The Other Part of the Aurora “Stolen Van” Saga

The Other Part of the Aurora “Stolen Van” Saga August 5, 2020

By now you may have heard that officers in Aurora, Colorado, made a Black woman and her four children lay face down on hot asphalt on the claim that their van was … a stolen motorcycle the police were looking for.

Yes, that’s right. The police somehow thought the family’s van was a missing motorcycle.

Video and photos of the incident have created a swelling of outrage, and the Aurora Police Department has responded by saying that this is simply their policy for dealing with cases where a vehicle is believed to be stolen. But despite all the furor, like me, maybe you hadn’t heard this part yet:

“Part of the reason for the mixup may have been that the car was reported as stolen earlier in the year, police said,” AP reports. (Not that this excuse clarifies literally anything.)

“He’s like something about the car being reported stolen,” Brittney Gilliam, the driver of the car, told 9 News. “And I’m like ‘this happened months ago, you guys cleared it [and] we got to pick up the car the next day, the very next day, so I’m not understanding what’s going on.’”

“There’s no excuse why you didn’t handle it a different type of way,” Gilliam said referring to APD. “You could have even told them ‘step off to the side let me ask your mom or your auntie a few questions so we can get this cleared up.’ There [were] different ways to handle it.”

I don’t know what role the van’s earlier theft played in what happened this weekend—in the police somehow mistaking the van for a stolen motorcycle—but let’s imagine that it did play a role. Imagine that your van is stolen and that you recover it, and that six months later the cops pull their guns on you and make you lay face-down on the ground … because they pulled up an old report that your van was stolen.

Your van. The van you’re driving. The van that is yours.

It’s like if your job is to protect the people living in a house, but instead you shoot and kill them, mistaking them for a burglar. Oh wait, that happened. Atatiana Jefferson. Botham Jean. Heck, I’ll add Breonna Taylor and Aiyana Jones for good measure. And what exactly is to be gained from killing or terrorizing the very people they’re supposed to be protecting? Who benefits?

Here’s what one of the children forced to lay on the asphalt in Aurora had to say of her experience:

“It’s like they don’t care,” 14-year-old Teriana Thomas, one of the detained children, told News 9. Then she asked a question that many Black people whose trust in law enforcement has long been eroded have asked: “Who am I going to call when my life is in danger?”

It’s almost as though cops are there to serve white people. And indeed, much has been written about the origins of the modern police in slave patrols and in white terrorist groups in the decades following the Civil War. Much has been written about the ways in which the police function to protect white people and white property, and not to protect or serve Black Americans.

Me, I’m still stuck on the fact that the police may have though the car was stolen in part because it was stolen earlier in the year … and so on that basis they proceeded to terrify and terrorize the car’s legal owners. You know, the same ones it was stolen from earlier.

There is just something outrageous about this—that being Black and reporting your van stolen might later mean being hassled by the police, months or years after you get the van back, on the claim that you stole it.

This is wrong. Utterly and completely wrong.

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