Nearly five months after the still unpunished murder of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, at the hands of law enforcement, two Black women have denounced the Secret Service for a traumatizing and pointless arrest in front of their children.
According to The Washington Post, India Johnson, 26, and Yasmeen Winston, 25, were with their babies at the fountains of the World War II Memorial when, as they parked on Constitution Avenue near the White House, a Secret Service cruiser blocked their exit by crashing into their left front bumper.
Winston recalled how, within seconds, a uniformed Secret Service officer pointed a rifle at them screaming, “Get out!” and “Put your hands in the air!” as more officers surrounded them with guns.
Both women were arrested, handcuffed, and separated from their crying babies who passed into the hands of officers without masks and in violation of all social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
“This incident took place near our national monuments across from the White House,” their attorney, Timothy Maloney, wrote in the letter demanding an investigation to Secret Service Director James Murray over the weekend. “It occurred after eight weeks of unprecedented national demonstrations about excessive police conduct, some of which took place right there on Constitution Avenue. Has the Secret Service learned nothing this summer?”
Although officials indicated that the arrest was because the vehicle had been reported stolen and that the suspects were two Black men, both Johnson and Winston were able to prove that the car was theirs immediately.
According to The Post, days later, they still did not know why the Secret Service targeted them.
“I could have been another Breonna Taylor,” Winston said. “I could have been another innocent woman who has no record and got shot.”
A Secret Service spokesperson confirmed in a statement they had received a “query requesting the agency investigate an alleged interaction between Uniformed Division Officers and two members of the public. The Secret Service said it is “looking into the matter” and “has no further comment at this time.”
Maloney said the Secret Service has not acknowledged receipt of their letter, which demands answers to 16 questions in addition to an investigation.
“These were two young African American mothers with their babies sitting lawfully in a car with D.C. tags,” Maloney wrote in his letter. “Can the Secret Service honestly say it would have treated white out-of-town tourists and their babies, sitting there without District tags, the same way?”
The women said they were inside the Ford Focus parked on Constitution Avenue near 17th Street when they felt the Secret Service car hit the front bumper on the driver’s side. The blow frightened the children, who began to cry, as the officers pointed guns at the mothers’ heads.
“It felt like a dream. It was so unreal,” Winston said. “We’re trying to understand what [the officer] was saying, because we didn’t want to make the wrong move and accidentally get shot up.”
Both mothers were handcuffed without being read their Miranda rights, while their children were left in the back seat of the car for 45 minutes.
Surprised that the officials were not wearing any identification, Winston took paper and pencil and began demanding their names and badge numbers.
“I had to stay strong, somebody had to be strong. I wanted to cry, but I’m not going to let them see me cry,” Winston said. “The fact that our kids had to witness this? Nobody wants to introduce their kids to this.”
Winston said she and Johnson want answers to why this happened to them.
“For this to randomly just happen,” she said. “It’s really traumatizing.”
With information from The Washington Post.