Mother speaks out after video shows New Jersey police beating her son
Quinette Brown couldn’t understand what her 24-year-old son, Arthur Wells, was saying over the phone early last Sunday morning.
He was in jail, she was able to decipher, and he was badly hurt. Beyond that, all she could make out was that police had beaten him and he’d been denied medical treatment.
“I couldn’t barely understand a lot of what he was saying because his mouth was so swollen that he could barely talk,” Brown said. “His braces cut through his gums.”
Two days after that phone call, Brown still doesn’t know exactly what led to her son’s arrest in Wildwood, N.J., around 3 a.m. July 12. She also doesn’t know his exact charges but believes they’re related to resisting arrest.
The Wilmington, Del., resident wants answers, though — especially now that video of the arrest has gone viral.
In a 10-second clip that’s garnered more than 128,000 views on Twitter, several Wildwood police officers are seen pinning Wells face-down to the ground near a wall.
Shortly into the clip, one of the officers, who is white, starts punching Wells, who is Black, in the face. The officer hits Wells first with his right fist, then with his left.
The punches continue for about four seconds before the officer grabs Wells’ right arm and forces it behind his back. The video also shows at least two other officers holding Wells down as the officer beats the man’s head.
A day after the video was posted on Twitter by a friend of the man who recorded the arrest, the Cape May County prosecutor’s office said in a statement that it is “conducting a preliminary investigation regarding a police incident,” but did not refer directly to Wells or the officers.
The goal of the preliminary investigation, the office said, “is to determine whether the actions of the arresting officer or officers potentially violated” use of justifiable force. The prosecutor’s office is also asking that anyone with video or photos contact the office.
Brown, who broke down after watching the video, said a preliminary investigation is not enough. She wants the officers fired.
It’s not known whether the officers have been placed on leave. Beyond the prosecutor’s statement, officials have not spoken about Wells’ arrest, and Delaware Online/The News Journal’s calls to the Wildwood Police Department went unanswered.
Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron said that “on advice from the city solicitor” he would not comment.
Brown said the situation has been a nightmare for her son, who was supposed to be enjoying a nice vacation in Wildwood when the arrest occurred. She said he’s been withdrawn since being released from the hospital Monday night.
“He’s not wanting to talk or anything, and that’s not who he is,” Brown said. “He’s a very outgoing, bubbly person. He’s so traumatized. He was scared for his life, thinking that they were going to kill him.”
Brown said she fears if there had been no witnesses recording, or if it was just Wells and the officers, the situation would have ended much worse.
“I thank God that they were filming,” Brown said. “They could have killed him by the way they were beating him in his head.
“I’ve had no sleep, from the time he called me still to [Monday] night even knowing that he’s home.”
Derrick Johnson, a community activist known around Wilmington as “Pastor D,” said he is working with Brown and Wells to get more details of the night and seek justice. The family has an attorney, Johnson said.
Johnson, who helped organize Wilmington’s first Black Lives Matter rally following the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, said situations like this occur too often.
“The reality for [Brown’s] son is, if you’re young and you’re African American and you’re male, you pretty much feel like you have a target on your back,” Johnson said. “This officer comfortably sat on a human being and pummeled him. It destroyed his trust in [police].”
Brown said the situation destroyed her trust in police, too. She’s now afraid to call 911 because “you don’t know if they’re going to go after the person who broke into your house or if they’re going to target you.”
Sentiments such as Brown’s have been echoed by communities of color for decades, but they’ve been amplified nationwide since Floyd’s death.
Though Brown said that questioning police motives “is a situation that nobody should have to go through,” Nico Bocour, government affairs director at the organization Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, said it’s not surprising.
“When there is not a lot of transparency, or when that is not clear to the community, then a lot of that trust does not occur,” she said.
Johnson said one way to build back trust is holding police accountable. He said the officers involved in Wells’ arrest “should automatically be suspended at least until the outcome of an investigation.”
“There’s obviously going to be legal action,” Johnson said. “But to make it stop, it is going to require that the movement — absent the looting and what have you — does not stop.
“Wells now becomes the symbol of this need for justice. He now is the symbol that the work’s not done.”
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