Black Iowans tell of their encounters with police
The Des Moines Register interviewed 23 black Iowans about their encounters with law enforcement officers. Four of their stories are below.
— Compiled by Kathy A. Bolten
BLACK IOWANS SERIES:
- Conversations: Black parents teach children to act with caution
- Black Iowans feel profiled by police
- Iowa profiling policies fall short of standards
- Equipment stops: Good policing or pretense for profiling?
- Iowa studies show blacks stopped more often than whites
Natasha Davis | Cited for jaywalking
Natasha Davis was looking forward to a going-away celebration for her friends at a gathering on Court Avenue.
But the March 23 celebration was quickly dampened after she said a police officer singled her out among a group of people crossing against a "don't walk" light.
She said she complained to the officer about his rude and foul language and was the only one to get a citation.
She also was the only black person in her group.
"It clearly was a racial thing," said Davis' friend, Bobbie Jo Blair, who witnessed the encounter. "There were tons of people walking across the street who were actually jaywalking, and he only focused on her."
Davis, 26, fought the citation in Polk County District Court, but lost.
According to court records, the officer testified that he cited Davis because she continued to walk after he had asked her group to stop so that he could talk to them.
Davis, according to court records, testified that the light was "white" when she and her group began walking across the street and that the officer began yelling at her for no reason. She testified that the officer was very close to her, and she wanted him out of her face. "He was yelling and cursing."
Judge Odell McGhee wrote in his decision that he found the officer "to be more credible" and his testimony "more logical."
Davis said, "If I really had jaywalked, I would have been honest about it, and I would have taken the citation. ...
"But I didn't think it was right for him to yell at me, scream at me, or treat me the way he treated me."
Patrick Lewis | Pulled over for tinted windows
Patrick Lewis had spent much of a spring Saturday afternoon at a track meet, coaching a group of teenagers.
As he and his daughter headed home at around 5 p.m., a police officer pulled out of a parking lot and began following him. Within seconds, the officer turned on his lights, said Lewis, a Des Moines high school teacher who lives in West Des Moines. The stop occurred about 18 months ago.
The officer checked Lewis' identification, then asked his daughter who she was and her relationship to Lewis, he said.
"At this point, I was just wondering why he stopped me," said Lewis, 47. "I said 'Sir, can I ask why you stopped me?' He said, 'Your tint's too dark. ... The front windows are too dark.' I said, 'They are (rolled) down.' He said, 'Well, I need to check to see to see if they are too dark.' "
Lewis rolled up his window. The officer told Lewis the tint was too dark, but he didn't issue a warning or a citation.
"I told my daughter, 'We just got profiled,' " Lewis said.
Two months ago, Lewis was pulled over again. This time, he said, the officer asked him to get out of his vehicle.
The officer told him the tint in his rear window was too dark, Lewis said. However, Iowa law doesn't restrict the amount of tint on rear windows, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation.
The officer looked inside Lewis' truck, then allowed him to leave, he said.
Tommy Ross | Stopped for unlit license plate
The Rev. Tommy Ross was taking a friend home after Bible study around 9:30 p.m. in late April when he was pulled over by Des Moines police officers.
Ross said the officers had been driving toward him when they made a U-turn and flashed their lights, signaling him to pull over.
"I asked them what I was being stopped for. I was told that my (license) plate light was out," said Ross, pastor of Destiny Christian Church in Des Moines and Polk County Community Partnership coordinator. "They gave me a warning and told me to get the light fixed."
Ross, 46, said he found it curious how the officers could know that his license plate light was out when they were in front of him.
"The reality is for me, it's just my experience as a black man," he said. "Unfortunately, that's been the norm across time."
Cynthia Hunafa | Driving 'a little too fast'
Cynthia Hunafa was eager to get home after working more than 12 hours at her two jobs.
As she pulled her Jeep into the alley that runs behind her west-side Des Moines home, she noticed a vehicle behind her.
The 65-year-old grandmother said she didn't think anything of it because her neighbors also frequently use the alley.
She became concerned, though, when the vehicle pulled in behind her in her backyard, where she typically parks.
"I look a little closer and, oh my gosh, it's a police car. I see this young Caucasian officer get out of his car," Hunafa said.
As the officer approached, Hunafa said "all that's been happening across the country is fresh in my head. My heart is racing like crazy. It's dark. There's nobody else back there."
The officer, who was carrying a long flashlight, asked her if she lived in the house, where she was coming from and other questions, she said. Hunafa said she asked why he had pulled in behind her. He told her she was going "a little too fast."
Hunafa rolled down the window, and the officer put his face "this close to me," she said, holding her hand about 6 inches from her face.
"He started talking about my attitude, and I was like, 'You're the one who started this.'
"He's real aggressive, and I'm more like an elder who is offended about how he was speaking to me."
She didn't receive a warning or citation.
Hunafa said she didn't file a complaint because it would be her word against the officer's, and she feared repercussions against her adult children.
She remains shaken by the encounter.
"I really did think this could be it — that those could be my last moments on Earth," she said.