The nation is reacting with outrage to a video from a routine traffic stop in New Mexico that shows officers using excessive force to stop a black woman who had been pulled over for speeding in a van filled with her five children. The officers fired multiple shots at the van with the children inside and bashed the passenger side window to get to the woman’s 14-year-old son.
While the actions of the woman, Oriana Ferrell, 39, can be questioned as she pulls away from an officer who told her to wait until he checked her license, it is the actions of the police officers in the video from their dashboard cam that appear to be especially outrageous and needlessly excessive.
At a time when African Americans are being gunned down for seeking help from homeowners (Renisha McBride) and police officers (Jonathan Ferrell) or just walking down the street with a bag of Skittles (Trayvon Martin), these sorts of incidents raise the question of whether we are still living in a society that devalues black life and black bodies. How else can you explain police officers shooting bullets at a car containing five children? Can you imagine they would have done the same thing if it was a car full of white children?
The video, which has gone viral after being shown on the “Today” show and other national news programs, captures the entire incident that occurred on Oct. 28 near the city of Taos, New Mexico. Ferrell was on her way to the Rio Grande on an educational trip with her children from their home in Tennessee.
The police officer pulled Ferrell over for going 71 in a 55 mph zone. After he approached the car and asked her to wait, she inexplicably drove away. He gave chase and pulled her over a second time. Visibly angry, the officer ran to the car, yelling, “Get out of the vehicle! Get out of the vehicle right now!”
The officer tries to pull Ferrell out of the vehicle and her 14-year-old son gets out and valiantly runs over to defend his mom—but the teen returns to the minivan after the officer aims a weapon at him. It is a Taser, but it’s possible the boy could have thought it was a gun.
“Sir, I pulled back over, I didn’t run away,” Ferrell pleads at one point. “You see my children. I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m just trying to take them to the Rio Grande.”
The mother and the son struggle with the officer before getting back in the minivan. The officer then takes his baton and violently smashes the passenger side window where the 14-year-old boy is sitting.
As the family attempts to flee, a second officer fires at least three shots at the vehicle. Ferrell weaves in an out of traffic and eventually comes to a stop in front of a motel. She was arrested and charged with child abuse, fleeing an officer and possession of drug paraphernalia—the police found what they claimed were two marijuana pipes in the car. The 14-year-old boy was charged with battery.
The other children, ages 6 to 18, were taken into the custody the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department and were later placed in the care of a family known to Ferrell, according to court documents obtained by The Taos News.
Watch the troubling video below.
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Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including the upcoming "The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path To American Leadership," which he co-authored with Al Sharpton.