By Jill Filipovic, Feministe
It was a little before 8 at night when the breaker went out at Emily Milburn's home in Galveston. She was busy preparing her children for school the next day, so she asked her 12-year-old daughter, Dymond, to pop outside and turn the switch back on.
As Dymond headed toward the breaker, a blue van drove up and three men jumped out rushing toward her. One of them grabbed her saying, "You're a prostitute. You're coming with me."
Dymond grabbed onto a tree and started screaming, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy." One of the men covered her mouth. Two of the men beat her about the face and throat.
As it turned out, the three men were plain-clothed Galveston police officers who had been called to the area regarding three white prostitutes soliciting a white man and a black drug dealer.
All this is according to a lawsuit filed in Galveston federal court by Milburn against the officers. The lawsuit alleges that the officers thought Dymond, an African-American, was a hooker due to the "tight shorts" she was wearing, despite not fitting the racial description of any of the female suspects. The police went to the wrong house, two blocks away from the area of the reported illegal activity, Milburn's attorney, Anthony Griffin, tells Hair Balls.
After the incident, Dymond was hospitalized and suffered black eyes as well as throat and ear drum injuries.
Three weeks later, according to the lawsuit, police went to Dymond's school, where she was an honor student, and arrested her for assaulting a public servant. Griffin says the allegations stem from when Dymond fought back against the three men who were trying to take her from her home. The case went to trial, but the judge declared it a mistrial on the first day, says Griffin. The new trial is set for February.
"I think we'll be okay," says Griffin. "I don't think a jury will find a 12-year-old girl guilty who's just sitting outside her house. Any 12-year-old attacked by three men and told that she's a prostitute is going to scream and yell for Daddy and hit back and do whatever she can. She's scared to death."
Since the incident more than two years ago, Dymond regularly suffers nightmares in which police officers are raping and beating her and cutting off her fingers, according to the lawsuit.
Griffin says he expects to enter mediation with the officers in early 2009 to resolve the lawsuit.
So plain-clothed police officers beat up a little girl who they were wrongly arresting, and now the girl and her father are the ones in trouble for trying to defend her?
Dymond and her father did exactly what most people would do in that situation -- if anything, Dymond was exceptionally brave in fighting back and yelling for help. The fact that she's being criminalized for it is beyond comprehension.
Apparently the Milburns have filed a lawsuit against the police department. Hopefully they're successful.
This case is especially compelling because it involves an innocent 12-year-old girl who did not fit the description of the alleged criminal the police were looking for, and instead was targeted because she happened to have the bad luck of opening her own front door while wearing shorts and being black. But if the allegations against the police are true, it's troubling on an even deeper level -- because it's an illustration of what sex workers face every day, but are rarely able to fight back against.
Police offiers and other people in positions of power can victimize and abuse sex workers with almost no fear of retribution or legal consequence. The police beat up a 12-year-old girl because they thought she was a prostitute, and, if the news report is accurate, have said as much. Had she actually been a prostitute, that treatment would have apparently been acceptable.
The whole story is disgusting. I haven't read anything about the officers being suspended or fired, but I sure hope they're out on their asses for this.
Galbeston Chief of Police, Charles Wiley, can be reached by phone at 409-765-3790, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jill Filipovic is a New York-based freelance writer and a law student at NYU. More of her writing is available online at her blog, Feministe.