In October, 2015, a graduate engineering student was stopped by police on Ridge Avenue in Evanston as he headed to Northwestern University’s campus to do lab work.
Lawrence Crosby, then a PhD student in material engineering, was pulled over by Evanston officers who were responding to a call that a Black man appeared to be prying open the door of a car and stealing it.
A dash cam video shows what happened next: As Crosby got out of his car with his hands in the air, six police officers converged on him, knocked him to the ground and repeatedly punched and kicked him.
The car turned out to be his, and he had not broken in. Crosby was charged, but then acquitted, of disobeying police officers and resisting arrest. He and the department settled his Cook County lawsuit against Evanston police for $1.25 million.
To Crosby, now 28, the incident exposed flaws in how police respond to incidents — especially involving Black people and other people of color. On Sunday, he called a press conference that included his lawyer and an expert in police procedures, to urge heightened national attention towards biases in policing that often lead to uses of force.
“All of this could have been prevented if I had been given a chance to engage in a conversation at any point,” Crosby said.
But that is not what happened.
Instead, after they pulled over Crosby in his car, several officers pointed loaded guns in Crosby’s direction and shouted conflicting commands: Some officers demanded Crosby put his hands up and others asked him to turn around or get down.
Before Crosby had the chance to answer a single question about the vehicle or state his name, officers pushed him to the ground and began to strike him repeatedly. None of the officers involved have been fired or disciplined as a result of the incident, Crosby said at the panel.
Indeed, as the incident became a matter of community discussion, Evanston police defended their actions and deemed the use of force applied by the officers involved appropriate. The department contended in a video, released after the incident, that Crosby was noncompliant and resisting officers.
Dennis Waller, a former police officer who served as an expert for Crosby, said police could have easily avoided acting this way if they had followed proper procedure and training. He noted no officer took charge at the scene, creating a chaotic situation.
“[Sergeant Anthony Correa] should have taken control and ordered one officer to issue commands,” Waller said.
Instead, officers can be heard in the video shouting all at once. Sergeant Correa can be seen striking Crosby seven or eight times in the knee.
Waller said police are trained to strike non-compliant individuals in the peroneal nerve, located at the back of the knee, in order to create a disfunction to help take a person down to the ground. In this case, Crosby was already on the ground, so Correa’s strikes served no practical function.
Other officers on the scene are also captured on the dash cam video tackling, kicking and punching Crosby, who can be heard in the dash camera video saying that he is the owner of the vehicle and that he purchased it at a Chevrolet dealer in Libertyville.
Fear of getting shot
Crosby said Sunday that he got out of the vehicle and put his hands over his head to show his willingness to comply and because he feared that if he stayed in the vehicle, he would be shot and killed the way other Black men have been by police. Black Americans are more than two times as likely than whites to be killed by police when unarmed.
Crosby said Sunday that the Evanston Police Department did not issue an apology to him nor to the public for the video describing Crosby’s resistance and noncompliance or for the officers’ actions even after his acquittal and the settlement.
In the past decade, at least 25 lawsuits have been filed against the City of Evanston for excessive uses of force and other violations by police officers.
Former Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington, who was chief at the time of Crosby’s arrest, told Evanston residents at a community meeting in January 2017 that in response to the incident, the Evanston Police Department would change its policies on handling felony traffic stops.
Before the policy changes, officers were trained to require a subject who gets out of a vehicle and appears to be moving away from them to lie on the ground. Now, officers will instruct subjects in this circumstance to get back in their vehicles.
In an opinion article Crosby wrote for the Washington Post, he said that Evanston “thinks of itself as progressive and forward-thinking,” and that the police department has received outside training on racial sensitivity. But Crosby said Sunday that one of the officers who used hands-on force against Crosby the night of the incident told Crosby he should “feel lucky” he wasn’t shot by officers.
A larger conversation envisioned
Crosby detailed his plans to collaborate with his alma matters, Stanford University and Northwestern University, to share his experience in hopes of preventing what happened to him from happening to others. Crosby is planning a forum at Stanford to engage with students and faculty on the subject as part of a larger initiative to shed light on implicit and racial bias.
Crosby said the first step in getting rid of implicit bias is to identify it. He suggests individuals take an online quiz produced by Harvard University researchers to measure their own implicit bias, and then use this tool to start a conversation with those around them.
“Throughout my 28 years on this earth, I have tried to conduct myself in a reasonable fashion. I thought through hard work, and by following the rules of American society,” Crosby said, “I would earn the respect of others and be able to make a meaningful contribution to society as a scientist.”