Here's a little dash of dystopia to start your holiday week:
Imagine you're a 12-year old girl, and you go outside one summer evening to do a favor for your mother. You're walking around the side of you own house, minding your own business -- when three men suddenly pile out of a van, grab you, announce that you're a prostitute, and that you're coming with them. When you resist, they beat you bloody.
It sounds like the opening scene in a TV crime drama, but it isn't.
This is what happened to Dymond Milburn on the night of August 22, 2006, according to a civil suit filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in August of this year, and just publicized by courthousenews.com last week.
The basic facts don't seem to be in dispute. Dymond had walked outside her house to flip on a tripped circuit-breaker when she was accosted by three plainclothes Galveston police officers riding in an unmarked van.
They physically restrained the girl -- allegedly without identifying themselves as officers -- with one telling her: "You're a prostitute. You're coming with me."
Terrified, Dymond grabbed a tree and began hitting and kicking at her attackers while screaming for her daddy.
By the time Emily and Wilfred Milburn arrived, Dymond was "hysterical and holding on to the tree with one arm; two officers were striking [her] head, face and throat at the time."
She refused to let go of the tree, and the police refused to let her parent comfort her. When the family's puppy came over and nipped at one officer's pant leg, he threatened to shoot it.
The officers -- identified as David Roark, Justin Popovich, and Sean Stewart -- had received a tip that three white prostitutes were soliciting an unknown white man and a known drug dealer, and that a drug deal was "going down" in the areas. How that led them to accost a black teen walking alone in her yard two blocks away isn't entirely clear.
(According to press accounts, the police said that Dymond was wearing "tight shorts," and this led them to think she was a hooker. According to court papers, the "tight shorts" were red track shorts...and we all know how sexy those are.)
While all this was happening, their supervisor, Sgt Gilbert Gomez, sat in the van and did nothing to de-escalate the situation.
Dymond's parents immediately took her to the hospital, where she was treated for injuries resulting from multiple blows to her head and upper body, including black eyes, a bloody nose, blood in her ear canal, bruised vertebrae, and a scalp laceration. She was having trouble breathing and swallowing, double vision and trouble hearing.
She recovered from her injuries, but astonishingly, her ordeal wasn't over. On September 15, 2006 police arrived at her middle school....and placed the honor student under arrest for assaulting a public servant. Her father was also charged and arrested.
By the end of October, she had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She was scared to go outside; she had frequent nightmares about the police beating her, raping her, cutting off her fingers.
In the fall of 2007, the assault case against the Milburns ended in a mistrial on its opening day. They'll be back in criminal court in February. Their civil suit will likely be sent to mediation.
There are any number of ways to be outraged by this story. What if she had been a prostitute? Would that somehow have justified three grown men beating the tar out of her? Under what rule of law, exactly, does 'she's black and I could kind of see her ass' constitute probable cause? The list is endless.
I understand how this began: young, black, female, poor neighborhood. It's inexcusable, but let's face it, hardly an anomaly. I even understand why the officers (apparently) never faced censure or reprimand for their actions.
What I don't understand is why the authorities have pursued the case for more than two years.
The cops screwed up. They mistook a little girl in gym shorts for a hooker. They beat her up.
Then, rather than do the honorable thing, admit their error, apologize, and take whatever punishment was deemed appropriate, they turned themselves into the victims and set the entire apparatus of the State against the Milburn family -- and the apparatus fell into line.
The prosecutors and the courts allowed a child to be arrested and brought to trial for doing exactly what they would tell their own daughters to do if they were accosted by three strange men in their front yard.
They decided to use the letter of the law, rather than obey its spirit.
How does prosecuting a little girl for reacting in understandable terror and a father for trying to protect her from physical harm advance the cause of the Galveston Police Department or the District Attorney? Does it enhance the reputation of the police among the law-abiding citizens of Galveston? Does it encourage people to reach out to the authorities when they need help or see illegal behavior?
Of course not. It's either an attempt to control the community's behavior by fear, or simply an over-the-top attempt at ass-covering. Either way, it should be completely unacceptable to all residents of Galveston County, regardless of race or gender or neighborhood.
I'd urge everyone to read the civil complaint, and do a little Googling on the case. Draw your own conclusions. The Milburns haven't recieved much publicity over the years (perhaps by choice), but now that their story is out here, a little public input couldn't hurt.
Previously, High-Sounding Words investigated actress Helen Mirren's views on rape trials, and looked at the public fixation on Sasha and Malia Obama.
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