A Texas police department is apologizing and promising to change its procedures days after a photo went viral of two white police officers on horseback leading a handcuffed black man by what appeared to be a rope.
On Saturday, the Galveston Police Department arrested 43-year-old Donald Neely on suspicion of criminal trespassing. However, only mounted officers on horseback were available at the time, according to the department, meaning that police would need to wait for a cruiser to arrive before they could transport the man.
Rather than wait, the officers, identified in a subsequent police statement as P. Brosch and A. Smith, decided to move Neely to a nearby mounted officer staging area. To do so, they “clipped” a blue rope to Neely’s handcuffs and led him down the street as he walked behind the officers’ horses.
A photo of the arrest, which was taken by an anonymous person, quickly went viral. Many argued that the image of a handcuffed black man walking behind officers was eerily reminiscent of the use of patrols to catch enslaved men and women who fled Southern plantations before the Civil War. And that history is particularly prominent in Galveston, a Texas island where slavery continued for more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
On Facebook, Adrienne Bell, a Democrat running to represent Texas’s 14th Congressional District, which includes Galveston, wrote that the images of the arrest were “a scene that has invoked anger, disgust, and questions from the community.”
“It is hard to understand why these officers felt this young man required a leash, as he was handcuffed and walking between two mounted officers,” she added on Twitter.
On Monday evening, the department apologized for the arrest and promised to change the use of mounted officers to transport arrested people, but argued that the officers did not have “malicious intent.”
Even so, the images, coming after years of heightened attention to the ways police officers treat people of color, have raised questions about the officers’ behavior and the department’s practices.
The department has apologized, but critics argue that it must fire the officers
In a statement released on Monday, Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale apologized for creating an “unnecessary embarrassment” for Neely. In the statement, the department noted that it uses this type of arrest and transport method when it needs to control crowds, but that “the practice was not used correctly in this instance.”
“Although this is a trained technique and best practice in some scenarios, I believe our officers showed poor judgement in this instance and could have waited for a transport unit at the location of the arrest,” Hale said.
“We have immediately changed the policy to prevent the use of this technique and will review all mounted training and procedures for more appropriate methods,” he added.
But the department’s apology — and pledge that it would no longer use this practice — has not curbed criticism. Critics argue that while changing the procedure is necessary, the officers who arrested and transported Neely should also be disciplined or fired for the incident. The department has not publicly said if it plans to reprimand the officers.
Neely’s family has also expressed outrage, saying that he is homeless and needs mental health treatment. “I believe the way they handled him was disgusting,” an attorney representing Neely’s family told Houston news outlet KPRC. “The family is offended. The family is upset.”
In an email to the Houston Chronicle, Houston NAACP president James Douglas said that the treatment of Neely was disrespectful to people of color. “This is 2019 and not 1819,” he said. “I am happy to know that Chief Vernon [Hale] issued an apology and indicated that the act showed poor judgement, but it also shows poor training.”
Others argued that while the practice itself was disturbing, the incident, which comes as police violence and use of force against communities of color remains an issue, also raises deeper questions about how the department interacts with black men and women more broadly.
“With the climate in the country today, I would hate to see, six months or three years down the road, what kind of judgment these same officers would make in a worse scenario,” Leon Phillips, the president of the Galveston Coalition for Justice, told the Chronicle.
“If it was a white man, he wouldn’t have been treated that way,” Phillips added in an interview with the New York Times. “I guarantee there’s nothing in their rules that you can put a leash on a guy while you ride down the street on a horse.”
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Date Posted: Wednesday, August 7th, 2019 , Total Page Views: 1391
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