As video ubiquity increases, and us lurkers get to watch as young men who are prepared to take a risk in the name of liberty refuse to acquiesce to law enforcement demands by saying “no,” it is important to remember that not every bold refusal makes the Best of the Web lulz reel. Sometimes, the young man is named Alex Landau.
As Joel Warner reported in detail for his 2011 feature article “Black and Blue,” Landau was a nineteen-year-old Community College of Denver student when he was pulled over by police on January 15, 2009, allegedly for making an illegal left turn.
Marijuana was subsequently found on Landau’s passenger, a fellow student named Addison Hunold, prompting the officers — identified in the lawsuit as Ricky Nixon, Randy Murr and Tiffany Middleton — to ask if they could search his trunk. Landau is said to have responded by stepping toward the officers and quizzing them about whether or not they had a warrant — at which point they began punching him in the face. The attack caused Landau to fall, but the beating continued for several minutes, with one officer yelling, “He’s going for the gun.” (Landau was unarmed.) Once they finally stopped the assault, one officer reportedly put the following question to him: “Where’s that warrant now, you fucking nigger?”
If you think Landau’s jacket looks bad, take a hard look at his face. Think about this face being on your son, your friend, you.
This is what the insolence and impertinence of exercising one’s constitutional rights looks like. Three Denver cops, identified as Ricky Nixon, Randy Murr and Tiffany Middleton, delivered the message. It wasn’t videotaped, but if it had been, it would not have made viewers laugh with glee at the foolish tin soldiers, with their shield-induced bravado.
There are no shortage of people in the internet who feel a political entitlement to opine about the assertion of rights, what should be done, how it should be done and, in the off chance things don’t work out nearly as well as it does for those in the beloved Flex Your Rights videos, how those bad cops will get a taste of their own medicine when the law catches up to them. Most of these folks have no connection to the criminal justice system, and have never stood beside an accused whose face bears the outline of handgun after being pistol whipped, or whose eyeball socket is three times its normal size and a horrible shade of purple.
But what about the big money that every victim of police excess must surely receive? Alex Landau is one of the fortunate ones in that regard, having received $795,000 in settlement for his injuries. Big money in a vacuum, but hardly close to compensation.
The final blow was delivered to Alex Landau by that last bastion of American purity, the United States Attorney’s office, when he was informed that they would not pursue civil rights charges against the three officers who delivered the message to this college student who asked the offending question that triggered the response:
‘Where’s that warrant now you fucking nigger.’
The message came at a time when few would learn of it, a trick of media manipulation that tends to let it dissipate before anyone ever gets a chance to learn about it. By the artful timing of its release, it never makes it onto the radar of those who might be concerned.
Organizations hoping to bury unpleasant or potentially controversial news traditionally release information late Friday, in the hope that many folks already in weekend mode miss the development. A classic example: Justice Department reps chose Friday at 6:30 p.m. to inform Alex Landau that they would not be charging the three Denver police officers who brutally beat him with federal civil rights violations.
There just wasn’t any evidence, they explained.
It’s unlikely that the commentariot would have seen that coming, because they believe that the law somehow ultimately vindicates the rights of the people. And sometimes it does. And sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes, a college kid whose world was destroyed with a beating is left to make sense of it.
From Alex Landau’s statement issued via the Colorado Progressive Coalition, after learning that no civil rights charges would be pursued.
“In 2009, when I was a 19-year-old college student, I was pulled over by Denver Police. When I calmly asked to see a warrant after officers had already patted me down, I was grabbed, punched repeatedly, brought to the ground, hit in the face with a radio, hit in the face with a flashlight, had a service revolver pressed to my head, my life threatened, and thrown into the gutter. I lost consciousness and I awoke to officers laughing at me. I was asked, ‘Where’s that warrant now you fucking nigger.’ I was dragged across the grass and left on a police jacket to bleed. I wouldn’t allow any medical treatment until I got photos and, because of that, went into shock on the way to the hospital. My witness was coerced into writing a false statement. I was falsely charged with felony criminal intent to disarm a police officer. Officers falsified testimony, evidence, and documents to try to cover up their actions. When I went to file a complaint with Internal Affairs, I was told to own up to my actions as a man and that it’s not always a good idea to play the race card. My case has been mishandled from the beginning.”
“I attended the first day of college with 45 stitches, a broken nose, a concussion, and a brain injury. But none of this is considered sufficient evidence by the Department of Justice or the FBI to bring civil rights violations against these officers who beat me almost to death and then laughed about it.
The time to address those lovely rights we regularly extol is before you find yourself in the position of being on the business end of a beating. It’s when you vote for legislators, executives and judges. It’s when you sit on juries. It’s when you try to decipher the secret meaning of stories about police being constrained to use force. As hard as you may laugh at the antics of some cop caught on video acting like a liberty-loathing buffoon, don’t forget that there are also Alex Landau’s out there who will bear the scars of their assertion of rights for the rest of their lives, long after the pittance of compensation runs out.
For those who think they are entitled to offer advice to others about how to behave when it’s their turn to respond to a cop’s demand, remember the image of Alex Landau. Rather than tell someone else what to do, ask yourself what you did to stop a beating like this from happening. But mostly, the judges and prosecutors who hide their heads in the sand because things like this never happen, how proud are you in being bastions of justice as you mutter to yourselves that you’re different?
The government may have released this news late on a Friday so no one would ever learn that they dropped the case. But it seemed to me that you would want to know.