Authorities in Hawthorne, California, are facing backlash following social media video of what critics say shows officers using excessive force against an unarmed Black man.
The video, posted to Instagram last week, captures the moment Hawthorne officers draw their guns on 24-year-old William Ewell, who was suspected in an armed robbery on June 7. Ewell is seen kneeling on the sidewalk with his back to the officers and his hands clasped behind his head.
He repeatedly shouts that he is unarmed.
Video of the arrest soon went viral, and featured emotional commentary from a woman identified only as Sky, who filmed the harrowing encounter. In the five-minute clip, she pleads with Ewell to “don’t move!” and “don’t resist” for fear that he would be shot by police.
“Why are your guns pulled on this young man?” she shouts at the gang of cops gathered at the scene. “He has no weapons on him. We live right now.”
Sky continues telling Ewell to relax, later revealing that her boyfriend died at the hands of police in 2015.
“Relax, baby. Relax,” she shouts, “because they will shoot you.”
When one of the officers instructs Sky to get out of the way, she asks: “You gonna shoot me too, right? For filming, right?”
The bystander becomes increasingly emotional as the situation grows more tense and more police officers arrive. She repeatedly begs for the officers to put their guns down, at one point shouting, “Look at this baby! Are y’all are about to kill this man? Like look at these big ass guns they got on him!”
“Can somebody put your guns down and please come get him?” she adds, her voice cracking. Seconds later, six officers surround Ewell and place him in handcuffs.
In the video, one of the officers explains to Sky that authorities had received reports of a robbery and that Ewell “loosely” fit the description.
“We are just detaining him, OK?,” he tells her. “We’re not saying he’s a suspect, but we are just trying to figure out what’s going on, alright? So just try to relax.”
According to a police report, the incident began when Ewell and two other suspects walked into a nearby convenience store and began arguing with the cashier about a previous purchase. That’s when Ewell allegedly made his way behind the counter where the cashier was and snatched several items.
“The female cashier attempted to stop [Ewell], at which time she was assaulted by the subjects,” the report states. “Employees were able to force them out of the store,” before Ewell assaulted another employee by hurling a trashcan.
Ewell and a second suspect were arrested and taken to jail.
The department said its police investigations bureau is reviewing the incident.
Watch more in the video below.