Dr. Armen Henderson, a Black doctor who was handcuffed and detained in front of his own home while loading supplies for the homeless into his van, wants the officer who approached him disciplined, believing the encounter to be a case of racial profiling.
“I do think that the officer should be disciplined,” Henderson told ESSENCE during a phone call on Tuesday. “And I do believe, regardless of whatever the police chief says, I do believe that it was racial profiling. I do believe that if the officer rode down the street and there was a [lighter]-skinned individual doing the same thing I was doing, he would not have stopped. And so I do want the officer held accountable, especially because he’s a Sergeant, so he oversees other officers.”
Henderson, an internal medicine physician at the University of Miami Health System, encountered the officer on Friday, about half an hour before he was scheduled to meet with other volunteers who offer tents, toiletries and additional assistance to the homeless, along with testing some individuals for the coronavirus.
As he was putting tents in his car, he also disposed of the boxes in front of his house, he explained to ESSENCE, where the City of Miami collects his trash every week.
That, according to Henderson, was when the officer drove by one way, before making a U-turn and circling back. He began to question Henderson as to whether he lived there and if he was loitering.
The doctor explained that the city usually picks up their bulky trash from that location and thought that the conversation was over — especially as he was under a time crunch — only for the situation to escalate.
“I thought the conversation was over and so I turned around and I was going to continue what I was doing in the interest of time and he just said, ‘Well, I’m going to need some ID.’ And he got out of the car and then he started like yelling at me,” Henderson said.
The officer demanded identification, which Henderson didn’t have on him at the time, which is when he found himself in handcuffs.
“At that point, I called for my wife to come outside and then, while I was in front of the car, he was pointing his finger in my face, telling me, ‘You call me Sergeant, you’re going to respect me,’” Henderson said recalling the tense situation.
Henderson told ESSENCE that the encounter left him scared, and thankful that his wife — who eventually came outside with his ID — was there to help deescalate the situation.
“I think I kept my cool because I see how these things can escalate into greater things like people being shot or tased or beat up,” he said. “It was disheartening, but I was really just focused on the fact that I had to be in another place…But honestly, it was frustrating. It was embarrassing to be arrested in front of my own house and I didn’t want to become another hashtag.”
“On the same token, I had every right to be like, ‘Yo, why are you putting cuffs on me? Get off of me’… And I wanted to act out in that fashion, but I just knew that I had to have more restraint than obviously the officer had,” he added. “It was obvious that he wanted a confrontation.”
That was another thing that bothered Henderson. The officer who cuffed him and got in his face had not been wearing a protective mask, despite the pandemic that is ravaging through the country.
“I could feel the spit flying from his mouth, while he’s yelling at me and his finger’s all in my face, like I’m his child or something,” he said. “I just felt really unprotected.”
Miami-Dade Police Chief Jorge Colina said that an investigation of the incident would be conducted, according to ABC News.
“Let me start by saying that the City of Miami Police Department does not condone or accept profiling of any kind,” Colina said in a video statement on Saturday.
“We have had a litany of complaints pertaining to illegal dumping. The commissioner from that area has received many complaints as well from the constituents,” he added, saying that he needed to provide context. “There is a cargo van that’s parked in front of that home where there appears to be trash that’s being offloaded. That is the genesis of the stop. Now, what happened after that, what’s being discussed, the actions taken, etcetera … all that needs to be investigated and it will be investigated.”
In the meantime, while hoping that the officer is disciplined, Henderson is asking for a little more compassion from officers, who he said should “dial it back” due to the pandemic.
“We’re trying to arrest people like it’s business as usual, we know the jails are already overcrowded and we know detention facilities are already overcrowded,” he said.
It’s also an issue that leaves those without homes vulnerable. Henderson said that he and the organizations in the community emergency operations are working to bring attention to, especially now with the energy his encounter has brought.
“It was me getting arrested, but the fact of the matter is that police are still harassing homeless people on the street and putting them in jail for pitching a tent and minor infractions during a pandemic that we should really have compassion about,” he added. “We’re going to use this energy, we have to focus on the way the city and the county and the state and every major city across the United States is basically treating those that are the most vulnerable during this time.”