A Galveston woman said she and her grandson were bullied after they asked a police officer who was picking up dry-cleaning to move a private vehicle blocking an alley.
Janice Stanton said she thought race played a role in the encounter and that she feared what might have happened to her grandson had she not been with him.
“This is a glimpse of the world of a young black man living in America today,” Stanton said. “I hesitate to think what might have happened had I not been there.”
Stanton and her grandson, Stanton Burke, 27, are African American. The two police officers were white, Stanton said.
Stanton and Burke, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney, were pulling out of her driveway in the alley between 36th and 37th streets about 1 p.m. May 8 to go to lunch, when they found a black Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck parked across the alley, blocking the exit, she said.
A man in a police officer’s uniform was in the passenger seat, so Burke honked and then approached the man about moving the vehicle, Stanton said.
The passenger told Burke the driver would be out in a minute, Stanton said.
The driver approached the vehicle several minutes later, and slowly got into the truck, which caused Burke to raise his hands in a gesture of exasperation, Stanton said.
The driver didn’t move the car out of the way, Stanton said.
The passenger in the police uniform got out of the truck with his hand on his gun and confronted Burke, Stanton said.
He told Burke to roll down the window and hand over his driver’s license, Stanton said.
“He didn’t see me until I started asking him, ‘Why? What’s the problem? Who are you’” Stanton said. “He said it was because we gestured.”
The officer told Burke he should have gone out the other end of the alley, Stanton said.
“I said, “You mean back up for the whole block,” Stanton said.
The officer had refused to identify himself and had walked away, Stanton said.
“My thought was, my grandson would have spoken up if I hadn’t been there,” Stanton said. “He doesn’t take injustice lightly. This could have escalated.”
The two took down the truck’s license plate number and Stanton called Councilman Craig Brown for advice, she said.
Brown said Wednesday he had spoken with Stanton and that he had asked police to investigate, but declined to comment further.
Galveston police officials Wednesday said they were aware of the incident and were investigating.
“We want to make sure all of our citizens are treated with respect and fairly,” Galveston police spokesman Capt. Joshua Schirard said. “That’s why, even without a formal complaint, we are looking into the incident. We want to assure that if one of our officers did treat someone unfairly, or without the respect deserved, we take corrective action to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.”
“Right now, we are trying to ascertain if they were even our officers,” Schirard said. “We don’t have a lot of information. We want to make sure we verify who it was and go from there.”
Officials would release information only if the investigation results in disciplinary action, Schirard said.
Stanton said an officer from the department’s internal affairs division had called her Wednesday and asked for a description of the men in the pickup truck. The officer told her the initial investigation showed the driver was a Galveston police officer and that the passenger may have been a Santa Fe police officer, Stanton said.
“You hear about these things,” Stanton said. “Being black, you hear from friends about little things that have happened. But when it happens to you, you know it’s for real. And I’m so disappointed because we think of Galveston as our own little oasis. Everyone is usually so nice and kind.”