Mar 17, 2017

Shots Fired: Part 1

A couple years ago, Ben Montgomery, reporter at the Tampa Bay Times, started emailing every police station in Florida.

He was asking for any documents created - from 2009 to 2014 - when an officer discharged his weapon in the line of duty. He ended up with a six foot tall stack of reports, pictures, and press clippings cataloging the death or injury of 828 people by Florida police. 

Jad and Robert talk to Ben about what he found, crunch some numbers, and then our reporter Matt Kielty takes a couple files off Ben's desk and brings us the stories inside them - from a network of grief to a Daytona police chief.

And next week, we bring you another, very different story of a police encounter gone wrong.

Produced and reported by Matt Kielty

For the full presentation of Ben Montgomery's reporting please visit the Tampa Bay Times' 'Why Cops Shoot?" We can't recommend it highly enough. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that in reporter Ben Montgomery's six years of Florida data there were, on average, 130 people shot and killed each year. Police officers did indeed shoot 130 people per year, on average, but only half of those shootings were fatal. The audio has been adjusted to reflect this fact.

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SHOTS FIRED: PART 1 FINAL WEB TRANSCRIPT

 

JAD ABUMRAD: Before we start, this podcast contains some tape that describes some pretty graphic violence. We want to let you know that before we get going.

 

[RADIOLAB INTRO]

 

JAD: Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

ROBERT KRULWICH: I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

JAD: This is Radiolab. And today ...

 

ROBERT: We're gonna start this show with a fellow named Ben Montgomery, a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times.

 

JAD: He's a guy we've had on the show before.

 

JAD: Ben, say something.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: Hi. This is Ben.

 

JAD: Hi Ben. Okay, I think we're good. All right. We just want to know from you like, what are you guys doing? How are you doing it? What are you thinking?

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: I'll start at the beginning.

 

JAD: Yeah. Start at the beginning, tell us what you're doing.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: So after the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson ...

 

[NEWS CLIP: There is growing outrage tonight after an unarmed African-American teenager was shot and killed.]

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: When that became a national story, there was a lot of bellyaching in the press ...

 

[NEWS CLIP: How many people do we see killed in the United States ...]

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: ... about ...

 

[NEWS CLIP: ... by the police each year?]

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: ... how no one keeps accurate statistics ...

 

[NEWS CLIP: There's currently no national statistics ...]

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: ...on police shootings, law enforcement officer-involved shootings. And it struck me at the time that like, what we react to is all anecdotal. You know, once in a while one of these things will catch fire.

 

[NEWS CLIP: Tamir Rice.]

 

[NEWS CLIP: Jason Harrison.]

 

[NEWS CLIP: Sam Dubose.]

 

[NEWS CLIP: John Crawford III.]

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: And will become sort of a national story. And I personally was having trouble, like, processing that. Like, number one, is there -- is it trending one way or the other? Are police shooting more Black people than white people? Just very simply.

 

JAD: Yeah.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: The problem is we don't know. We have no idea because nobody tracks these. FBI doesn't. State agencies don't, for the most part.

 

ROBERT: Really?

 

JAD: So that -- that data doesn't exist somewhere within the police department itself?

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: In the police department it does, on the local level. However, it doesn't exist in any accurate way by a broader agency. And I could tell you how many purse snatchings there were in Florida in 2011 using the FBI numbers or the numbers submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, but I can't tell you how many times police shot somebody.

 

JAD: Now there have been a couple of organizations that have tried to keep track nationally.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: But everything that's done so far is incomplete.

 

JAD: You know, because most of those, you know, like The Guardian has an online database, most of them rely on media reports, so they're only really keeping track of the ones that sort of hit the public consciousness.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: That's right.

 

JAD: So Ben and his editors thought ...

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: Let's do something that's more complete. Let's do something that's unprecedented.

 

JAD: So first thought he had ...

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: Florida.

 

JAD: It's the third biggest state, demographics are pretty similar to the rest of the country.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: And Florida has wonderful public records laws.

 

JAD: Legally, it's easier to get information in Florida than in a lot of other places. And so Ben sat down and started emailing every single police precinct in the entire state of Florida.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: I think I sent 388 emails asking for five years' worth of paper, any paper generated when an officer fired a firearm and someone was injured or killed as a result of that shooting. Now this involved a year of work.

 

JAD: Hounding police departments. Getting lawyers involved.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: This is a massive thing that involved probably no less than a hundred people.

 

JAD: But eventually ...

 

MATT KIELTY: Thank you, sir.

 

JAD: Ben put together the most comprehensive police shooting database that we know of.

 

ROBERT: A while back we sent our producer Matt Kielty down to the Tampa Bay Times ...

 

MATT: Oh, is this them right here?

 

ROBERT: ... to check it out.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: Yeah.

 

MATT: How many -- how many documents do you think you have sitting on this desk?

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: It's probably 5,000 pages. I have a stack of paper that's about as tall as me. Six feet tall. We got them broken down by county, but you can see -- so A, B, Bay County, Boca Raton, Boynton Beach all the way through the alphabet.

 

MATT: Yeah, you basically just have all these manila folders with tons of papers in them spread across an entire desk.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: Right. It's a combination of Use of Force Reports, civil court records and media clippings that represent 831 shootings. I hope every shooting in the State of Florida in the -- in six years' time, 2009 to 2014. So what we did was go through all this material, scrape each of those reports for every bit of information that we could get that we thought was useful. Circumstantial stuff. Did it involve a SWAT team? Did it involve an armed suspect? Was there a chase? All the demographic information for the firing officer or officers and the people who were hit by those bullets. Then we thought, "Let's, like, learn from these. Let's see how -- how we can compile the data and build a database and, you know, hopefully draw some conclusions, some lessons, some solutions.

 

JAD: This is all gonna go into sort of a giant online database at the Tampa Bay Times website. Hopefully other organizations in other states will start to do the same. Perhaps even one day we'll have a national agency that keeps track of this stuff. In any case, in the meantime, here's some of the things that Ben found. And initially some of it, you know, kind of surprised us.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: Well, the biggest sort of counter-intuitive line in this, the numbers are flat.

 

JAD: He says if you look at the numbers, what you see year after year after year ...

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: The numbers have stayed steady.

 

JAD: About 130 people shot by police every year.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: Which seems odd because, you know, the past couple of years these videos that go viral, and makes it seem like this is a new and intense problem. The numbers show that that doesn't seem to be the case.

 

ROBERT: Huh.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: We also broke these down into category, and ...

 

JAD: He says, you know, what you see, like, on the most basic level are that about a third of the police shooting cases involve someone on the other side who is quote "mentally unstable."

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: And this is a case we're not taking a guess at whether the person is mentally unstable. These are cases in which there's some evidence in the report that the person has been diagnosed mentally ill.

 

JAD: Maybe off their meds at the time of the shooting.

 

ROBERT: And in that category, Ben says they found a surprising number of cases they call "suicide by cop," which is where somebody who's usually mentally ill is apparently trying to get themselves shot intentionally.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: The person is in view of the police, standing on a porch, standing behind a screen door and raises a weapon toward the police. Either a weapon or what they want the police to think is a weapon.

 

ROBERT: So it's called, "I'm gonna kill myself, but I'm gonna make you do it to me."

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: Right.

 

ROBERT: And that's considered a suicide attempt because they know they're gonna get shot. It's an attempt to invite the shooting.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: That's right.

 

JAD: This is something that people who cover police apparently know quite well.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: You know, they're the news briefs that you see once or twice a week.

 

JAD: But it was news to us. I mean clearly, police are now like the de facto front line in dealing with mental illness in this country. But when it got to Ben's central question, what do the numbers say about race?

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: I think I would start with the fact that ...

 

JAD: There, I'm not sure it was so surprising.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: That 40 percent of people shot by police are Black. And that is -- that is out of whack with the Florida demographics.

 

ROBERT: What is the percentage of African Americans in Florida?

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: It's not 40 percent.

 

JAD: It's more like 17.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: That's right.

 

JAD: Which means ultimately that if you're a Black person in Florida, you are four times as likely to be shot by police than if you're white.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: This doesn't tell us much right now, but the breakdown between fatalities for those same demographics ...

 

JAD: And as we sat there going through this particular set of numbers ...

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: 50.9 percent were carrying a firearm, 9 percent had a blade. 70 percent involved some form of resisting arrest.

 

JAD: You know, and we talked with him numerous times over two years, you know, drilling down on those numbers. And as we were doing that ...

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: 50.9 percent.

 

JAD: You know, it was weird. I started to feel like, you know, I'm really glad that we have these numbers, finally. That in itself is a good thing, but ...

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: Further down, 91 of the 570 or 16 ...

 

JAD: The numbers themselves don't really get you very far. The more you hear, it's just like yeah, this is only one ultimately limited way of knowing the problem.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: Yeah. I mean -- I mean, what gets me is like the -- I don't know. It's back to where we were and why we wanted to start this. I'm still just moved by this single case, the individual cases. And it's hard to remember that each of these is, you know -- I mean, they're all written in this, "Deployment Investigations revealed that ASPD officer Matthew Fowler received a call --" in this staccato sterile police speak. "Fowler approached apartment 255 and was confronted by a white male later identified as Anthony Skiles, armed with a knife at apartment 255." Every one of these, every report is at least one human life. Someone was either, you know, more often than not gravely injured or killed. So we have on this table the investigation of the deaths or severe injury of 831 people.

 

ROBERT: So what we decided to do, in collaboration with the Tampa Bay Times, is we grabbed a couple of folders right off Ben Montgomery's giant folder stack to follow wherever those stories might lead.

 

JAD: Matt Kielty and Ben traveled around Florida on a few different occasions, talking to the people behind those statistics you heard. And over the next couple of weeks, we're gonna bring you two of those stories. This podcast is the first. Matt, I guess we'll just turn it over to you.

 

MATT: Yep. Okay, so day one?

 

JAD: Yeah. Where was this place again?

 

MATT: DeLand. DeLand, Florida.

 

MATT: It's a town. It's hot. It's probably low eighties.

 

MATT: A little town on the east coast of Florida, and we were there because Ben had found out about this event.

 

MATT: Do you even know what the thing is called?

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: It's the third -- they call it Celebration. The third anniversary celebration of the police killing of Marlon Brown.

 

ROBERT: Okay.

 

MATT: And this event was being held at ...

 

MATT: The West Volusia Shrine Club.

 

JAD: Shrine Club.

 

MATT: Shrine Club.

 

JAD: Like Shriners?

 

MATT: Like the Shriners.

 

MATT: I'm just gonna walk in and introduce myself.

 

MATT: So I walk in and, you know, it's like a small community center.

 

MATT: Linoleum floor, fluorescent lights.

 

MATT: And the first thing I noticed to be honest, was there were about 20 people in here, mostly Black who are just milling about talking. But on the walls of this place ...

 

MATT: The photos of all the Shriners run the length of this wall.

 

MATT: It's just like portraits of old white men wearing fez hats, who were all the former Shriner presidents.

 

MATT: It's just old white dudes with names like George Seeger, Gunther Warbling. Oh, so ...

 

MATT: And as I was taking in this scene, this woman came up to me who was hosting the event. Her name was Krystal Brown.

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: I do -- I try to do something like this once a year for Marlon's anniversary.

 

MATT: Tall black woman, long dreads and these very piercing hazel eyes.

 

MATT: And your relation to Marlon?

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: Ex-wife. We was high school sweethearts since we -- I was 15.

 

MATT: And I don't know Marlon's story. I don't ...

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: Marlon is -- three years, May 8th. It was 12:30 in the morning, and he was allegedly being stopped for not wearing his seat belt. And so he didn't stop. He got out of his car and he ran. He was on I guess some kind of community control where he was supposed to be home by 12:00.

 

MATT: He was on probation for a drug charge. He had been caught with some painkillers. So he ran and immediately the cop car followed him. And eventually Marlon slipped, fell. The cop car hit him.

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: Going 24 miles per hour. Ran into him. He was pinned under the car for about four or five hours.

 

MATT: Four or five hours?

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: Yeah.

 

MATT: When Krystal and some neighbors got out to the scene ...

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: We sat out there and waited four or five hours until they were able to get the car off of him.

 

MATT: Marlon was pronounced dead. And so Krystal and I talked for a little bit and ...

 

MATT: You don't mind if I sit and join you for a minute? Is that okay?

 

MATT: I sort of just walked around, started introducing myself to people.

 

MATT: Where are you guys from in Florida?

 

WOMAN: Tampa, Florida.

 

MATT: Oh, you're from Tampa. Okay, so we just made the drive ...

 

MATT: I don't quite know what I was expecting. I guess I just thought it was, you know, gonna be a local event for this one person. But as I started to meet people I started to meet people from all over. From Tampa, from Palm Beach ...

 

MATT: Whereabouts in New York are you?

 

MATT: I mean, there were people from all over the country.

 

WOMAN: East Flatbush.

 

MATT: Brooklyn, Chicago, Georgia. And ...

 

WOMAN: Yes, this is for my son Tonorris.

 

MATT: I started seeing these people who were wearing these t-shirts.

 

MATT: A pink shirt, and then you have two doves ...

 

MATT: With a big picture of a young Black man's face or a name.

 

WOMAN: This it represent angels watching over.

 

MATT: There was one woman with a picture of her son's eighth grade graduation photo on her shirt.

 

WOMAN: It's his cap and gown in red.

 

MATT: He was 14 years old when he was killed.

 

WOMAN: He was also buried in this same cap and his gown.

 

MATT: And then another mother ...

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: This is going on the fourth year. So I have maybe about six or seven.

 

MATT: Who had the name of her 23-year-old son Rodney Mitchell on her shirt.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: I have one with his graduation picture on it. I have like a fluorescent black and yellow one. I have this Jamaican color one. I have a black and white. I have different shirts. Oh, yeah.

 

MATT: And I started seeing shirt after shirt after shirt. And I'd say by the time, like, 40 people had showed up and there's all these different shirts I just realized like, oh, this is not just a thing for one person. This is a network. Like, almost everyone there had lost either a cousin or a brother or a husband, even -- even a daughter to police violence.

 

JAD: Hmm.

 

MATT: And in fact, when I later spoke to one of those women you just heard ...

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: I have one with his graduation picture on it.

 

MATT: Her name is Natasha Clemens. Her 23-year-old son Rodney Mitchell, he was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop. We're actually gonna get into that story later. But she told me that ...

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: I've met about 400 other mothers. They've reached out to me and I ...

 

MATT: 400?

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: Oh, yes.

 

ROBERT: Really?

 

MATT: Yeah. Through, like, traveling around, through Facebook.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: I've met 400 other mothers who's lost their children.

 

ROBERT: Wow.

 

MATT: And so I was just seeing, like, a fraction of that at this community center.

 

JAD: God, the scale is surprising.

 

MATT: Right. And the other thing for me was how you see these stories pop up.

 

[NEWS CLIP: 37-year-old Alton Sterling.

 

[NEWS CLIP: 40-year-old Terence Crutcher.]

 

MATT: At least the ones that get pulled up to, like, a national level, and you see the family members come out ...

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: A man with children who depended upon their daddy on a daily basis.]

 

MATT: And for, like, two days you see them on television.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: That big bad dude was my twin brother. That big bad dude was a father.]

 

MATT: And then they kind of recede and they're gone. And I guess what I thought is, you know, probably they have these long drawn-out legal battles and then, you know, they go back to their lives, whatever -- whatever that means. But instead it's like, oh, no. What happens is they get, like, folded up into this network.

 

SPEAKER: And we pray for those mostly that will be coming to this family ...

 

MATT: And so at the community center there was a moment of prayer where the 40 to 50 people sat down at these big round dining tables.

 

SPEAKER: ... because once upon a time ago, there was no coalition like we have today. There was no way to know what to do. There was no group telling you how to get justice or how to make change and how to protect our kids and our loved ones. And we ask these prayers and all prayers in God's name. Amen.

 

MATT: And so after the prayer, Krystal hollered from the back of the room for everybody to eat. So everyone stood up and then the vibe just totally changed, and somebody put on some MJ. And a lot of people started to crowd around these two big picnic tables.

 

MATT: Do you ladies mind just ...

 

GENEVA REED-VEAL: I am not gonna make not one comment until I eat.

 

MATT: Oh, no, no, no. No comment.

 

MATT: Which is where I met this woman.

 

MATT: I mean, the only comment I was looking for was if you could just describe for me what we got on the table, because I'm just ...

 

GENEVA REED-VEAL: What's on the table?

 

MATT: Yeah, just what's on the table.

 

GENEVA REED-VEAL: You mean this table?

 

MATT: This table right here.

 

GENEVA REED-VEAL: So I think you have tea, you have sweet tea, you have orange juice, and then you have your condiments for that. But on the breakfast table over there ...

 

MATT: What's on -- what's on ...?

 

GENEVA REED-VEAL: You've got your eggs. You've got your grits. You've got your bacon. You've got your sausage. You got everything you want to have to get nice, good and full on today. So I'm excited.

 

MATT: Can I get your name?

 

GENEVA REED-VEAL: Sure. Geneva Reed-Veal. I'm the mother of Sandra Bland.

 

MATT: In case you don't remember. July 10, 2015.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, State trooper: Hello, ma'am. The reason for your stop is you didn't fail -- you failed to signal a lane change. Got your driver's license and insurance with you? Give me a few minutes, all right?]

 

MATT: Sandra Bland is pulled over in a small town in Texas. The cop runs her information, comes back to the car.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, State trooper: You mind putting out your cigarette, please? If you don't mind.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Sandra Bland: I'm in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, State trooper: Well, you can step on out now.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Sandra Bland: I don't have to step out of my car.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, State trooper: Step out of the car.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Sandra Bland: No, you don't have the right ...]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, State trooper: Step out of the car!]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Sandra Bland: You do not have the right to do that.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, State trooper: I do have the right. Step out or I will remove you.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Sandra Bland: I am getting removed for a failure to signal?]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, State trooper: Step out or I will remove you. I'm giving you a lawful order.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Sandra Bland: Don't touch me!]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, State trooper: Get out of the car!]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Sandra Bland: Don't touch me! I'm not under arrest. You don't have the right to ...]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, State trooper: You are under arrest!]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Sandra Bland: I'm under arrest for what?]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, State trooper: Get out of the car! I will light you up! Get out!]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Sandra Bland: Wow!]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, State trooper: Now!]

 

MATT: Eventually, Sandra gets out of the car.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Sandra Bland: For a failure to signal? You're doing all of this for ...]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, State trooper: Get over there!]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Sandra Bland: You're about to break my wrist! Can't you stop?]

 

[SCREAMING]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, State trooper: Stop now! Stop it!]

 

MATT: Sandra was eventually taken to jail. Four days later in that jail cell she was found dead, hanged with the plastic garbage bag. The death was ruled a suicide and Sandra's family disputed that ruling.

 

GENEVA REED-VEAL: You got everything you want to have to get nice, good and full on today. So I'm excited.

 

MATT: Can I get your name?

 

GENEVA REED-VEAL: Sure. Geneva Reed-Veal. I'm the mother of Sandra Bland.

 

MATT: Sandra Bland.

 

GENEVA REED-VEAL: Yeah.

 

MATT: Where are you coming from?

 

GENEVA REED-VEAL: Chicago.

 

MATT: I want to let you eat your food. One thing I wanted to ask, have you come -- have you come to events like this before?

 

GENEVA REED-VEAL: Oh yes, sir. Quite a few. I was in Missouri last week. We go all around. We try to support as many mothers as we can because it's important.

 

MATT: And is that -- is that exactly, like, is that what it is? Is it really just like a support group?

 

GENEVA REED-VEAL: Yes, sir. It's support because that mother who has lost their baby needs to be able to see somebody else who looks like them who's in the same situation that they are, as opposed to someone walking up to them and saying, "I know how you feel," but you really don't.

 

MATT: Which made me think about something Ben and I had talked about a lot, which is in getting to meet these women and talk to these women, you get the sense that their -- their experience is this really unique sort of loss.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: It sucks to lose somebody to cancer. I've lost a friend to cancer recently, in fact. It's a horrible thing and a very -- you know, ten times, a hundred times worse for his -- for his wife and children than it is for me. I think it's a different thing when your person is killed by another human being, and that human being is returned to the streets with a gun and a badge in a -- you know, in a position of authority.

 

MATT: And this is something you do see in Ben's numbers. Even though the numbers themselves, they can't really tell you whether or not a shooting was -- was legally justified, what is clear is that over 800-plus shootings, even the shootings where the person was unarmed, only one police officer has ever been charged. So it's this weird sort of like double grief.

 

JAD: Yeah, it's like past and present at the same time.

 

ROBERT: Like, you can't put it away because it's -- every day is another insult, kind of.

 

MATT: Right.

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: As soon as something happens ...

 

MATT: Again, this is Krystal Brown.

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: Somebody, one of us is reaching out. Whoever is, like, closest. Like, say if something happened in, you know, here in Florida. Florida, we're gonna reach out to each other and then we're going to invite them in. We say this is like the club that nobody really wants to be a part of. It's crazy but this is family. I said family is more than just blood. This is my family, and I could not have made it this far. I couldn't still be fighting, I wouldn't be doing anything if it wasn't for them.

 

MATT: So after the event ended at the community center, Krystal took a bunch of the moms, they all got in their cars and drove over to this, like, little gem shop.

 

MATT: Is this like, do you guys do this after every -- every event? Or is this just, like, Krystal knows this one?

 

DEANDRA JOSEPH: No. No, this is Krystal knows this one's around here, and has been telling everyone about this.

 

MATT: This is Deandra Joseph. Her son Andrew died in 2014.

 

DEANDRA JOSEPH: So no, we didn't know anything about this but figured this must be part of the different type of learning.

 

MATT: This is a part of just coping and grieving?

 

DEANDRA JOSEPH: Right. Right. We're all just simply trying to find our way.

 

MATT: And so Krystal gathered like, probably 15 of us into this tiny little store because she wanted to show these women like, "Here's how I cope," or "Here's how I deal with my grief."

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: You can either get the large sage.

 

MATT: At a certain point Krystal was talking to these two women, and she just had this big bundle of sage in her hand.

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: Yeah, because, like, if you want to do, like, your house, like a -- like a -- like, some deep shit. Then I open my windows and I just really -- I go through my house.

 

MATT: She says the sage calms her down.

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: Yeah. I'm just ...

 

MATT: And then they went from the gem shop over to Krystal's house. Midsize, one-story house in DeLand. And a lot of the women hung out in the living room were drinking juice, talking to Ben about his story. Krystal and her cousin were in the kitchen cooking up chicken. And one thing that caught me by surprise is how these women when they come together they, like -- they bring with them their own stories, these stories of grief, of suffering. And yet when they're in the same room together, it's like they just -- they just have fun. Apparently the night before they'd all gone out dancing together. There was some Earth, Wind & Fire.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: And now what we're doing instead of getting motel rooms ...

 

MATT: Again, this is Natasha Clemens.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: We're starting to stay over at each other's houses. We sleep in each other's bed, on each other's couch, you know, air mattresses. It becomes like a huge sleepover. And -- versus us going to sleep we're up talking, you know, getting to know each other and, you know, telling stories about each other's children, so it's like therapy for us.

 

MATT: Vicky's letting me pass.

 

MATT: But there was this moment when I spent the day with these women that really stuck with me.

 

MATT: I believe we're at the site of Marlon Brown's death.

 

MATT: And it was when Krystal led some of us over to the site where her ex-husband Marlon was hit by that squad car.

 

MATT: It's like -- it's about 12 people here.

 

MATT: And about eight of them were women who had lost either a husband or a brother or a child. And we were basically just in someone's backyard, just walking through this patchy grass.

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: So when you see the video, that street that we just came down, that's the video. That's the street that he turned, Marlon turns here. And he comes here. Marlon's car was probably over, like, right there. And then the police car that came behind him was probably right here, and then the officer that hit -- that hit him came in. And then we can walk. We came in -- he came right here. And that's why we -- they call it the execution in the vegetable garden, because the garden was here.

 

WOMAN: And vegetables were growing and all that.

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: They had onions then, because when they -- when they -- you know, when they took him away and released him and took down the tape and stuff and we came back here, that's all you could smell was onions. And so now like, when you cut -- like, it's not -- it's not as bad now, but just the association. Like, so when I'm cutting onions, you get that smell? Like, it just -- you get those ...

 

MATT: It just brings you right back here?

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: Mm-hmm. Yep.

 

MATT: And the 12 of us just kind of stood there for a minute. Krystal's eyes were starting get teary. Some of the other women started to cry. And then ...

 

MATT: You all want me to take some ...?

 

WOMAN: Yeah, my phone ain't the best. Somebody with a better phone than me?

 

MATT: A couple women handed me their phones. And it's probably about these eight women who huddled together and they just stared at the camera with this sort of straight face.

 

MATT: All right, three, two, one. And then let me -- three, two, one. All right. I think we got them.

 

MATT: Then we all started walking back up to the cars.

 

WOMAN: Krystal, I just want to thank you for just sharing that with us, because I know it has to be pretty hard to even come back to the site.

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: Yeah. Yeah, we haven't been out here in a long -- it's been a while. We'll go to the gravesite. We still go there once a week. At night. Three o'clock in the morning. That's why I remember Dee and I used to tell you all the time, "How do you live so far away from him?" Oh my gosh, that would -- that would ...

 

WOMAN: Yeah. My son's grave is about 15 minutes tops from where I live.

 

WOMAN: It's hard, but every time I visit home I have to go there and spend some time.

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: Of course. Of course. How could you not, right? And it ain't no quickie. Like, like you want to go take a chair.

 

WOMAN: Uh-huh. And sit there.

 

KRYSTAL BROWN: Yeah. And it's crazy, because like, it's a -- it's a cemetery like a little bit further out, and it's crazy. You can go by there, like, a certain time every day and it's this little old white man with his chair. Everything, like, set up. Like, he literally I think, he -- does he, like, go have lunch with her every day? Like, that has to be -- I don't know. It's the cemetery that's way out, like, going towards Popeye's and all of that. And it's a little white guy that's always sitting out there. He take his chair. Like, he has a whole little setup.

 

MATT: So that trip to Florida was almost about a year ago.

 

ROBERT: Uh-huh.

 

MATT: And I felt like I happened to be there at this really interesting moment, because just a few months after that trip Geneva Reed-Veal who was the mother of Sandra Bland who I met, she spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Geneva Reed-Veal: One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine.]

 

MATT: She was on stage with Michael Brown's mother, Eric Garner's mother.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Geneva Reed-Veal: I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground.]

 

MATT: And it was around this time that a few of these women started to call themselves The Mothers of the Movement.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Geneva Reed-Veal: When I say "Mothers," you say "Of the movement."]

 

MATT: Some of them showed up at the Women's March in DC.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, crowd: Mothers of the movement!]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Geneva Reed-Veal: Louder! I want [inaudible] and families to hear it! Mothers ...]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, crowd: Of the movement!]

 

MATT: And was weird because in this short amount of time this thing that we had stumbled into, this thing that really kind of felt like at the time a support group had suddenly become a force.

 

JAD: Coming up.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: Hey, put it down.]

 

JAD: A cop with a gun, a man with a knife.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: Put your knife -- put the knife down! Put it down!]

 

JAD: And a look at the razor-thin life-or-death moment between them.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: Put it down or you're gonna get it again!]

 

ROBERT: So stay with us.

 

[CHRISTOPHER: This is Christopher calling from South Florida. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org.]

 

[ADVERTISEMENT]

 

JAD: Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

ROBERT: I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

JAD: And just -- let's just pick right back up with our story from Florida.

 

ROBERT: With Tampa Bay Times reporter Ben Montgomery and our own Matt Kielty.

 

MATT: All right, so day two. Day two was Daytona.

 

MATT: 11:53. May 3rd.

 

JAD: Daytona Beach?

 

MATT: Daytona Beach.

 

MATT: That's about everything.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: And what happened was we went to this thing with these women, mostly Black who have lost people to police violence. And I'm sitting across the table from an African-American city councilman of Daytona Beach and I told him what I'd been working on. I told him some of the numbers we'd learned and he said, "You really need to meet our police chief."

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: You guys want me to run down and get a shower, since you guys are ...

 

MATT: His name is Mike Chitwood.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: You're not filming, you're just interviewing?

 

MATT: No. Just -- yeah, just a microphone, that's all. Okay.

 

MATT: He's the police chief of Daytona Beach.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: Known for its wild and raucous spring break scenes. They have Bike Week that draws 500,000 bikers from all over the country, and Daytona International Speedway. And on top of that, the permanent population there is like 62,000 people. And over that six-year period, they've only had four police shootings.

 

JAD: Hmm. And that's low?

 

MATT: Yeah, for a city like that that's really low.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: Jesse, I need to break down for 2015 ...

 

MATT: And in fact, while we were there ...

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: ... by race of tickets and arrests.

 

MATT: Chitwood had his assistant print out these spreadsheets.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: There we go.

 

MATT: Oh, those are the stats?

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: Yeah.

 

MATT: Thank you.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: You won't even have to do the math.

 

MATT: And these spreadsheets are actually kind of fascinating because if you look at them ...

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: You know, you just can go right down here and you can add them up.

 

MATT: ... for things like aggravated assault, theft, shoplifting, speeding ...

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: Our arrest ratio and our ticket ratio basically mirrors our city.

 

MATT: In terms of racial demographic.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: Yeah. We're -- we're roughly a 60/40 city. 60 percent white, 40 percent African American.

 

MATT: And so when you look at these numbers, that's pretty much what you see: tickets for speeding, about 60-40, arrests for theft about 60-40.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: That's the way we're supposed to, in theory, approach the law.

 

JAD: And so what are they doing differently?

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: Well ...

 

MATT: A whole bunch of things. First of all ...

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: When all these -- these incidents were occurring in -- around the country with Ferguson and everything else, we did a race and policing mandatory training for the entire PD. And basically what we wanted our officers to do is number one, learn the history of the country. Because the history of the country is that we are a racist nation no matter how you want to look at it. Started with moving the Indians off of their lands for Manifest Destiny. When you look at Jim Crow laws, when you look at the Civil War, when you look at slavery, when you look at Bull Connor, for example, of turning the dogs and fire hoses loose on civil rights marchers. So it's important for officers to understand that, that you may go into an African American community and you may think and act and talk a way where you think you're being respectful and understanding, but in reality you're not. But let's not for a moment think that there isn't bias in policing, because there's bias. We all have bias in us. And the trick is, and I don't know if it's a trick, and I don't know if any of us know how to contain that. How do we stop that bias from coming through when you make a decision?

 

MATT: Right. And I think and, you know, I've read a lot about implicit bias, and always seems like -- it's like it feels like a kinder way to say fear. Like, a fear of a Black person, and that fear is greater than what you would feel when you're encountering a white person when you're out on the job as a cop.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: When you look at some of the shootings they record on video, and I think of the poor school janitor who lost his life in Minnesota.

 

MATT: Yeah, the Philando Castile shooting. Yeah.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: There's a guy who told the officer in no uncertain terms, "I'm a good guy. I have a gun permit." You can't get a gun permit if you're a convicted felon. You can't get a gun permit if you're a drug dealer. So in the minute that young man tells that officer, "I have a gun permit," for some unknown reason that officer's threat level with a baby in the car and I got a guy with his kid, his girlfriend in the car and he's telling him he's a gun permit holder, this is -- this is an easy car stop. For some reason, and the reason is because of the color of the man's skin, all of those things never registered. Black guy reaching for his black -- his pocket, and I shoot him. And I would like to tell you, in all my years in policing, I would like to sit here and be naive and tell you that we don't shoot unarmed people. As a 28-year practitioner of law enforcement, a second-generation cop, I'm appalled at what I see on those videos. I cannot believe that my profession in some cases is that out of control. Some of them I understand what's going on. I mean, you're wrestling on the ground for your life and, you know, there are times that we have to use deadly force, but the incidents in South Carolina, the incident in Minnesota, I mean, are you kidding me? And you're looking at what are we doing?

 

MATT: I mean, how do you -- how do you train that out of an officer so that when they make a traffic stop, they're not already operating with this level of heightened fear, or this perceived threat?

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: In my opinion number one, you have to train tactically sound. You have to train using real life scenarios that take that extra split second before you fire your weapon. And I'll give you an anecdote very quickly. When I first joined the Philadelphia Police Department, we were shooting people at a crazy rate on an accidental discharge. The officer had their finger on the trigger. When they would go to grab that person, if that person pulled or moved you would jerk back and it was a natural reaction to squeeze the trigger. So they sent us all back up to the police academy and we all had to be retrained on how to keep your finger on the side plate of the weapon not on the trigger so if that happened you wouldn't accidentally trip and fire and shoot somebody. And you might have thought it was Armageddon. Oh my God, they're gonna get us killed. When in reality, what it did was it slowed down your field of vision. It slowed everything down. That split second didn't make a difference and that blink of an eye didn't make a difference. It made a difference in you not shooting, because that split second let you see what you thought may have been the color of my glass coming out -- my cellphone was a cell phone.

 

MATT: So you buy yourself a little bit of time.

 

JAD: Hmm.

 

MATT: And this is the thing that Chitwood comes back to again and again, is this idea of time.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: In certain situations, slow down. When you're dealing with a mentally-ill person, slow down.

 

MATT: Like, whatever you can do, use cover, just create some space to buy yourself another 30 seconds.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: That extra 30 seconds may be the difference between saving your life and somebody else's life.

 

MATT: Another interesting thing was Ben -- Ben found this out also through some of his reporting with other police chiefs is the idea that some police chiefs don't like to hire kids out of high school, like 19-, 20-year-olds, in part because ...

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: Everything they do is this.

 

MATT: They text a lot?

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: That's all they know to communicate is like this. And then when they look up and go to talk to somebody, and I'm serious about going through the drive-thru at McDonald's and they could piss off the person ordering a cheeseburger. How they -- how did you do it? It's just their demeanor. It's just the way they act.

 

MATT: In fact, Ben told me that he talked to a different police chief who told him ...

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: The young people who are coming into the academy the past few years have never been in a physical fight.

 

MATT: Which is a problem because when they get into a fight their heart starts to race and their muscles tense up and they don't really know what to do.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: So they freak out, and they're way more likely to draw a weapon and use the weapon to -- you know, to end the confrontation.

 

ROBERT: So how do you deal -- you can't ask how many times have you beat somebody up or been beaten up on your resume?

 

MATT: No, no. So Ben says that that's why the police chief told him he looks to hire bouncers.

 

ROBERT: I see. Bouncers.

 

MATT: Or for Chitwood, he said ...

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: From just my little myopic world that I live in, we have an awful high number of men and women who served in the military. They are my best officers. They are level-headed, they are well-trained, they know how to follow the policy.

 

MATT: Basically, they know how to not freak out during a confrontation. And last thing -- promise this is the last thing -- one of the most important things Chitwood says ...

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: Is you have to get into the community. And I'm not talking about the good stuff. Oh, we -- they bought Christmas gifts or they cooked Thanksgiving dinner, I'm talking day-to-day.

 

MATT: You have to get to know people.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: Yeah, let me -- come on.

 

MATT: All right. Sure.

 

MATT: And so to make this point, Chitwood got up, walked me down the hall to another office, sat me down at a computer.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: The sound comes on in about 20 seconds.

 

MATT: Okay.

 

MATT: They show me this video. So video starts in silence, and it's a body cam video. It's a body cam on the cop who is driving a squad car.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: He's got his body camera. It's mounted to his eye.

 

MATT: On his glasses.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: So the cameras' going where his eyes go.

 

MATT: Next to him, passenger side, is his partner. Both cops are white. Also, it's night.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: So the call is for a guy who's running around with a knife trying to stab people. He was off his meds. I think he was on a crack cocaine binge if I remember correctly. They park.

 

MATT: It's a little neighborhood street, and you can see down the street ...

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: Half a block away ...

 

MATT: ... this shirtless black guy.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: Why don't you chill out, Derek?]

 

MATT: That's the cop talking to him, the cop wearing the body cam. And this Black man ...

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: He's got his arm raised.

 

MATT: Pretty big knife in his hand. And he's walking towards the cops.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: Why don't you stop acting so crazy?]

 

MATT: The Black guy gets closer and closer and closer. And finally the cop wearing the body cam pulls out ...

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: A taser.

 

MATT: The other officer ...

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: ... who was out of the frame is behind him with his firearm out, and the guy ...

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: Put your fucking knife down. Put it down!]

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: ... is approaching, approaching, approaching, approaching.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: Put your knife down! Put your knife down! Put it down!]

 

MATT: And he gets within, like, 10 feet of the cops, and then ...

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: Taser! Taser! Taser!]

 

MATT: The guy with the body cam fires the taser. The guy holding the knife, he falls onto his back, onto this, like, cement driveway. He's still got the knife in his hand.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: Put it down or you're gonna get it again! Put it down or you're gonna get it again!]

 

MATT: And the cop who's got his gun out, he hustles over, kicks the knife out of the guy's hand, grabs him by the hand, turns them over and then ...

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: He's detained, Central. Call four.]

 

MATT: ... cuffs him.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: And then ...

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: Hey Derek man, it's not a -- it's not a smart idea to have a knife coming at the police.]

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: The officer will say, "Why didn't you listen to me and just drop the knife and walk to me? Why did you keep coming at me?

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: You're real lucky you didn't get shot.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, suspect: I wanted to. I was trying my best to get shot.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: You were trying your best to get shot? You want to die?]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, suspect: I don't think I can.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: You want to die?]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, suspect: I can't.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: Huh?]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, suspect: I can't.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: You can't die.]

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: He tells the officer, goes, "I'm Jesus Christ, and I want everybody to know that police bullets can't kill me."

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: All right, Derek. We're gonna stand up, all right? Count of three. One, two, three.]

 

MATT: So the two cops pick him up, walk him over to the squad car, put him in and the video ends.

 

MATT: Huh. So this is the thing that you guys would -- you use this video for what, exactly?

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: This is one of a multitude of videos that we show officers on the correct way to do things, you know? And that's the points we hit home are the officers use time and distance to their advantage. They didn't pull right up and the guy leans in the car and tries to stab one of them and now you have to resort to deadly force right away. They use verbal commands first. Warn him, let him know what's going on. Trigger control was another thing, you know? What that "Taser, Taser, Taser."

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: Taser! Taser! Taser!]

 

MATT: And this is important, because the guy's partner was holding a gun, and had he heard this ...

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, police officer: Taser!]

 

MATT: ... pop, he might have just instinctively reacted thinking that was a gunshot and fired his gun.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: So you know he's deploying the taser. And communication is key. Communication with the person you're trying to arrest and communication with your fellow officers. Those are the things that we drive home. And again, there was no doubt in my mind that the one officer in particular knew that individual from prior contact.

 

MATT: Right. I mean, it's interesting to hear him say the name Derek.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: Right.

 

MATT: It's like, Derek is Derek, and Derek isn't just a Black man, shirtless with a knife in his hand.

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: When there's no connection there, it's a lot easier to see somebody as nameless and faceless and I got scared and I shot him. But because of that, knowing that officer, because of that it established some kind of a rapport that made the officer think of how he's going to deal with this thing.

 

MATT: And actually, after we finished watching the video and I was packing up, Chitwood told me that just a couple months after that incident ...

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: I'm biking through the neighborhood and my man sitting on the front step, waves at me. "Hey Chitwood. How you doing, man?"

 

MATT: Derek does?

 

MIKE CHITWOOD: Yeah. You stupid son of a bitch. You don't know how close you came to being dead. But he's back on his medication, wasn't doing drugs, and he was as completely as normal as me and you are right now.

 

MATT: Now again, almost kind of like when I was with these women, it felt like I was just in Daytona at this specific moment, because it was just a few months after I left ...

 

[NEWS CLIP: Last night's primary election. Among the big winners Daytona Beach's police chief. He is now Volusia County's new sheriff.]

 

MATT: Mike Chitwood was elected the sheriff of Volusia County.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Mike Chitwood: I am extremely humbled. I am extremely honored.]

 

MATT: Which is the county that Daytona Beach belongs to.

 

JAD: Huh.

 

MATT: And the other thing to mention is that Chitwood belongs to this organization called PERF, which is the Police Executive Research Forum. It's this big coalition of police chiefs, and in 2016 PERF put out what they call their 30 Guiding Principles For the Use of Force. And the number one principle, rather than being something law and order law and order is the sanctity of human life.

 

JAD: Hmm.

 

MATT: Now just a month after PERF put out those principles, two of the biggest policing organizations in the world, the IACP, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Fraternal Order of Police, the big policing union both came out against these guiding principles. Basically saying that being a cop is a dangerous job, and some of these principles make it more dangerous. And then just like eight months later or so, the IACP and the Fraternal Order of Police started to adopt some of these principles publicly. Despite that, there still is a bit of a divide between the organizations. But according to Ben ...

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: For the very first time, I think you're seeing these massive conversations. You know, police weren't talking about this two or three years ago.

 

JAD: Huh. I don't know, man. Just thinking about this, like you've got these women who have become kind of a political force. You have also this growing movement of cops who are possibly changing the way policing is done in America, or at least maybe slowly.

 

MATT: Right.

 

JAD: But cumulatively, it does -- I hesitate to use this word, but it does make -- it does feel like reason for hope.

 

MATT: Right. And I sort of felt the same way too. But there was this experience that I had where I just realized how far hope has to go.

 

MATT: We are here to see Natasha Clemens?

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: Natasha Clemens, the mother of Rodney Mitchell.

 

MATT: So Natasha's the woman who you heard earlier back at the community center.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: I've met 400 other mothers who's lost their children.

 

MATT: That's actually when I first met her. Ben had been reporting on Natasha for, like, a couple of years by this point, and we were there because Ben was gonna hand a ton of documents over to Natasha on her son Rodney's case, because she didn't have any. And I was there because we'd set up a short interview with Natasha. But when we got to her door, she just started sobbing.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: What's going on?

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: [crying]

 

MATT: And Ben and I just had no idea what had happened.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: [crying]

 

MATT: Eventually I just turned the tape recorder off.

 

JAD: Huh. So what was -- what was happening in that moment?

 

MATT: Well, okay. So to back up, so meeting somebody like a Chitwood, you know, like there is a sort of hope in that I believe. But the thing about a Chitwood, a sheriff, a police chief, is that they only have the power to fire a police officer and that's really about it. After that, it goes into the court system. And so for Natasha, her son Rodney, 23 years old, unarmed, was shot and killed by two police officers during a traffic stop. After the shooting, a judge ruled that the two officers had done nothing wrong. They had acted in accordance with the law. And it just so happened that 45 minutes before Ben and I showed up at her door, she'd just gotten an email from her lawyer saying that the appeal that she had filed against that decision had just been rejected. And so we sat there in Natasha's apartment for a while. We actually even left for, like, an hour. Eventually came back. Kind of just hit reset on the whole thing. Eventually, Natasha showed me some pictures of Rodney.

 

MATT: Long dreads. He's got a big, big smile.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: Big smile, bright white smile.

 

MATT: And then we sat down in her kitchen table.

 

MATT: Okay, so if you can walk me back to the night that kind of everything -- everything happened.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: June 11, 2012.

 

MATT: Natasha was at home.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: 9:30 at night.

 

MATT: Rodney, who was 23 years old, was back from college and out driving Natasha's car.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: And that's when all the phone calls started happening.

 

MATT: People calling and saying ...

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: Something's going on with your car. I knew something was wrong. So I immediately started screaming outside to see if I can get somebody to, you know, respond to help me so I can get a ride. Nobody came out, so I started running down the interstate.

 

MATT: Barefoot.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: I just left. I don't even recall locking the door or anything like that.

 

MATT: Eventually, a family member actually picks her up. They drive to the scene. She gets there.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: It looks like just people everywhere. Police cars. And I was like, "Where's Rodney?" I was looking for my vehicle, and my one cousin says, "Tasha, he's over there."

 

MATT: She pointed about 20 feet over to where the car had come to a stop. It had collided with a gas station.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: But they she had the back of my -- loop of my pants. So that I couldn't run over there.

 

MATT: The whole place was surrounded by police tape. And eventually Natasha says it took a couple hours, but a cop pulled her off to the side and told her that her son had been shot and killed by police.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: I just got on my knees, hands and knees and started praying. Don't let this be true, please Lord. I was basically begging and pleading. That's the only thing I could do. What -- what else do you do? Just cry scream pray, cry scream pray, cry scream pray. The next thing you know, I woke up. I was at the hospital.

 

MATT: Natasha says that she apparently was so frenzied that an EMT on the scene stuck her with something.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: To calm me down. So when I woke up, I see my family standing over me in the hospital.

 

MATT: Now as to what happened to Rodney that night, Ben has looked at testimony from the cops involved, from eyewitnesses, different court records to piece together the events.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: You know, Rodney ...

 

MATT: According to all these documents, that night Rodney and his 16-year-old cousin were in Natasha's car. They had stopped at a gas station. They left the gas station and were driving down this highway when ...

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: He and his little cousin get pulled over by two white officers. The officer said he saw him without a seatbelt. Turns out Rodney was wearing a seat belt. And these two officers approach his vehicle. One is kind of standing in front of the car.

 

MATT: About several feet away towards, like, the driver side.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: And the officer approaches his window.

 

MATT: According to Rodney's cousin ...

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: He says, "Boy, why didn't you pull over sooner?" And -- and then orders Rodney to put the car in park. And Ronnie's got both hands at this point on the steering wheel, and he reaches down to put the car in park ...

 

MATT: And this is where things in the story sort of diverge, because the cops say that Rodney put the car in park but then quickly put it back into drive, accelerated at the officer in front of the car. Ronnie's cousin gives two conflicting accounts as to what happened. There was apparently an eyewitness across the street who said the car had yet to move. But what is clear is what happened next, which is ...

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: The deputy in front ...

 

MATT: ... pulls out his gun, fires two shots into the windshield. The deputy right by the door ...

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: ... hears the fire. He pulls a gun and fires twice.

 

MATT: One bullet went through Rodney's left hand which he'd put up in self-defense. Another bullet entered through his left temple.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: And the car lurches forward and careens across the street ...

 

MATT: ... for about 300 yards until it collides with this gas station. Rodney's cousin at this point gets out of the car, flees from the scene unharmed. Eventually paramedics arrived and pronounce Rodney dead at the scene.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: My mind is always on Rodney.

 

MATT: Natasha says when she does think about that night, she always comes back to this one question.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: Why were their guns pulled? Why? Why? What -- why was the -- what was that all about?

 

MATT: What do you think the answer is?

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: He's Black. And that's just it.

 

MATT: Is there ever a moment where you try and put yourself in the mind of those two officers?

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: Absolutely not, because I would never do somebody's kid like that. That never crossed -- no, I would never do that.

 

MATT: Do you feel like it's like -- do you feel like the cop in that moment, it's Rodney's Black is what frightens the cop, and that's why he pulls his gun out?

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: No. He's a bully. Hell, if somebody gets hurt or somebody gets injured or killed he's gonna get off. He's behind that blue badge. He's a bully.

 

MATT: And is that what you think of cops, like, writ large?

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: Absolutely. That's how it is. That's exactly how it is. No ifs ands and buts about it.

 

MATT: Because it's hard for me because I think, like -- like, it's clear that there's discrimination with -- that exists within the police force in the people who they are sworn to protect and serve. But like, at the end of the day, there's probably a hand -- like, well, I don't know. I couldn't give you a percentage, but a number of officers in which, like, yes, they're probably violent individuals who don't belong in a police force, but I would assume that, like, a majority of the cops mean well, have probably -- probably have some sort of bias where they don't think, "I see a Black person and I'm gonna like -- I'm going to get that boy," but that there's like a -- like, there's some sort of triggered response. And -- and that the police are constantly being put into different situations where they feel under threat and concerned. And that like, there's like a whole host of factors leading to these moments where somebody is shot and killed. It's not just that they're out here bullying people.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: You say that because you're -- you're white. That's why you say that. I'll tell you what. I'll tell you what, we can try this. Go to my sister, we'll make sure we get you a wig. Go to the tanning salon, get yourself sprayed black. And I guarantee you you'll get a different response. I dare you to try. I bet you we can make you look like a Black boy. I'm telling you, you'll see a huge difference. And that's just it.

 

MATT: Like, sitting -- like sitting there in that moment, I -- I felt -- I felt the gulf. And I just kept wondering, like, how long does it take to fill that gulf? Like, how many Chitwoods does it take? How many conversations need to happen? In any case ...

 

MATT: Do you want us to ...

 

MATT: Ben still had to give Natasha those files on Rodney.

 

MATT: ... to get those documents for you?

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: I would appreciate it.

 

MATT: Sure, okay.

 

MATT: So Ben grabbed this huge folder of paper out of the trunk of our car, walked back inside.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: So this is not everything.

 

MATT: Ben put the stack of Rodney's files on this glass kitchen table.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: I took out of this stack, like, 10 crime scene photos, because I don't want to be the person to give you those. Unless you want me to go get them right now. But they're ...

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: Mm-hmm.

 

BEN MONTGOMERY: I don't want -- I don't want to have to -- I don't want to re-traumatize you and they're graphic. Just frankly, they're graphic. You know, so I'll leave it up to you. And you don't have to tell me right now.

 

NATASHA CLEMENS: Yeah, when I'm ready, I'll -- I'll get them. That's something I'm gonna have to eventually see.

 

MATT: Three days later Natasha contacted Ben and said that she was ready to see those photos.

 

ROBERT: Huge thanks to Ben Montgomery at the Tampa Bay Times and to the staff of the paper that did all the hard work of gathering statistics and material.

 

JAD: In the near, near future they're gonna be putting out Ben's story, a whole series of videos and interactive graphic with all their final numbers. It should be amazing. Definitely check it out. We'll make sure that we link to it when it's live from our website Radiolab.dot.org.

 

ROBERT: And then of course to our own Matt Kielty who reported and produced this piece.

 

JAD: Next week we'll bring you part two of Matt Kielty and Ben Montgomery's reporting. It's a very different kind of story. Check-in for that.

 

ROBERT: Okay.

 

JAD: I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

ROBERT: I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

JAD: Thanks for listening.

 

[GEORGE: This is George Washington III in Charlotte, North Carolina. Radiolab is produced by Jad Abumrad. Dylan Keefe is our Director of Sound Design. Soren Wheeler is Senior Editor. Jamie York is our Senior Producer. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Brenna Farrell, David Gebel, Matt Kielty, Robert Krulwich, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser, Malissa O'Donnell, Arianne Wack and Molly Webster. With help from Tracie Hunte, Valentina Bojanini, Nigar Fatali, Phoebe Wang and Katie Ferguson. Our fact-checker is Michelle Harris.]

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