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“I Was Almost Another Dead Black Male”: Denver Teen Recalls Police Beating After 2009 Traffic Stop

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We feature a video just released by the oral history project StoryCorps called “Traffic Stop,” in which Alex Landau, an African-American man, recalls how he was raised by his adoptive white parents to believe that skin color didn’t matter. But when he was pulled over by Denver police officers in 2009, he lost his belief in a color-blind world when he was nearly beaten to death. Alex and his white adoptive mother, Patsy Hathaway, discuss what happened that night and how it continues to affect him. Landau has since become involved in efforts to curb use of excessive force by police and to foster transparency and accountability by police officers, including the use of body cameras.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we move on to Africa, to Nairobi, Kenya, to talk about the significance of President Obama’s trip to his father’s homeland, where his father was born—he is now in Ethiopia, first U.S. president to go to either country, not to mention to address the African Union—we wanted to turn to an oral history project’s—called StoryCorps—piece that they have produced called “Traffic Stop.” It features Alex Landau, an African-American man who was nearly killed during an encounter with the Denver police in 2009. Alex Landau did this StoryCorps interview with his white adoptive mother, Patsy Hathaway. The video begins with her. It’s also animated.

ALEX LANDAU: We never talked about race, growing up. I just don’t think that was ever a conversation.

PATSY HATHAWAY: I thought that love would conquer all and skin color really didn’t matter. I had to learn the really hard way, when they almost killed you.

ALEX LANDAU: Yeah. I was 19 years old. I had picked up a friend, and I noticed that we had red and blue lights behind us: We were being pulled over. The officer explained I had made an illegal left turn, and to step out of the car. So, I get out of the car first. He pats me down. And then he goes around to the passenger side and pulls my friend Addison out of the car.

PATSY HATHAWAY: Addison is white.

ALEX LANDAU: Yeah, Addison is white. And he had some weed in his coat pocket. So he gets placed in handcuffs. I figure that everything is OK. I’m not in handcuffs, I’ve already been patted down, plus there’s three officers on the scene. And I had never had a negative interaction with police in my life.

So I ask them, “Can I please see a warrant before you continue the search?” And they grabbed me and began to hit me in the face. I could hear Addison in the background yelling, “Stop! Leave him alone!” I was hit several times, and I remember gasping for air and spitting, and blood flying across the grass.

And then I hear an officer shout out, “He’s reaching for a gun!” I immediately started yelling, “No, I’m not! I’m not reaching for anything!” And I remember an officer say, “If he doesn’t calm down, we’re going to have to shoot him.” I could feel the gun pressed to my head, and I expected to be shot. And at that point I lost consciousness.

I woke up to a multitude of officers just standing around me laughing. One officer was like, “Where’s that warrant now, you [bleep] nigger?” It took 45 stitches to close up the lacerations in my face alone.

How did it feel when you finally saw me?

PATSY HATHAWAY: All I remember is involuntarily screaming.

ALEX LANDAU: That was the first time I had cried the entire time I had been in there. And it wasn’t my injuries that hurt. It was just seeing how it devastated you.

PATSY HATHAWAY: My whole worldview changed that night.

ALEX LANDAU: Yeah. For me, it was the point of awakening to how the rest of the world is going to look at you. I was just another black face in the streets, and I was almost another dead black male.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a StoryCorps interview with Alex Landau and his mother, Patsy Hathaway, just released on Friday. For our TV viewers, the images we’re showing are graphic in nature, the photographs of Alex taken the night of January 15, 2009, following the traffic stop. His face is bloodied and bruised, practically beyond recognition. Landau has since become involved in efforts to curb use of excessive force by police and to foster transparency and accountability by police officers, including the use of body cameras.

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