A capacity crowd turned out to Bethel AME Church Tuesday evening for a town hall meeting on the arrest of Chikesia Clemons led by civil rights activist and television show host Rev. Al Sharpton.
Clemons’ arrest at the Saraland Waffle House on April 22 has continued to draw criticism from many in local African-American communities over why it was initiated and the way it was handled. Many, including Sharpton, have suggested race played a role in Clemons’ treatment.
Clemons was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after Waffle House employees called the police around 2 a.m. that morning. The staff claim Clemons was being disorderly, she says she was only asking for a corporate contact.
Footage of Clemons’ arrest quickly spread online. It ended with her partially nude on the restaurant floor after she was wrestled to the ground by two unidentified SPD officers, both of whom were white males.
In the scuffle, Clemons’ breasts became exposed over the top of her shirt and an officer briefly placed his hand on her neck. Another officer told her “I’m about to break your arm” when she asked what the police were doing.
The Saraland Police Department claims witnesses who spoke with investigators reported Clemons appeared intoxicated, and wait staff claimed someone in her group brought an outside beverage into the restaurant they believed to be alcoholic.
According to SPD, a single witness reported that Clemons mentioned she “might have a gun” and “might come back and shoot the place up,” but two others who spoke with Clemons’ legal team say they didn’t hear anything along those lines. In their phone call reporting the incident to police, employees made no mention of a weapon or any threat of violence.
The incident has caused great division locally and nationally. Some, including the Waffle House corporation, have said Clemons’ arrest appeared to be justified because of her conduct and the force used was only required because she resisted arrest.
Others, including the hundreds on hand at Bethel AME last night, believe the footage of Clemons’ arrest captured a “gross violation of her civil and human rights.” Addressing the crowd, Sharpton said the arrest “harkened back to days past,” adding the footage he saw was nowhere near appropriate, even if the allegations about Clemons’ behavior were true.
“Let’s say for argument’s sake she did all of that: Is it police procedure to threaten to break her arm, to drag her, disrobe her naked and continue to drag her around?” he asked. “If she was disorderly, if she was intoxicated, are you saying now that everybody intoxicated in Alabama should be dragged like that. Not only is that erroneous on the facts, [the arrest] violates the law as we enforce it in Alabama and across the United States of America.”
Clemons is being represented by out-of-state attorney Benjamin Crump, though local attorney Marcus Fox is handling her criminal proceedings in Saraland. An initial court date in the criminal case has been scheduled for sometime in June.
Both of her attorneys have accused the SPD of releasing “a false narrative” in an attempt to justify how Clemons was treated by its officers — something Crump said America has “seen before when police officers try to justify doing horrible things to American citizens.”
During the town hall meeting, many said the employees who reported Clemons to police should be fired by Waffle House and the same should happen to the officer who arrested her.
Crump said he and Clemons’ family also agree with online petitions created by activists in Atlanta demanding Waffle House drop all the charges against Clemons, denounce her arrest and issue an apology.
He also called on SPD to release body camera footage from the incident and encouraged the growing calls for a national boycott of Waffle House restaurants and the businesses, investors, and banks financing their operation unless they change their position on the arrest.
“If you won’t respect our women, don’t expect our dollars” Crump added.
While the focus of many speakers was primarily on race, Crump also said the arrest was problematic for all women. He called out feminist groups and specifically the #metoo movement for not having more to say about Clemons’ arrest.
He also noted Alabama Sen. Doug Jones has been silent on the issue as well, despite the fact that his victory in last year’s special U.S. Senate election would have likely been impossible without a large turnout of black voters and black women in particular.
Sharpton said he came to Mobile this week because justice required it and even took a few shots at those who’ve criticized him for coming to support Clemons.
“Some said I was stirring the pot. The pot was stirred when police threw a black woman to the ground, dragged her and thought no one would respond,” he said. “Some say Sharpton and Crump just come for publicity — that’s exactly what we came for. I’m in Mobile for publicly for her. This will not be hidden. This will not be forgotten.”
A New York resident with family from Alabama, Sharpton told an anecdote about how roaches in his childhood apartment would scatter whenever he turned on the lights — a story he then used to criticize local law enforcement officers.
“There are some roaches that have infected law enforcement in Mobile County,” he said. “I’ve come to help put the light on.”
The event itself was lively, with the audience bursting in applause on several occasions and giving a long standing ovation when Sharpton said: “Our sister, she has rights, she has value, and you will respect her.”
A handful of local Democratic officeholders were also in attendance as well as some seeking political office in this year’s midterm elections.
Some of those included District 33 candidate Victor Crawford, Prichard Mayor Jimmie Gardner, Prichard City Councilman Lorenzo Martin, State Rep. Napoleon Bracy and House District 99 candidate and former judge Herman Thomas.
Bracy, whose district includes Saraland, was one of the only local politicos who spoke at the event — echoing statements made by others and encouraging both a national boycott of the Waffle House and an outside investigation into the SPD’s handling of Clemons’ case.
“We don’t trust the police, and the police can’t police the police,” Bracy added.
This page is available to our local subscribers. Click here to join us today and get the latest local news from local reporters written for local readers. The best deal is found by clicking here. Check it out now.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here