This woman claims her boyfriend was pulled over by police for giving change to a homeless man
First, there were the two men who were hauled out of Starbucks by police because they "didn’t buy anything". Then there was the woman brutally arrested at a Waffle House because she refused to pay for cutlery that she'd previously received for free. Now, there could be a new story to add to the catalogue of racially-motivated abuses of power by police in the United States. A man has been reportedly detained at gunpoint, subjected to verbal abuse, breathalysed and had his car searched by a canine unit; apparently all because he was spotted handing money to a homeless man.
On April 25, a woman identifying herself as “Hermione Danger” and using the handle @kelseybew took to Twitter to explain that her boyfriend had just been pulled over by police. Detailing his experience in a lengthy thread of Tweets, the woman explained that her boyfriend had just left a 7-11 in Virginia after dropping a friend to the airport, when he stopped to give some change to a homeless man waiting outside. No sooner had he moved on, she says, when he was asked to pull over.
At this point, she claims, he was told that the homeless man had been previously reported for drug offences and her boyfriend - who remains nameless throughout - was then asked to show his insurance and told that the officer could smell weed in his car:
However, according to the writer, this is where things took a scary turn. The officer detained her boyfriend at gunpoint, despite the fact that he was unarmed and posed no threat. Understandably, in a country that’s been host to a number of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police, this was a scary experience.
The situation continued, until other police cars and a sheriff arrived, at which point the cop put his gun away, and even denied having ever had it out in the first place.
The woman stated that during the time between initially being pulled over and eventually being released, her boyfriend was refused the request to call someone to let them know where he was - despite presumably not being under arrest - until the sheriff allowed him to borrow his own phone to send one text. In the meantime, a canine unit searched his car and breathalyzed him, finding nothing. Nonetheless, no apology was made and her boyfriend was left severely distressed.
While the sheriff was apparently compassionate and fair and even told her boyfriend that he could understand why a black male would be so scared in that situation. According to a 2017 report by Mapping Police Violence 2017, 27 per cent of the 1,129 people killed by police in the US last year were black — despite black people accounting for just 13 per cent of the country's population.
The woman’s tale quickly went viral, amassing hundreds of thousands of retweets and thousands of comments, with many Twitter users outraged at the apparent lack of basis for the detention and the racial profiling that seemed implicit in the situation.
However, the story may not be all that it seems. Hours after the story broke, the Virginia Beach Police Department commented via Twitter that the incident in question did not involve them: "We are still looking into this incident but it appears NOT to involve our officers. We are currently talking to surrounding jurisdictions to see where this may have occurred. [sic]" A further tweet made clear that they were questioning whether the incident really happened.
In another tweet, this time directly in reply to "Hermione Dangers'" original thread, they added that: "Neither our department nor Virginia Beach dispatch has a record of any such incident matching your description. If your boyfriend is positive that the incident occurred in our city then please encourage him to contact our Internal Affairs Office at 385-4145”.
This was later followed up with a lengthy Facebook post, which recounted the details of the thread, and updated social media users of the details of their subsequent investigations, stating that they had not only conducted a review into their own incidents but contacted the sheriff's office and surrounding police departments, none of whom had any record of the incident either.
Adding that their attempts to contact the original poster had gone ignored, as had attempts by various news organisations, they declared that: "At this time, this incident appears to have not occurred, or if something did happen, did not occur as described by ‘Hermione Danger’". For her part, “Hermione Danger” has since retaliated, stating that her boyfriend is now working with police on their investigations, and has thanked the public for their support.
Whatever the truth of the incident, (or non-incident depending on your perspective), it’s clear that the saga will do little to soothe relations between people of colour and the police in the United States. Because for every story that’s of a questionable nature, there seems to be another that can be validated; it's clear that there's still a lot of work to do to build up trust.