Driving While Old and Black

Maurice Alexander, 63, is the Washington D.C. leader of CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants), a group made up of prisoners and their families and others devoted to prison reform. He served time  at one point on an assault conviction–which, he told me, had been overturned after 5 years, leading to his release. He has worked with prison reform efforts since he got out of prison, and is looking forward to taking courses to become a nurse.

This is all by way of background. What follows is the story Alexander told me this week.

Two years ago in August, he  had  gone down into southern Maryland  to visit his small son. When it came time to leave, Alexander looked around for a ride, and ran across a distant acquaintance who offered him a lift back home in a rental truck. The driver had also given a woman a ride. The trip was uneventful, until the driver pulled over at LaPlata, a Maryland community, supposedly to get a soda at a Safeway.. Alexander had dozed off,waiting for the man to return. Soon the driver returned. As he  was pulling out of the lot, “I heard a siren. [The driver] pulled the van to the side of he road. 

According to the subsequent police report,the cops had been alerted to a robbery of several cases of bottled water  and some Pepsis from the Safeway by the van’s driver. The police took off to find the alleged thieves. 

“I looked through the passenger’s rear view mirror and could see…an officer approaching my door,” Alexander said. “He had his gun drawn…When he reached my door, he ordered me to get out with my hands in view.”

At this point the driver told the police Alexander “had nothing to do with this.” The cop “at gun point ordered me out of the van. He then handcuffed my hands behind my back. He searched my pockets and removed my identification. At this point we were on the passengers’s side of the truck and out of sight from everyone else…With my hands cuffed behind my back [the officer] pointed his revolver at my head and ordered, ‘old as nigger, get down on your belly. On the ground nigger.’”

Alexander told the cop he wasn’t getting down for anybody. “I told him I could not do so while my hands were cuffed behind my back. “You need some help?” the officer asked. “The next thing I know is that he had knockled me to the ground. And stomped me in the side. I passed out.”

The La Plata police report states that when Alexander would not get down on the ground, the cop threatened to tase him. “I ordered Alexander to the ground. He replied ‘no.’  I kicked Alexander’s feet from underneath of him and he fell to the ground.”

Alexander picks up the story: “When I regained consciousness I was on the ground in tremendous pain. The police on the scene tried to question me. I refused to answer any questions and they sent for medical care. The medics came and took my vital signs. I complained about my rib cage. They ignored me…For about 10 hours I was handcuffed under the most excruciating pain while in detention. My moans and groans became so annoying to the other inmates that someone decided to give me something for my pain. It worked as I was pain free for about half an hour. I later found out it was crack cocaine.’’

About 2:30 am the next day, Alexander went before a magistrate who released him in his own recognizance to appear at a later court date.

“Around 3 am two officers came to my cell and carried me to the front door of the entrance of the detention center because I could not stand on my own, and they shoved me out.” Alexander took a few steps and, losing consciousness, fell down in the street. “When I regained consciousness a passserby had called an ambulance. I was taken to Civista Hospital in Charles County. My hospital records reflect that I suffered four fractured ribs and a collapsed lung.’’ In addition, his teeth were kicked in.

“I remained in the hospital for 5 days, and continue now under a doctor’s care. I have not been able to work since this incident.” A year later charges were dropped. Alexander was presented with a $10,000 hospital bill, which he told me he was trying to pay. It is possible Medicaid may pick up some of it. He is living on disability.

Alexander said he couldn’t find a pro bono attorney interested enough to take his case. So, taking matters into his own hands, he went to federal court in Greenbelt, Maryland, and filed a pro se action with the clerk. Next he went to the Justice Department main building in Washington in an effort to find an official who could guide him in seeking further redress against the police under a program specifically set up to help people bring such cases. There, guards turned him away from the door of the building. He finally sent a certified letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, again seeking help. He never got a reply from Holder’s office. In fact, he said, he never got a reply from any of the government agencies he contacted.

Alexander hopes to regain his health so as to begin nursing school this June. Later this spring he will receive an award for his work with the Prison Visitors Program, a privately sponsored group that tries to help prisoners adjust to society when they finish serving their sentences. “Maurice,” said Charles Sullivan who heads the national CURE office with headquarters in Washington, “is an example of someone who has become a prison reform advocate when he’s actually been in the system himself.”

One response to “Driving While Old and Black

  1. I feel for Maurice Alexander. It’s a big problem trying to get legal representation for such abuse. I’ve experienced similar frustration here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Though abuse against me was minor compared to what happened to Maurice , it should have been legally actionable. I tried lots of people – one lawyer who does take such cases was overwhelmed; another said he thought i had a good case but that a jury would likely side with police anyway, and therefore would not take the case.
    Numerous others i have talked with do not even try; they just absorb the abuse. That may result in them taking it out on others, or on themselves in further ways.
    In short, the legal profession is just not there for many of us, so we have to go for public pressure, publicity, political support, or whatever else we can to get any semblance of justice.
    Thanks for writing about this case – perhaps the publicity will bring some form of justice to Maurice. I pray for that.

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