On Thursday Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland defended his department against community outrage over the videotaped beating of a black teenager who was suspected of robbery. He said his department never engaged in a cover-up, and that he took complaints of abuse and brutality seriously.
The incident, which was caught on video last March, involved seven police officers who descended on a 15-year-old boy after he was chased by police and had fallen to the ground. In the video, the boy falls and puts his hands on the ground before police officer Raad Hassan runs toward the boy and kicks him 15 times, according to a disciplinary letter McClelland wrote after the incident happened, CNN reported. Even after the boy was handcuffed police officers kept on beating and punching him.
All seven of the police officers were fired after an internal investigation of the event, but two were able to get their jobs back after appealing the ruling. This summer a Harris County grand jury indicted four of the officers, CNN also reported.
But now that the video has been released, it's sparked community outrage from people who say it was not an isolated incident. At a community town hall held on Thursday hundreds lined up to share their stories of being harassed and brutalized by police officers, the Houston Chronicle reported.
From the Houston Chronicle:
"Houston has a problem!" thundered the Rev. James Dixon II, pastor of Community of Faith, drawing a standing ovation. "This is not a new problem. It is a problem that has persisted for decades in our city." ... Michael Lewis related the evening when Harris County sheriff's deputies approached him as he was sweeping the parking lot of the Kroger Grocery Store where he worked. Lewis said he was handcuffed and his car illegally searched and severely damaged by officers who apparently had not liked him watching a nearby traffic stop. He said he was thrown against a wall and had a gun put to the back of his head after he informed deputies that he possessed a concealed carry permit for a handgun in his backpack.
Reuters reports that at the community town hall, McClelland said that since the release of the video, the tables had been turned. His officers had been taunted and assaulted by civilians and that the actions of several officers had unfairly poisoned the reputation of his entire department.
McClelland said he takes inappropriate, abusive behavior seriously. "Any time I catch an employee of this organization going over the line, and especially acting criminally, I'm going to fire you," McClelland said.
But community members say they worry about the culture of the police force. "I hope Chief Charles McClelland recognizes that what his officers are now complaining about is a fear many of the citizens of Houston have lived with for decades," Pastor D.Z. Cofield, president of Houston NAACP branch said, the Houston Chronicle reported. "And while it may be true that the vast majority of the 5,300 HPD officers do not brutalize citizens, far too many are complicit because they sit silently by with full knowledge of those who do brutalize citizens." Color of Change has also started a national petition to help call attention to the case.