HOUSTON (Reuters) - More than 1,000 outraged Houston residents came to a town hall meeting on Tuesday to demand an end to police brutality following the release of two videos showing police violence against African American men.
Police brutality is a problem that has persisted for decades in the nation’s fourth-largest city, said Bishop James Dixon III of Community of Faith Church in northwest Houston, where the meeting took place.
“We need to ask ourselves, ‘Why are we here again for the same reason?’” said Janie Campos Torres, younger sister of Jose Campos Torres, whose body was found in 1977 after police officers beat and handcuffed him. The incident sparked the Moody Park Riot on Cinco de Mayo the following year.
The town hall meeting was called less than two weeks after local media showed two videos of beatings that had not previously been made public. The graphic scenes prompted an uproar in Houston.
The first video was released by community activist Quanell X, showing several officers kicking and beating a 15-year-old African American burglary suspect, Chad Holley, last March. Then, another video surfaced showing Henry Madge, 27, also African American, being beaten by an officer in a hospital waiting room two years ago.
To chants of “Amen,” a diverse group of people lined up at microphones on Tuesday to complain about police brutality. The stories ranged from a woman who said police tasered her mentally disabled son, to a college student who said he was working at a grocery store when a police officer, unprovoked, held the student’s own gun to the young man’s head.
Leaders from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) encouraged attendees to fill out complaint forms that the group would deliver to the Houston Police Department. The department is planning a Thursday press conference.
In addition to the two incidents on video, the family of Charles Albert Cathey III, 42, who is white, is waiting for the results of an internal police investigation of his arrest last month, when he suffered cardiac arrest and injuries so severe that he died two days later.
Police caught Holley, now 16, fleeing a home burglary last March. Nearby surveillance cameras captured images of Holley being clipped by the front bumper of a moving police car, tumbling over its hood and landing face down on the ground, after which he puts his hands over his head. Several Houston police officers are shown rushing toward the teen and beating, stomping and kicking him in the head, neck and ribs.
Seven Houston police officers were fired over the Holley incident and four were charged with official oppression. In October, Holley was convicted of a burglary charge and sentenced to two years probation.
A civil lawsuit against former Houston police officer Andrew T. Blomberg, filed by Holley and his mother, Joyce Holley, alleges that the teenager sustained grave injuries to his head, neck, face and eyes, and continues to suffer from neurological impairment and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I have already taken disciplinary action and will have no further comment until the last case is adjudicated and or appealed,” Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland said in a February 2 statement.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat, on Monday said she was forwarding the video to the U.S. Department of Justice, where a review is currently under way, according to Jose Borjon, a spokesman for Lee.
Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune