A photo of cops leading a black man by a rope went viral. The officers are now apologizing.
On Monday, August 5, the chief of the Galveston, Texas police department released an apology for a photo that had gone viral the weekend before: An image of a black man, handcuffed and tied to the length of a rope, being led by two white police officers on horseback. The man in handcuffs was Donald Neely, 43. He was arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges, according to the Houston Chronicle. The officers in the photo were only identified as P. Brosch and A. Smith, and they reportedly walked Neeley eight blocks while tied to the leash, from the site of his arrest to the police station. An onlooker took the photo, according to the New York Times,
"First and foremost I must apologize to Mister Neely for this unnecessary embarrassment," Galveston Police Chief Vernon L. Hale, III said in a statement. "Although this is a trained technique and best practice in some scenarios, I believe our officers showed poor judgement in this instance and could have waited for a transport unit at the location of the arrest."
The department said the practice of transporting someone who was arrested in the manner that Neeley was is normally used in situations where crowd control is an issue. This was not the case with Neeley's arrest, the department acknowledged, according to CBS News.
"My officers did not have any malicious intent at the time of the arrest, but we have immediately changed the policy to prevent the use of this technique and will review all mounted training and procedures for more appropriate methods," Hale's statement continued, according to WCNC.
In a statement released from the department on Monday night, Galveston police said that they "understand the negative perception of this action" and that "the police chief has taken immediate action to suspend this technique of transportation during arrests."
Before the police department released its statement on Monday evening, the photo had received wide condemnation on Twitter. Comparisons to slavery were drawn, especially considering that Galveston continued to enslave people for two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, according to Vox. Calls for accountability were also repeatedly made.
"It is a scene that has invoked anger, disgust, and questions from the community," Texas Democratic congressional candidate for Galveston's district, Adrienne Bell, wrote on Twitter on Monday. "We will be watching for the Galveston Police Department’s response to their investigation of this matter and the accountability of the officers involved."
Others pointed out that this was not the first time that the Galveston police had been accused of brutality and biased policing. In October 2018, a black man named Isaac Walton accused four Galveston police officers of beating him after allegedly stopping him without cause, even after he informed the officers that he had cancer. Walton had been diagnosed with leukemia eight months before, and he was already enduring the effects of chemotherapy and blood transfusions when the officers allegedly beat him, stomped on him, tased him, and choked him, according to the Chronicle. Walton is currently suing the department and the City of Galveston.
Leon Phillips, president of the Galveston Coalition for Justice told the Chronicle that the apology was not a sufficient response to what happened to Neeley, even if it was a good start.
"You've humiliated the whole city of Galveston because everybody who sees it is going to have an opinion," Phillips said. "All I know is that these are two white police officers on horseback with a black man walking him down the street with a rope tied to the handcuffs, and that's doesn't make sense, period."