News & Politics

Cops Chemical Spray and Tackle Young Man Asking for a Spare Nickel to Board Train

Since when did simply asking a question justify police brutality?

A 21-year-old man is considering legal action against the Metro Transit Police in Washington D.C. after he was hit in the face with a chemical spray in November for panhandling at the Dupont Circle Station, Fox 5 reported.

Damian Barnes had just begun a new job in the city’s Dupont Circle neighborhood when on his way home via the Metro, he put his smarTrip card into the machine to discover he only had 15 cents left on the card.

After adding the dollar bill in his pocket to the card value he learned he was still a nickel short, caught by video footage, so he began asking customers for a coin.

“Knowing that it’s only five cents, I’m quite embarrassed to even ask. So I’m keeping my distance away from people, ‘Do you think maybe you can spare a quarter or five cents, so I can get home?” Barnes told Fox 5 he asked.

The video surveillance than shows a Metro Transit Police officer arriving on the scene and having a brief conversation with Barnes. The officer then is seen applying chemical spray to Barnes’ face and tackling him to the ground.

In a police report, the officer claimed that he was attempting to escort Barnes out and that the young man was in a "combative stance".  However, the security video clearly shows the contrary.

“There was no customer assistance at all,” Barnes said. “I was just being pretty much pushed away from him, too, while I was trying to understand why I had to leave. [Or] if there’s any other assistance I could get, since it’s such, you know, five cents. I was just kind of baffled.”

Following the incident, Barnes was hospitalized where paramedics washed the chemical spray out of his eyes.

He was subsequently taken to jail and charged with panhandling and unlawful entry, however both charges were dropped.

While panhandling is considered against the rules in D.C., Barnes says at no time did the officer explain to him that it was illegal.  If he had Barnes would have left immediately.

Even still, it’s hard to fathom how a “poverty crime” could justify such disproportional use of force by police.

As for Barnes, he says the only lesson he has taken away from this experience is to "have more money" at all times.  









Jodie Gummow is a senior fellow and staff writer at AlterNet.


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