Watching the video of what they did to my family has made me more angry than I can describe. After seeing the wounds on Alex’s body, I have felt an anger more powerful than any other anger I’ve experienced.
I am, perhaps, most angry at myself. I am appalled that it took something happening to the people that I love for me to speak out. It makes me angry that my big brother and sister-in-law had to experience police violence before I became an advocate for those unjustly assaulted.
For years, I’ve seen stories on the news and heard tales of police brutality and yet I did nothing. Something in me (perhaps some latent prejudice I tried to pretend didn’t exist) prevented me from truly believing some of these victims. But now that I’ve seen this immoral, unconstitutional behavior, I will not remain silent. It was wrong of me not to speak out for victims before but I will not allow my mistakes in the past prevent me from being an outspoken critic of police violence, a generous and tender advocate for the abused, and a thoughtful reformer of the criminal justice system.
Please keep Alex and Iris in your prayers.
Oh, and St. Louis police? Please give my brother his dang shoes back.
PLEASE NOTE: Alex was not in uniform and was NOT there as part of his service with the Air Force. He was not representing them in that moment and was not wearing Air Force attire.
Here’s a piece from the “mainstream” media: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/undercover-cop-air-force-officer-med-student-among-those-police/article_e2dcc3de-f228-5311-a35f-e60e1bd9ebee.html