By Mitch Borden
As protests against police violence sparked by the death of George Floyd rage across the country, Midland residents were already questioning how local law enforcement treats people of color.
More than two weeks ago, a cell phone video was posted online showing the tense arrest of a 21-year-old black Midland man. Unlike many other arrests of people of color, that incident fortunately did not end in death.
However, the events have brought to light accusations that the Midland Police Department has used excessive force and racial profiling against the city’s black and brown residents.
On Sunday night, hundreds of protestors gathered at Midland Park Mall to show solidarity with other demonstrations across America that have been sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The crowd in Midland roared as they chanted, “Black lives matter.”
One of the loudest voices in the crowd was lifelong Midlander Courtney Ratliff. In his view, the anger fueling the Midland protest didn’t start with Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck. It began almost a week earlier, when a cell phone video surfaced of multiple Midland Police officers aiming their guns at 21-year-old Tye Anders, a black man, who had allegedly run a stop sign.
Ratliff explained he was protesting the use of excessive force by police officers, explaining that the house where Midland PD cornered Anders is only a few blocks from his own home. “I live in that neighborhood, those are my people,” Ratliff said.
In the video captured by a family member and posted to social media, Anders lays face-down on his grandmother’s front lawn with his hands out screaming, “Put y’alls guns down. Put your guns down. I’m scared.”
The incident on May 16 began when an officer noticed Anders driving his mother’s 2017 silver Dodge Challenger. According to the arrest affidavit, the officer started to follow Anders several minutes before he allegedly rolled through a stop sign at the intersection of Maple Avenue and Butternut Lane. The only evidence of Anders rolling the stop sign is the officer’s account of the event.
Dashboard camera footage from the officer’s cruiser begins just after Anders passes through the intersection. Anders stops for two additional stop signs before turning onto Pecan Ave. The officer then turns on his lights to signal Anders to pull over. Anders continues to drive for less than 30 seconds until he pulls into his grandmother’s driveway — where he was headed to celebrate his birthday.
As the video continues, the officer pulls up, blocks the driveway and then calls Anders to get out of the car. Instead, Anders sits in the vehicle for about six minutes while repeatedly being asked to exit. While Anders waits in his car, the officer who pulled over the young man calls for backup. At least seven Midland Police officers end up responding to the scene.
As the police continue to tell Anders to exit, some of his relatives gather in front of the house. Anders finally exits the vehicle, immediately drops his phone, throws his hands in the air and kneels on the ground.
But instead of handcuffing him right away, multiple officers hold Anders at gunpoint for several tense minutes while instructing him to walk toward them. Anders refuses and continues to lay on the ground with his hands up as he continuously yells that he is scared. Onlookers plead with the police for them to lower their weapons.
Eventually, the officers approach and cuff Anders. As five officers move in, video shows his 90-year-old grandmother, who’d come out of her house earlier to stand by her grandson, fall on top of Anders. The cause of the fall is unclear.
Anders has since been charged with evading arrest which is a third degree felony in this case.
Bystander video of the arrest immediately sparked community outrage. Accusations against the Midland Police Department of over-policing communities of color, using excessive force and racial profiling soon came to the fore.
The outcry from residents drove city leaders to hold a community forum late last week. The discussion focused on how the Midland polices its minority communities, with residents speaking up about their own personal experiences.
A few hundred people, the majority black Midlanders, attended the event held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, less than half a mile away from where Anders was arrested. During the Q&A, Midland’s Police Chief Seth Herman, said there were systems in place to prevent racial profiling and described the steps his department takes to monitor officers. Herman said the department keeps data on traffic stops to meet state reporting standards to prevent racial bias.
When asked what he would have done during Anders’ arrest, Herman commended his officers for showing restraint and acting professionally and calmly in a difficult situation.
Herman then said if he had been the arresting officer, things could have been a lot worse for Anders.
“Would I have done it differently. I sure would have. Would it have been better, it certainly would not have. In fact you would not have liked how it looked,” Herman said. “It probably would have ended up with a broken [car] window. Somebody being pulled out of the car and being arrested and transported immediately.”
Stephanie Smith, Tye Anders’ cousin, was stunned by the Chief’s response. She said she hoped Herman would show some sympathy for the black community’s concerns.
“I didn’t hear any compassion in any of his answers. I don’t even think he is trying to understand,” Smith said.
Smith is also a mother and says every day she worries someone close to her will get hurt or killed because of the color of their skin.
She says the arrest has sent shockwaves through her family. “Tye will never be the same. His father will never be the same. His mother will never be the same.” She continued, “They stood there watching their child scream in fear and they were helpless.”
Anders’ attorney is calling for the felony charges against his client to be dropped, but so far, the Midland County District Attorney Laura Nodolf has refused. In a statement, she wrote, “There were no actions taken by any member of the Midland Police Department that would cause me any concern with moving forward with the case.”
Recently, John Norman, Midland’s only black city councilman, stated in a Facebook post that racial profiling in the city needs to stop.
“Some of the things that have gone on within our system WE MUST STOP!! We must stop racial profiling. We must revamp policies that have been put into place since before I was born. If cities and people are constantly growing and changing, how are policies and procedures not changing with them?”
In his message, Norman also stated that Midland Police Chief Seth Herman has pledged his support for the creation of a citizens advisory board for the department and for hiring a community liaison officer.
At the Midland protest for George Floyd, about two weeks after the arrest of Tye Anders, the demonstrators moved into the street and blocked off traffic while they called for police reform.
Instead of dispersing the crowd, Midland PD blocked the surrounding streets and monitored the protest. Some officers even engaged with protestors in strained conversation, but throughout the event, officers kept their weapons holstered.
More protests in Midland are expected throughout the week.