WASHINGTON -- The Real News Camp started with a debrief interview for 13-year old Malachi and his 14-year old friend Bryan. The boys were learning the power of their own voices, as they retold the story of their run-in with police in the U Street Metro Station Saturday night. It was all captured on cellphone video. A man who came to the boys’ defense ended up getting hit with a stun gun several times.
“There is collective trauma because it’s like we’ve seen this before and it doesn’t end well,” said Sudi West recalling the killing of Trayvon White and the wrongful arrest of five now-exonerated men during New York’s infamous Central Park case.
West is the executive director of the Shaw Community Center and runs The Real News Camp with a focus on media and social justice.
“Incidents of profiling and selective enforcement [were increasing] and they [the young people] needed some tools to do this and we literally said 'it's a matter of time,'” recalled West.
Police originally charged Tapiwa Musonza, 29, with assaulting an officer, obstruction of justice and resisting arrest after he stepped in while police were questioning the two underage boys. The charges against the Howard University finance grad were all dropped Monday, with his lawyer asserting their client hadn't done anything wrong.
"He did exactly what you would want a person to do," Lee Smith, Musonza's lawyer said. "He tried to deescalate the situation. We had an officer who was intent on escalating the situation."
Police originally said they had gotten a report of "disorderly juveniles" threatening riders with sticks. In a statement, police said they juveniles were pointed out by witnesses.
On the video, you can see Musonza talking to two officers while they're holding another person on a bench. But another officer comes into frame and things escalate quickly and end with Musonza being hit with a Taser repeatedly.
It is no coincidence the Real News Camp - a social justice program - operates out of Shaw's historic Lincoln Temple. The 150-year old church, which closed its doors to worship service last year, is steeped in civil rights history. It was the staging ground for the 1963 March on Washington and was a safe haven during the 1968 riots.
“Call it divine intervention divine justice or divine sense of humor,” said West.
He explained that Saturday camp counselors were meeting to figure out how to talk to their teens about growing tensions with police when an hour later two of their very own came face to face with trouble. Now, they're using this real-life trauma to empower the teenagers to learn their rights and the tools to
deescalate any future confrontations.