Recently A World Without Police interviewed Earledreka White who was brutalized by Metro Police in Houston, TX in March of 2016.The trauma she suffered is reminiscent of so many other women who’ve been victimized by police. The effects of the brutality she survived that day didn’t end with the injuries she suffered. She fought a 6 month long legal battle that upended her life. As the story fades and the news cameras turn their attention elsewhere many victims of police brutality are left to rebuild their lives without many resources or support. Often times the stories and lessons from these experiences are lost as the victims try to readjust to daily life.
What we appreciate about this interview are the systemic questions she raises from her experience. She asks deep inquiries about the nature of the police, duplicity of the legal system, what’s needed to aid survivors of police brutality, the relation of policing to women, and the effects of the blue code of silence. All these topics reflect the unresolved tensions and contradictions when it comes to BLM and the movement to end police brutality. We aim to resolve these tensions and contradictions by contributing to the movement to abolish the police as an institution. We thank Earledreka for her bravery and willingness to recount this painful story with us.
AWWP: For those who may not know about your case, can you summarize what happened the day you were brutalized by Metro Police in Houston?
EW: It’s so cliche, but I literally remember the day like it was yesterday. It was Thursday, March 31, 2016, and I was leaving work. If anyone is from Houston, I was traveling north to go east of Houston off 610 and Main St. I saw the police officer where he was parked on the highway. There was no construction, no accidents, there was no railroad near by, but again he was parked on the freeway and I saw his signal lights and I saw his sirens. I’m just driving, I’m not speeding, I’m not doing anything wrong, so I said let me get over, let me pull over into this parking lot to get out of his way. I pull over into a medical plaza.Thank god I did because you guys would not have seen the events that took place that day. He signaled for me to stop. At this point I‘m still trying to make sense of it, I’m like I must have a broken tail light because I can’t imagine a police officer signaling to pull you over for no reason, still naive at this point. I see him getting out of his car and I’m thinking to myself, “your purse is in the trunk”. In my head I’m like, “what are you going to do”, because people are being killed for trying to retrieve their ID. I’m literally shaking here just thinking about that day. All I thought was, “you need your ID, you don’t want to be fumbling around with this man asking for your ID”.
To make a long story short, I get out of my car, which is not a crime, to retrieve my purse.. Something said, “do not pop the trunk” and I’m so thankful that I didn’t because that could have been seen to him like I’m about to retrieve a weapon, and I’m literally shaking. I got back in the car and he got out of his car and came to me. I asked him, “hey officer”, not rude or anything like that, I said “why did you pull me over?” He pointed toward a line and he said, “you didn’t see that double white line?” I said, “no sir, what double white line?” Then he raised his voice again and I just remember saying to myself, “Why is this man so upset? Why are you yelling and screaming?”
Then he said, “you crossed over that double white line. Is this your car? Do you have drugs in this car?” I said, “excuse me sir?” I appear to be very young, most people think I’m in high school, but I’m 29 years old. I said, “excuse me sir?” He said, “is this your car?” I said, “it is.” Then he asked me if i had drugs in the car, and I immediately knew that this was not going to end up good. I grabbed my phone and called 911 and he said, “you better hang up that phone or i’m going to tase you.” And again I said, “excuse me sir, “ do not feel comfortable, why are you yelling? Can you please lower your voice?” Then he said, “I’m going to arrest you”, and I’m panicking. I don’t know where I am, I don’t see a physical address, nobody knows where I am, I was supposed to be at a meeting, and I’m trying to get through to the dispatcher. She’s you know, asking me, “hey ma’am, I really need an address, where are you?” I’m stuttering and shaking like I am now, trying to figure out where I am. I could not find an address, so he at this point calms down and gives me the location and tells me where we are. He’s calm until they put me through to his department.
The moment I say this man threatened to tase and arrest me, that is when you see him assault me. This man literally attempted to break my arm. He took my right arm and thrust it back and forth into the sky multiple times as you see in the video. He pulled my hair, again yelling and screaming to hang up the phone. “I’m going to tase you if you don’t hang up the phone.” I told the dispatcher crying, “can you please send someone out here? This man is threatening to tase me and I’ve done nothing wrong, can you please send someone out here?” He never waited for backup, he pursued me physically and definitely took advantage of him having power over a civilian which is not right by any means. Toward the end of the struggle he literally said, “if you don’t hang up the phone,’m going to tase you” and he put his hand on his gun. That’s when I knew to get down. He told me to get face down on the ground. I stopped by a medical plaza, so everybody is coming outside trying to see what was going on. I just remember seeing pink and blue scrubs and a little boy. The little boy had an ipad, and that ipad literally saved my life. I got face down on the ground and whispered to the dispatcher. I said, “I’m about to hang up the phone now. Can you please send someone?” I don’t remember what they said, but I just remember hanging up the phone and telling him I’ve hung up the phone now. He called for back up and said I slapped him across the face and that he needed someone to come out immediately. So, 4 of his unit members including his supervisor came out. I’m half his body weight– clearly I never slapped him across his face. He said he was in fear for his life. One HPD officer came to the scene. Later, the judge was baffled that they never reported any statements from witnesses although you see them on camera talking to witnesses. They never admitted to me calling 911 even though he put that in his police statement. They held the 911 tape for 4 months and denied I even called 911. Every time I went to court they reset the hearing saying that they still needed to retrieve evidence.
That day really informed me of the political views and some of the oppression we see in our community today. It became so real that day because they all (the police) stuck together. The HPD officer asked the arresting officer if he called before I did. Officer Luka (arresting officer) looked at the HPD officer and said, “yes sir I did.” The HPD officer in turn said, “well we all can go home.” I was in the police car at this point, but the door was open. They huddled up in a circle to figure out what they were going to charge me with. I’m in handcuffs, but the door is still open. I overheard his supervisor, an African American female, say no we can’t charge her with that one, what’s the other one. I was so humiliated to think that a group of police officers would violate my civil rights so much so that they would have to figure out what they were going to charge me with. Then to later hear two of his colleagues say, “I told him about trying to make drug busts.” That really did something to me that day.
AWWP: What was the interaction like with the crowd? Did the crowd say anything? Did they get involved or try to reach out to you in any way while that was going on?
EW: Yes, there is another video that wasn’t aired that’s on my youtube page. The video that was taken by the 10 yr old on the ipad caught a different angle of the incident. You hear testimony of all of the witnesses saying, “oh my god she’s just a child why is he pulling her hair. Oh my god he is going to kill her.” But, no one came close to the scene. They were probably all 15 feet away. Honestly I don’t blame them for not intervening because that would have been their life as well or their freedom as well, so I’m not bitter that no one intervened. At least they thought enough to record it.
AWWP: Previous to that incident have you had any other bad experiences with the police?
I haven’t, but so many of my friends and so many people across the nation have reached out to me through social media to let me know about their experiences. One of my friends told me that he was pursued by a police officer while DJing a party. It just blows my mind that people assert their power in such a volatile way because they want you to be fearful of them. But, why should I ever have to fear someone who should promote peace and not violence? What is there to be afraid of about a police officer? I still don’t understand that concept.
Another African American female from Ohio reached out to me recently. She had a very similar incident happen to her, but again she lived to tell her story. But she had no proof of anything and her face is beaten, she has bruises on her forehead. No one believes her because no one was out there. It’s literally her word against the police officers.She told me that the officer said that no one will believe you. I talk to her almost everyday. She said she doesn’t want to live anymore because she doesn’t understand how this keeps happening and no one is doing anything. Police can say they’re fearful of their lives and they can kill people and get away with it. That officer that assaulted me that day is still an officer. He’s still carrying a gun. I’m sure he’s still pursuing people wrongly because nothing stopped him that day.
AWWP: One of the things that has come into light more and more in the last few years is how frequent it is for police officers to assault women. A lot of the big street protests have been in response to police murders of men, but obviously the rate at which women face violence at the hands of the police is extremely high.
EW: Ok, I’ll say this too.Now when I speak about police brutality or injustice or oppression a peace comes over me. I do get shaky and my insides feel like they’re rumbling because of what that officer did that day– I thank him for it. That might sound ironic that you would thank your oppressor or thank the person who literally could have taken your life or could have ruined your life. I do, I thank officer Luka, because so many times we take life for granted and so many times we wake up and think we’re going to come home the same. What he took from me was a peace of mind. But, what he gave me was so much strength and knowledge and I literally have a platform now to speak to people in such a way to kind of ease the pain. So I’ll forever be thankful for that day and I’m thankful for the pain because I know pain produces passion.
I had similar traumatic experiences in domestic violence, so I’m able to identify with pain very easily. What it teaches you is that tomorrow is not promised and you literally have to live each day as if it’s your last day.
But prior to the interviews I tried to forget about it. I never talked about it, there was never a second thought in my mind. But when I started to interview, I got the tape and it was all over national news, I had to face it. I’ve never faced any traumatic experience I’ve gone through. I’ve put it in the back of my mind and suppressed it. He taught me I’m stronger than I thought I was, and the people who love and care about me, now I see them. You can know people and not see them. But, now I see the people who love and care for me. I can identify with young women who’ve been traumatized and broken and battered. So, I’m so grateful to have had that experience.
A lot of times when incidents of police brutality happen we want to cling to black people. We want to cling to people we love and trust, but a lot of time my encouragement came from people who don’t look like me. Who would write and ask how I was doing. Who would say I hope you’re not sad, I hope you’re not depressed and I hope you’re not blaming yourself. For so long I questioned, did I do something wrong? Could I have done something different? Was I not mannerable enough? Maybe if I didn’t have braids in my hair. Maybe if I didn’t look so ethnic he would have been more respectful. I’ve had these thoughts up to 5 weeks ago. I was severely depressed. I didn’t want to live anymore because I thought my life was over. Even though the case is now over and the charge was dismissed due to quote unquote insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, these people got on national television that they supported his actions that day.
AWWP: When you say these people who are you referring to?
EW: Officer Luka’s department, the department of Metro Police.They arranged to have an African American woman come on national television and say they were in support of his actions that day and that he followed protocol. They closed the investigation only later to find that when the 911 call was released and the video went viral they also said, or followed up to say, they were going to reinvestigate the investigation. I didn’t even know that was possible. That’s when they reinvestigated the investigation.
AWWP: What was your experience in dealing with the legal system?
The legal system honestly is shameful. I spent two nights in jail and I went to court every month. Mind you, I had never been to jail before. I had never had my freedom taken away for any reason, so to be in jail with someone on trial for murder and theft and prostitution, it shapes your mind. Going to court every month, missing work, not being paid or not receiving compensation for missing work, I was evicted out of my apartment. My life was literally turned upside down after this incident. So many times we hear about people dying at the hands of a cop, but rarely do you hear of someone living and having to tell the story of how they were evicted. Or, how they ran through their savings, or how they had to leave a job because they were emotionally unstable and what that really looks like. You can’t speak to a dead person about police brutality because they’re dead, and not everyone is blessed and privileged enough to get national attention to shed light on the issue.
To go from being financially stable and having money put away. To then run through emergency accounts, savings accounts, not being paid because you’re missing work, and being evicted out of your apartment. Meanwhile, this police officer is still working and coming home to his family as if nothing happened. It does something to you. How could it not shape you to think that this world doesn’t really care about you as a citizen. The judge was not remorseful at all. She literally said and I quote, “We do not handle judicial affairs outside of the courthouse. You guys brought shame to my name because you went to the media.” Again, I would come to court every month and that court case would be reset every month. We decided, my attorney and I, to to go to the media to put pressure on the judge and the police department because nothing was being done. Had we not, I would be in jail.
AWWP: How long did the whole process take to settle?
EW: I was arrested on March 31, 2016 and my case was dismissed on Sept. 16, 2016.
EW: Yea, I said it earlier that I’m more self aware in what I’ve done for my future moving forward. I was mentally paralyzed to go from being financially stable, mentally competent, working, saving, and really trying to impact the world as a counselor. To go from having it all to having nothing. I’ve returned back to business. In the process of me going through this case I was supposed to apply for a PHD program. I got accepted into the PHD project which fully funds a PHD in business for minorities. Needless to say I never applied, my name was all over the media, negative and positive things being said. But I didn’t want to apply for a PHD program, so I felt like again something I was shooting for was taken away from me. Just recently about 5 weeks ago, now I’m in business for myself– I’m a licensed financial coach. By the end of this year I should be an investor and what I plan to do with my income is fund civil and criminal cases for people who have been wrongly accused of crimes they didn’t commit. I’m devoted to educating people on financial principles because I did not know that day would have changed my life like it did.
And I found myself incapacitated, I couldn’t take care of myself and that’s the truth. When people are traumatized not everyone has a savings account for six or nine months. What I tell people who come to me and ask for advice or counsel, I always say don’t be like me. If you can, muster up the strength go to work even if you don’t feel like it. If you have to go to work and cry when you get home, cry when you get home. But don’t just say forget about everything because that one day that changed your life. It’s kind of like a snowball effect because if you miss work on a Monday I can guarantee you’ll miss on a Tues, Wed, Thurs, and Fri. That one week turns into two weeks and and that two weeks turns into a month. You look up and you have an eviction notice and you look up and you’re two months behind on your car note and you look up an now you’re behind on credit cards. It’s just a vicious cycle and everybody I come into contact with needs to be financially stable. You need resources, you can’t fight this thing by not having resources.
AWWP: Some news articles have compared your case to that of Sandra Bland. In what ways do you feel your experience is similar to hers and how do you feel it’s different? Also, what are your thoughts on the Say Her Name protests?
EW: I think our events were very similar and it chokes me up thinking about what could have happened to me that day. Sadly enough she didn’t live on to tell her story. It differs from my incident in that she was actually pulled out of her car. So her assault happened earlier on. But, it’s really hard for me to even speak on her case because I don’t think people really understand the magnitude and the level of hate that one human being can have for another human being. Being a police officer or not, it’s hate that allows a person to assault another person to that degree. It’s hate that allows you to ridicule someone or to provoke them in such a way that they fear for their lives. It’s also hate to pursue an African American woman in struggle because you’re a police officer.
EW: The Say her Name protest speaks to every woman. Who am I to think, “that was just Sandra Bland, oh i don’t care.” But, it happened to me too. Who is the next woman to say, “that was Earledreka White, I don’t care. That happened in Houston, TX, it’ll never happen here or in Ohio or Atlanta.” But the say her name protest is so powerful because it just does something to me. It changes my perspective about the world. We need to really look inside of ourselves and see are we prejudice. Are we really racist? Do we only care if it’s someone we know? Do we only grieve if it’s someone we love and trust? We should all be affected when a woman is wronged or a man is wronged because at the end of the day we’re all human and we should care whether it’s in Houston, Alaska, or Tulsa because this is happening around the world and it’s not new.
AWWP: I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to look much at the website, but we did an interview with a person who organizes in Houston around domestic violence. Specifically trying to find ways to build up community relationships and trust and power so that we can handle domestic violence without calling the police in. She provided information about how a lot of times when police handle domestic violence situations they really worsen the situation by either being very passive towards the woman who’s being beaten or whatever might be taking place, or by treating the woman like she’s a liar until she can prove it. There’s this expectation that she has to have a perfect reputation to be credible. That treatment of women who are survivors of that kind of violence as if they’re liars worsens it as a societal problem. I appreciate you kind of putting it in those stark terms, protect or provoke.
EW: To piggyback off of what you just said, you hinted toward the brotherhood being so strong and that’s so true. I had another lady reach out to me on social media, and her message was so heartfelt for her to take out time out of her day to tell me her story in great detail. She was married to a police officer for years and he was very abusive and she suffered injuries to her body. She had living proof that this man had assaulted her and was very abusive and she said after years of being abused she called 911 and they of course came over. They arrested her and said she was lying, that he never beat her, that he never put his hands on her.
She said that that day she realized that you can’t call the police for the police because that brotherhood is so strong and they stick together and they protect each other. I asked her what happened with the case and she said that they eventually dropped the case because he didn’t want to testify and say that he had never beaten her. She had proof, she had pictures of bruises and scars and all sorts of things. Her story ws so powerful because I’d never heard the story of someone who was actually married to a police officer who called the police, again similar to my situation, thinking that they would protect her and they didn’t, they arrested her. And for the rest of her life she has to report that she’s been arrested and jailed and she has to give reason as to why. You have to relive that and I think it’s so important for people listening to understand what we’re talking about. So yes my case was dismissed, but is it really justice? It’s not because for the rest of my life I have to admit to the fact that I’ve been arrested before. It’s a harsh reality. Before this incident i was so trusting in people, I’m a lovable person, if you need me and call me I’m there. Now i’m a little guarded. I’m still there for people, but I’m a little guarded. I don’t like to be out late now. Home is my sanctuary and that’s ok. It’ll take some time for me to spread my wings a little bit more, but I just want to feel safe.
AWWP: How does this experience alter your view of the police? Does it at all?
Of course it has. Now when i see a police officer my immediate thought is, “I wonder if they’ve ever killed someone?” Or, “I wonder if they assert their power in the wrong way? I wonder if they’re a good or bad cop?” Every single time, it doesn’t smatter if I know the person or not. The moment I see that uniform I always question their integrity. That’s not to say that I have a disrespect toward police officers because of my incident or that I hate police officers. I don’t hate police officers because I’d literally be saying I hate people. I do think the world needs to wake up and realize that a police officer enforces the law and and they wear a uniform in 6 months. But a lawyer has to go through years of experience and training before they can even get a license. That should tell you something. 6 months vs 6 years, what would you rather have? That should tell you something about the quality of people they enlist to become police officers. That should tell you something about the seriousness of enlisting someone to enforce the law.
AWWP: And meanwhile that officer, is he reporting to someone or something? Has he brutalized anybody else?
EW: He does have a pattern — we pulled his public record. His discipline record is 250 pages long. He was asked to resign from the NYPD, so he came to Houston and failed the HPD exam 6 times and then he became a Metro Police officer. He also was reprimanded multiple times for turning off his location device in his unit. His badge cam was off the day of my incident. You have to ask yourself, who in their right mind would allow a police officer with a rap sheet 250 pages long to still enforce the law? Why are we allowing people to be asked to resign from one state and then come to another state and still enforce the law?
AWWP: Thats a protective act in and of itself because if he did something to be asked to resign, why not fire him? But they know if they fire him he’ll have a harder time getting a job somewhere else. So, we’ll just ask him to resign and he can be some other police departments problem.
EW: You put it so eloquently, but that is in fact what happened. We’re not going to fire him, we’re going to protect him. Once again they protect each other. So they ask him to resign and then he can be somebody else’s problem.
AWWP: Once again we want to thank you so much for doing this interview with us, Earledreka.