(Updated 10:20 a.m.) The Alexandria branch of the NAACP expressed condemnation of police activity in a video showing a toy pig in an Alexandria Police Department (APD) cruiser wearing an I Can’t Breathe shirt.
Those were the last words of Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man killed by a New York City Police Officer in 2014, and were said later by George Floyd in 2020 when he was murdered by Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin. “I Can’t Breathe” later became a slogan of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“What is relevant now is discovering whether a toxic environment now exists within the Police Department, which would allow an officer to feel comfortable making a public mockery of victims of police brutality,” the NAACP said. “Such an environment does not reflect the values of the Alexandria NAACP, or the values of the residents of Alexandria.”
The officer assigned to the vehicle isn’t shown, but another officer accesses the car and removes the figure.
Who placed the display in the police car and the intended message is unclear. APD Chief Don Hayes and City Manager Jim Parajon said the incident is under investigation. The NAACP letter called for the results of the investigation to be shared promptly to “help ensure that justice is done and that this matter is not swept under the rug and easily forgotten.”
Acting Chief of Police Easton McDonald sent a letter to APD employees on Monday asking them to pause and consider the impact of their actions.
“When our public expression puts into question our values as a Department and City, we must pause and reconsider the impact of that expression,” McDonald wrote. “We honor the public trust by serving with integrity, civility, impartiality, and by holding ourselves accountable when we misstep.”
The NAACP letter is shared below:
A disturbing video shot by Alexandria Accountability was posted across social media platforms and has come to the attention of the Alexandria NAACP. The video appears to show an interaction between an Alexandria Police Officer and a citizen who spotted a fake torso in the front passenger seat of another Alexandria Police Officer’s vehicle. Spotted in the historically Black neighborhood of Parker-Gray, the controversial [display] in question was allegedly in plain view for anyone walking on the busy sidewalk to see. Specifically, the offending figure in question had a pig’s head and wore a tee shirt which read “I Can’t Breathe” — the final refrain tragically uttered by victims of police brutality the late George Floyd and the late Eric Garner.
We strongly believe that the Police Officer’s behavior toward the videographer who questioned the disgraceful display was inappropriate. Citizens viewing this interaction could have a diminished trust in the Alexandria Police Department, because the video reinforces the unhealthy ‘us verse them’ perception that many residents already harbor. Are some Alexandria Police Officers untrained on how to properly engage with residents, or is the Police Department’s training seriously deficient?
What is relevant now is discovering whether a toxic environment now exists within the Police Department, which would allow an officer to feel comfortable making a public mockery of victims of police brutality. Such an environment does not reflect the values of the Alexandria NAACP, or the values of the residents of Alexandria. We deserve answers, but more importantly we demand accountability and transparency. We are calling on the City Manager and Police Chief to promptly discuss the results of their investigation with us to help ensure that justice is done and that this matter is not swept under the rug and easily forgotten.
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