When police mistakenly identified 10-year-old Legend Preston as a robbery suspect early this month, they chased him through his Newark neighborhood with their guns drawn. The fifth grader was unarmed, playing basketball, and didn’t match the description of the suspect cops were looking for, but authorities maintain there was no wrongdoing.
On August 11, moments after Preston’s basketball rolled into the street, he turned and ran as fast as he could when he looked up and saw armed Newark officers running towards him. He didn’t know at the time that officers thought he was an armed robber in his 20s, although he was certain they were going to kill him. But before anything could happen, neighbors intervened by forming a blockade around him and confronting the officers for chasing down a kid.
“I ran because they thought that I rolled the ball into the street on purpose, and they were just holding shot guns at me trying to shoot me,” Preston told WABC-TV.
A police spokesman reported that the officers had their guns drawn but weren’t pointing at Preston. The boy’s mother, Patisha Solomon, said the officers told witnesses that the short-haired, clean-shaven 10-year-old fit the description of the suspect — a 20-year-old man that has facial hair and dreadlocks. When the officers realized their mistake and caught the actual suspect on another street, they didn’t apologize, Solomon added.
Immediately after the incident, Preston’s mother recorded a video of his reaction. In it, he breaks down in tears and says, “They tried to shoot me…the cops.” He later explained to the New York Daily News that he was “scared for [his] life” and “thinking that they were going to shoot me.”
While the encounter is a clear example of racial profiling that left a child traumatized, the President of James Stewart Jr. of the Newark Fraternal Order of Police maintains the officers were doing their due diligence.
“The FOP is aware of the situation apparently involving Newark Police Officers, and the investigation surrounding it, and we are confident that once the investigation is completed, including the review of all video and cell phone evidence, it will show our officers acted properly for the situation they were in,” he said, falling in line with other union representatives who protect officers at all cost.
The Newark Police Department (NPD) is currently under consent decree. The Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a probe of the NPD in 2011, following ACLU allegations about rampant discrimination and misconduct. During the investigation, the DOJ discovered a culture of gross racial profiling that involved stopping and frisking black people without justifiable cause, as well as excessive use of force against them.
A settlement between the two departments was reached in March and approved by a federal judge in May. The NPD ultimately agreed to equip all of its officers and vehicles with cameras, allow bystanders to record police activity, and improve use of force training.