The headline is misleading because it implies that Sandra Bland is the only Black female murdered by police or whose criminally negligent death was caused by police and other law enforcement. But I decided to use it because it gets people’s attention and because it’s true. Here’s how.
After returning from chemotherapy on March 9 in the afternoon, 47-year-old Nicol Newman was preparing to clean her West Philly home. An armed white male detective, backed up by at least one armed white male police officer, knocked on her door and declared they were coming in to search. By the time the proverbial smoke cleared, those cops dragged this innocent, law-abiding and sickly Black mother and retired city social worker out of her home through her screen door, manhandled her, handcuffed her and illegally arrested her.
They did all that after she truthfully told them her son wasn’t home when they claimed they had a warrant for his arrest and after she justifiably asked to see the warrant. Instead of allowing her to see it, the detective quickly waved it around from a distance. She responded by accurately pointing out that even if it was an arrest warrant, that is generally different from a search warrant. That’s when they snatched her out of her own home, shackled her and locked her up.
Following that, she was transported to the 55th and Pine streets police station, where she was caged from around 1:30 to 9:30 pm and then transported to the Police Administration Building, also known as the “Roundhouse,” at 8th and Race streets, where she was fingerprinted, photographed and again caged. She was finally released the next morning around 7.
Before going any further, I must describe the caging at the Roundhouse. The cell was revoltingly filthy. There was no bed in the cell, only a steel slab, which Ms. Newman had to share with another female, while a late-arriving female laid on the floor next to a crud-filled sewerage drain. And Ms. Newman never slept because of the filth as well as the traumatic stress she was suffering from. But mostly, it was because of the excruciating pain.
Due to her illness, her body has a very low pain threshold whenever she leans against or lies on hard surfaces. Therefore, she had to figure out a way to relieve that pain while lying on the steel slab. So what was she forced to do? After she and the other inmates were given cheese sandwiches, she requested and was given sanitary napkins. She used those sandwiches and those sanitary napkins to concoct a makeshift mattress.
Did you hear what I just said? She had to demean and humiliate herself by trying to sleep on stale cheese sandwiches and sanitary napkins!
When she contacted my law office after being released, I was so outraged that I agreed to represent her pro bono. When I reviewed the case paperwork, the first thing I noticed was that the police reports didn’t match up with the charge that the District Attorney’s Office filed against her. The police reports indicated resisting arrest, hindering apprehension and obstructing administration of law. But the DA’s Office charged her with disorderly conduct-fighting.
Any first-year law student knows that resisting arrest under Section 5104 of the Crimes Code requires that a person be under actual arrest before that person can possibly resist such arrest. However, she wasn’t under arrest during her discussion or debate with the cops.
And hindering apprehension under Section 5105(a) requires that a person harbor or conceal a suspect. However, her son wasn’t even home.
Also, obstructing administration of law under Section 5101 requires much more than mere “avoiding compliance” by passive resistance. However, she wasn’t accused of hitting or otherwise making any physical contact or of threatening anyone — just noncompliance.
It gets worse. When Ms. Newman and I arrived in court for her trial on April 26, the assistant district attorney assigned to the case told me his office had decided to change the Section 5503(a)(1) disorderly conduct-fighting charge, which requires “fighting, threatening, or engaging in violence,” to the Section 5503(a)(2) disorderly conduct-noise charge, which requires “making unreasonable noise.”
I strenuously objected because it was unfair for the DA’s Office to change the charge at the very last minute without giving me, as the defense attorney, a chance to research and prepare. The judge overruled my objection and allowed the assistant DA to make the change. But it didn’t matter because “If the ancestors be for us, who can be against us?”
I therefore remembered what my mentor, the great Charles Bowser, Esquire, taught me. And when the assistant DA rested his case after calling the detective and a police officer as witnesses, I then raised something called a “motion for judgment of acquittal,” which basically means that the DA’s case was so weak that I shouldn’t even have to present any witnesses or evidence in response.
My motion was based on the fact that a person cannot be guilty of disorderly conduct, whether it pertains to fighting or noise, when that person is doing whatever he or she is doing inside his or her own house because disorderly conduct requires “public” or outside disruption. The judge was forced to grant my motion even if he didn’t want to.
Case dismissed, dammit!
I have to mention, though, with all due respect, that while the the judge was right in granting my motion (because he was forced to), he was completely wrong in unnecessarily editorializing after granting it when he basically said he was dismissing the case only because the DA’s Office had filed the wrong charge, not because Ms. Newman was innocent. Isn’t he supposed to be an impartial arbiter and not a backseat prosecutor?
I would be remiss if I failed to point out that, during the detective’s testimony, that the detective said he thought he might have to “taze” Ms. Newman. Then he laughed. I wonder if he laughed when other unarmed Black women, such as Natasha McKenna of Fairfax, Va., was killed while being tased.
I wonder if he, the other cops involved, and the DA’s Office laughed when Sandra Bland died after being falsely arrested, charged and caged on a minor alleged violation in Texas, similar to the minor alleged violation by Ms. Newman. I wonder if they laughed at the sickly Ms. Newman who possibly could have been tased to death in her home or fatally infected in the toxic cell.
I wonder if they laughed when the following unarmed Black women and girls were killed by or died due to the criminally negligent actions of law enforcement: Lashonda Ruth Belk, Rakia Boyd, Mariam Carey, Kindra Chapman, Joyce Curnell, Shantel Davis, Sharmel Edwards, Shereese Francis, Shelly Frey, LaTanya Haggerty, Darnisha Harris, Kendra James, Aiyana Jones, Bettie Jones, Ralkina Jones, Nuwnah Laroche, Yvette Smith, Alberta Spruill, Alesia Thomas, Tiara Thomas, Raynette Turner, Chandra Weaver, Tarika Wilson and hundreds of others.
For info about solutions to misogynistic/racist police brutality, contact the #SayHerName Movement at aapf.org. Or call “F(ilm) The Police” at (215) 552-8785.