A Baltimore-area principal has alleged a white police officer degraded him in front of his son last month, and now authorities are investigating.
Vance Benton has been the principal of Baltimore’s Patterson High School for the past eight years. A glimpse at his Instagram page also shows he practices mindfulness, a psychological practice in which you focus on the present. He’s used the practice to inform his students on how to navigate issues such as bullying, as seen in videos on his YouTube channel.
Yet it seemed an interaction with Baltimore County police in unincorporated Owings Mills, Maryland, in July was something Benton couldn’t shake. The Baltimore Sun reported Tuesday he wrote a letter to county officials, which counted County Executive Johnny Olszewski and police chief Melissa R. Hyatt among them. In the note, Benton stated he experienced disrespect by a white officer when he stood by and watched an arrest not far from his home with his son. He was not involved in the crime at hand.
In the memo, Benton said he had not ever gone through so much “degradation, disrespect and humiliation.”
“The lives of innocent citizens, especially those that are African American, are in jeopardy if (the officer’s) innate racial biases and his belittling actions to ‘bait’ citizens into being arrested aren’t analyzed and addressed immediately,” Benton said in the note.
Benton explained to the local paper of the July 29 incident that he was at the scene of the arrest in order to teach his teenage son a lesson. After picking up Taj Benton, a competitive swimmer at magnet high school Baltimore City College, from swim practice, the father noticed what appeared to be a couple arguing on the side of the road. By the time he was on the way back home with Taj, Benton noticed the apparent boyfriend, who was Black, had been arrested.
Wanting to make sure the man was “handled properly by police” and utilizing it as a chance to inform his 15-year-old about how to keep on the straight and narrow, Benton said he stood about 20 yards from where the officers were located.
When a female officer approached and asked him to leave, Benton told her he thought he could stand on the sidewalk where he was not impeding police. Then, a different officer who seemed to be the boss waved at Benton noting he was OK to remain in his spot.
Then, a white officer approached. Benton said that officer, “ranted” about how people try to get in the way of probes. After Benton began speaking to Taj, he turned back toward the officer who screamed, “Don’t you buck up at me!” according to Benton.
Telling his son he felt the officer was imagining things and being racist, he said to Taj, “Did you see me buck up or even raise my voice?
“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,” he recalled saying to his son.
Alleging the officer shone a flashlight into his face and said he wanted to get a good look at him, Benton tried to read his name tag. He ultimately asked the officer for his name directly and told the newspaper the officer spelled it out in an exaggerated manner after the policeman asked, “Can you even read?”
Benton said the officer asked Taj if he took his father’s advice. When he replied in the affirmative, Benton said the policeman replied to the nationally ranked swimmer, “I guess I will be seeing you again.”
The 15-year education professional said he felt the remark indicated his son would wind up getting in trouble with the police.
“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 said, noting he felt the officer tried to lure him into being arrested. Instead, Benton said he said goodnight walked away.
The officer’s name was not reported by the publication, although it reported Benton provided them with his moniker. Baltimore County Police Department told the paper its policy is not to provide officers’ first names.
In addition, a request for the department to release the bodycam footage of the officer in question was denied as the incident was being investigated.
“We take all matters brought to our attention seriously and the agency is investigating the matter,” said Hyatt, the new police chief, through her public information officer to the newspaper.
Olesewki’s spokesperson told the paper in an email, “While we don’t know the specific circumstances around this situation, we take complaints like this seriously. No one should ever be mistreated by the police or any other county employee.”
Meanwhile, it seems Benton is keeping up with his practice of mindfulness. He uploaded a side-by-side photo to his Instagram page Sunday of a sunrise and a sunset over the ocean in Waikiki, Hawaii, and captioned it, “I thank God for blessing us with the ability and appreciation to experience the sun setting on distant lands. But I also thank God for the wisdom and humility in knowing that it’s the same sun in Maryland!”