Last Friday, a Black 20-year-old was killed in Washington, D.C., after police chased him for allegedly riding an electric moped on the sidewalk without a helmet. Karon Hylton was a D.C. native, and a new father to a three-month-old baby girl. Hylton’s girlfriend, Amaala Jones-Bey, told local CBS affiliate WUSA9 that Hylton was on his way to a friend’s house to pick up his car keys. Officers say they saw Hylton riding a moped without a helmet, turned on their emergency lights, and chased Hylton in attempt to make a traffic stop. Police say that during the chase, Hylton suffered fatal injuries after he crashed the moped into a car.
But Hylton’s friends and family dispute that claim, saying that one of the officers involved in the incident was notorious for harassing the neighborhood’s Black residents. In a video posted to Twitter by journalist Chuck Modi, an unidentified friend of Hylton's offers his own account, saying, “They harassed him. They chased him and they followed him all the way before the incident, before he pulled off.” Hylton’s mother joined a small crowd of protesters outside of the D.C. police precinct building demanding to speak to officers, hoping to get clarity on what led to her son’s death. Her requests were ignored, and as evening fell, more members from the community joined her side. By nightfall, the protests intensified with D.C. police reportedly using mace and other crowd dispersal tactics.
In a statement from police released Tuesday, they alleged that Hylton accidentally collided with a passenger vehicle and suffered injuries. Officers say they performed CPR on Hylton until he was transferred to the hospital and later pronounced dead. Hylton’s family has requested the release of all video footage related to the chase and protesters outside of the D.C. police department echo that same call.
According to the department’s own Police Chief Peter Newsham, officers in D.C. are actually not permitted to chase vehicles for traffic violations, as reported by The Washington Post. While the details of the incident remain unclear, the officers’ decision to pursue Hylton for simply not wearing a helmet appears to go against department policy — and one that had been in place for years. Similar to the NYPD’s ban on chokeholds, which was enacted years before the chokehold that killed Eric Garner, D.C. police seem to have ignored their own policies, leading to the death of Karon Hylton.
The department’s hedging on releasing the footage of the incident is also a point of contention. The family’s request for the release of body cam or dashcam footage echoes similar calls across the country any time the public discovers police were involved in the death of yet another Black person. In this instance though, the request is happening amid the D.C. police union's fight over legislation that would make it mandatory to release body camera footage within five days of an incident that involves the use of deadly or serious force. The union sued the city of D.C. over the policy.
As the examples of “police-involved” deaths continue to stack up, police departments — often led by their unions — often resort to digging in their heels, refusing to accept new policy reforms, or, apparently, even adhere to existing ones. Intent on maintaining impunity in all matters, police officers often seem more interested in preserving their power than in actually protecting the communities they serve.