A Baltimore high school principal is speaking out about an incident with a white county cop in which the officer degraded and demeaned him in front of his son.
Vance Benton, who heads up Patterson High School in East Baltimore, wrote a letter to county officials about a July incident not far from his house, reports the Baltimore Sun.
Benton wrote he had never experienced that level of “degradation, disrespect, and humiliation” before, and that the cop’s “innate racial biases” needed to be analyzed and addressed immediately. Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt was among the recipients of the letter.
In an interview with the Sun, Benton laid out his experience with Baltimore County police on July 29, after he had taken his son to swimming practice. On the way to the pool, Benton and his son had seen a couple arguing by the side of the road. On the return home, Benton saw the same young man, this time sitting on the side of the road with his shirt torn. He had been handcuffed, and police were at the scene.
Benton parked the car at his house and then walked back to the scene with this son to make sure the detained man was “handled properly by the police.” Benton told the Sun he thought he could also use the moment as a teachable moment for his son.
Standing about 20 yards away from the scene, a female officer came up to Benton and his son and asked them to leave, to which Benton pointed out that he wasn’t interfering with police. According to Benton, another cop—one who appeared to be in charge of the arrest—“waved at him and said he was fine to stay where he was,” writes the Sun.
Then, a third officer initiated a confrontation with Benton, the longtime principal said; that’s when the situation escalated.
From the Sun:
A third officer, who was white, approached him and, Benton said, “ranted” about how people try to hinder investigations. Benton said he began talking to his son, and when he turned back to face the officer, the officer shouted, “Don’t you buck up at me.”
Benton said he told his son he believed that the officer was imagining behavior that hadn’t happened, and that his view was racist. “Did you see me buck up or even raise my voice?” Benton said he asked his son. “I told him that’s how black boys and men get killed by the police when police choose to see things that are not there.”
According to Benton, the officer continued goading him; he would later describe the officer’s behavior as trying to bait him into being arrested himself.
The officer then shone his flashlight in Benton’s face, saying he wanted to get a good look at Benton. Benton asked for the officer’s name and tried to read the officer’s name tag through the glare in his eyes.
Benton said the officer asked, “Can you even read?” and proceeded to spell his name in an exaggerated way. Benton then said the officer asked his son, if he listened to his father’s advice and when he said that he did, the officer responded, “I guess I will be seeing you again.” Benton said his son, Taj Benton, is a good student at Baltimore City College and a nationally ranked swimmer.
“He saw me as the ‘n-word’ and not as a black man with his son. He saw me as another opportunity to degrade someone and he relished that opportunity to do it in front of my son,” Benton told the Sun.
Police say they’re investigating the incident, and refused to share police body camera footage with the Baltimore Sun pending the ongoing investigation.
A spokesperson for Chief Hyatt essentially gave the incident the “all matters...matter” treatment, telling the Sun, “We take all matters brought to our attention seriously and the agency is investigating the matter.”