Video of the incident captured a traffic stop turned physical as a Black woman livid at officers for saying her car had been reported stolen tried to leave the scene but was pulled from the vehicle and pressed into the pavement to be handcuffed.
HARTFORD, Connecticut — Viral video of a raucous Hartford police arrest Monday morning on Blue Hills Avenue has sparked a new community conversation about law enforcement’s relationship with the Black community in the capital city.
Bystander footage of the incident captured a traffic stop turned physical as a Black woman livid at officers for saying her car had been reported stolen tried to leave the scene but was pulled from the vehicle and pressed into the pavement to be handcuffed, repeatedly screaming “I can’t breathe” while a crowd of bystanders jeered officers.
The videos immediately went viral in local Facebook groups, drawing hundreds of comments both decrying the officers’ actions and the woman’s tirade and resistance, prompting the Hartford Police Department to take the unusual step of releasing one of its officer’s body camera videos and a lengthy explanation just hours later.
Community activists held small protests Tuesday at the scene of the stop and outside Hartford police headquarters, arguing the situation was another example of how officers overpolice and use excessive force in communities of color.
Police countered that officers tried to deescalate the situation and that it only became physical when the woman tried to leave the scene and refused to obey officers’ orders.
The incident began at about 10:30 a.m. Monday when a patrol officer driving on Blue Hills Avenue spotted the dark-colored sedan and noticed its license plate was listed on the department’s so-called hotsheet of wanted vehicles, usually because they are reported stolen, Lt. Paul Cicero said.
The car parked in front of the Mr. Pizza restaurant and as officers approached the woman driver and male passenger who exited the vehicle to investigate, the woman denied the car was stolen and provided her license and registration for officers to check, according to police.
But the woman took exception with officers for approaching her at all and screamed at them while they tried to explain the hotsheet and that they could remove her car from the list if her registration was correct.
She only became more upset, though, and hopped back in the car to leave without her car’s registration paperwork, body camera footage shows.
Bystanders drawn by the woman’s screaming pulled out phones to record the encounter and themselves began screaming at the group of mostly white male officers.
The woman eventually put the car, with her child in the backseat, in reverse and began to pull out of the parking spot until officers stepped in the way and spent two minutes ordering her to walk away from the car.
When she entered it once more, two officers reached in and pulled her out of the car and onto the pavement, where they and a third officer held her down to handcuff her. Some of her clothes ripped and she pleaded for help, an ambulance and that she could not breathe.
“She can’t breathe, man,” one bystander told an officer, according to the body camera footage. “No, you need to tell them she can’t breathe, man, you need to help her.”
“Just trust me, they’re doing what they’ve got to do,” replied the officer.
The woman continued to struggle with officers for several minutes, both on the ground and as they tried to place her into the back of a cruiser, all while the small crowd of bystanders continued to scream at officers.
The woman ultimately was charged with interfering with police and reckless endangerment, but she was not injured, police said.
It was only later, however, that police discovered the car was not reported stolen. Instead, it was flagged on the hotsheet because the vehicle and the male passenger in the car were wanted in connection with a recent report of gunfire in New Britain, Cicero said.
But during the tumult of the woman’s arrest, that man slipped away from the scene with the woman’s daughter and was not arrested. Further information about him or the shooting he may be connected to was not immediately available Tuesday.
The bystander videos of the incident instantly ricocheted around the city’s biggest Facebook groups, collecting comments both resentful of the police officers’ use of force and blaming the woman for not cooperating with the officers.
Cicero, who helps run the department’s social media, recognized the video was gaining attention. He worked with a sergeant to review the officers’ body camera footage and release it a few hours later, an unusual level of transparency to add context to the already roiling commentary online.
“When people start posting their own videos, they don’t have a clear picture of the whole thing, so we wanted to get it out there as quickly as possible to show what happened,” Ciero said. “We want to protect everyone involved: the woman, the officers, the people who saw it happen. Even if the video put the officers in a bad light, even if it’s not a good thing, we’re still going to push it out and explain what happened.”
The reactions Monday both by the filming bystanders and police department follow a national reckoning with modern law enforcement tactics after the death of George Floyd, whose killing under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day was captured on video by bystanders and sparked nationwide protests.
Outside Mr. Pizza on Tuesday, protesters and shoppers at the stores next door debated whether the officers used excessive force or whether the woman was in the wrong. Even among the protesters there was disagreement about whether the woman should have calmed down to deescalate the situation or whether she was justifiably furious.
But protesters Michael Oretade and Keren Prescott, founder of Power Up Manchester, said that debate misses the larger point that the long and racist of history of policing nationwide leaves Black and brown people, like the woman arrested Monday, both fearful and furious of every interaction with police.
“We don’t know where she was coming from, there was clearly something already going on,” Prescott said. “I’m never, ever, ever going to condemn a Black woman for her anger at police.”
“What we’re going through right now, it’s traumatic,” Oretade said. “We’ve seen what it’s like when you comply. You get shot anyway.”