An anti-racism expert said her family is considering legal options after her husband reportedly was handcuffed and detained for sitting in his own work truck.
Nicole Hirsch said a couple accused her husband of stealing the vehicle he owned for several years. Hirsch’s husband is still reeling from the ordeal and wants to remain private. However, his wife said she is speaking out in hopes of promoting change to reduce similar occurrences.
“Long term, my hope is that folks of color are treated with the dignity and respect every human deserves,” she told Atlanta Black Star.
Hirsch’s husband uses his 1999 white Ford pickup for his landscaping business. She said he was parked in his truck about a mile away from their home when a man and woman approached the Ford and started looking around and touching the items on the truck’s bed. The driver rolled down his window and asked if he could “help them with something,” Hirsch said. That’s when the couple told the man about their stolen truck.
“And he said, ‘Well, this is my truck. Sorry, can’t help you.’ And they continued to touch his truck,” recalled Hirsch, whose husband was in the room during the interview.
“He told them, ‘I need you to back up off my property and stop touching it,’ ” she continued.
Hirsch said the couple went back to their car. Her husband tried to show them a photo of him in the truck four years ago, but they ignored him and refused to put their windows down. About 10 minutes later, Hirsch said he thought they had driven away, but at least two police vehicles pulled up behind his truck.
“At that point, he wanted to just go up to the police officers and just clear that issue quickly and got out of his car with his keys and his phone,” Hirsch said.
But before he could explain, Hirsch’s husband reportedly had the yellow of a Taser pointed at him, and he was ordered to put his hands behind his back.
“They immediately put them into handcuffs before even asking for his license or registration or anything like that,” Hirsch said. He estimates he was handcuffed for about 15 minutes before the officers asked for his vehicle registration information. Even after they realized the vehicle identification numbers did not match, they refused to let him go, she added.
The Oakland Police Department confirmed that the incident happened around 11:30 a.m. last Tuesday. Officials said they got a call from someone who said they believed they had located their stolen truck, and the vehicle on the scene matched the description.
“The protocol regarding occupied stolen vehicles involves safely detaining the occupant(s) of the vehicle. The vehicle registration as well as occupants identification are verified to confirm or deny ownership of said vehicle… The amount of time that an individual is detained varies with each incident. There are several factors that play a role in the amount of time someone is detained,” the Oakland Police Department told KRON4.
Hirsch said this is not the first time she and her husband, who are Bay Area natives, have experienced or seen racial profiling firsthand. Her husband was enraged during the incident, but kept his composure so it wouldn’t escalate. Now, he is “very subdued,” she said and hasn’t wanted to relive it.
“It probably won’t be the last time that he has what feels like an unfair, scary encounter with law enforcement,” she said.
Hirsch said that she was not surprised, but she was “totally terrified and infuriated” when she learned about it. She posted details of the ordeal on Twitter the next day and tagged the Oakland Police Department.
“Racism robs people of time and respect and dignity,” she wrote.
The Black couple is deciding whether to file a complaint with the police department or through the community police review agency. Hirsch also has been in touch with the Oakland Police Commission, which is investigating the matter.
“We’re exploring our legal options,” she said.
Hirsch, a Harvard-trained sociologist, who is an expert in anti-racism with a focus on addressing racially biased policing and racism in law enforcement, said although her immediate concern is for her husband’s well-being, she also fears for Black people who are not as educated or well-connected as they are. Hirsch works as an inclusion and diversity consultant for government agencies, and she said San Francisco Mayor London Breed used to babysit her when she was a child.
“We know from research that the trend certainly suggests that there are inequities in terms of how police protocol and discretion around these kinds of situations are used,” she said. “It’s not to say that any one police officer is a racist person, but that when we look at the statistics who gets stopped how frequently folks of color, particularly Black and brown men, get stopped, it’s very clear that there are inequities here.”