(Updates: Allentown Police Department release full footage of incident and an official statement.)
(See photos from July 13 Black Lives Matter protest in response to this incident.)
Saturday evening, a video of what appeared to be three police officers apprehending a man outside of St. Luke’s Hospital in Allentown surfaced on social media. In the video, one officer is seen using a knee-on-neck technique similar to the one used by Derek Chauvin during the arrest that resulted in the death of George Floyd.
The incident took place Saturday at about 6 p.m., according to Kay Siah Marie, the passerby who took the video. Maire sent the footage to a local Black Lives Matter chapter, Black Lives Matter to Lehigh Valley, who then posted the video to Facebook and Twitter, where it started gaining attention.
The video shows what appears to be three police officers on top of the man, who is face down on the ground, while a woman in green medical scrubs paces around behind them. The man beneath the police, who has yet to be identified, can be heard screaming and struggling to breath. The woman in the medical scrubs then gets in front of the camera, covers her name tag and tells them to drive away, saying, “You’re blocking the streets again. I need you to keep going. Thank you.”
The video spread quickly on social media, leading citizens to demand an explanation and more information regarding the incident from the police department and city officials.
Earlier this month, the Allentown Police Department publicly released their use of force policy, which states on Page 6, “Use of neck restraints or similar weaponless control techniques (choke holds) is prohibited. Preventing imminent death or serious bodily injury to a member or citizen is the only possible exception to the prohibition.”
A flash mob of about 50 people gathered at Seventh and Hamilton streets in Allentown at about 10:30 p.m Saturday and marched to the police station, arriving and attracting more protesters at about 11:30 p.m., according to posts on the Black Lives Matter to Lehigh Valley Facebook page.
Make the Road Pennsylvania, a local civil rights organization, posted live video to Facebook, as the crowd outside of the police station was met by Allentown Mayor Ray O’Connell, Chief of Police Glenn Granitz and City Council President Daryl Hendricks. The officials spoke with the crowd for about 20 minutes.
From what is seen in the video, Granitz, who had no mask on, did not provide any substantial information, nor did he confirm or deny that the officers in the video were members of the Allentown Police Department. He did say that an investigation would take place.
“Obviously we have to work through the investigation to see where it takes us,” Granitz told the crowd.
“I’ve been sent the video. I’ve seen a small clip. That’s all I’ve seen,” Granitz said regarding the 26-second video of the incident.
The crowd pressed Granitz to share his personal opinion of what the video showed, asking if he would have used the same technique. Again, Granitz told the crowd he would have to review the footage in its entirety before making a statement.
Mayor O’Connell, who was wearing a mask, said that the video was “disturbing,” but that he’d need more information about what transpired before forming an opinion of the officer’s actions.
“There appears to be no sense of urgency in the use of force that was deployed on a resident of Allentown today,” said Justan Parker, Northampton Community College student and Black Lives Matter to Lehigh Valley representative.
Parker said he felt that the authorities present outside the police station were not taking what happened seriously. In the video, someone is heard condemning something said personally to one protester by Hendricks, who had no mask on.
“We are expecting an official response from [the Allentown Police Department] by [Sunday] afternoon,” said Parker.
Allentown resident, Arthur Louis Benson II, who was also present at the protest, said, “The people were passionate but non-violent,” when asked what the general atmosphere was like outside of the police station.
“They didn’t give any answers, as far as what actions would be taken,” Benson said in regard to what the officials told the protesters.
Benson said he felt that the mayor seemed caught off guard, that Hendricks seemed “apathetic” and uninterested and that Granitz, “was frustrated but sympathetic.”
The crowd dispersed at about 12:30 a.m. The video and word of what happened continues to spread online. At this moment of an impassioned public standing up against police violence across the country, this incident is not likely to fade away without pushback from the community.
(Editor’s note: This article was edited to include the name of the person who took the video and to reflect details seen in a slightly longer version of the video that was released.)
Contact Chris Devlin, editor of The Commuter and the author of this article: firstname.lastname@example.org