The woman who shot a video outside St. Luke’s Hospital-Sacred Heart in Allentown, Pa. that shows a police officer putting his knee on a man’s head and neck during an arrest said the man was screaming “Mira, mira!” — Spanish for ‘Look, look!‘”
“That means he knew what was going on and he was screaming for someone like me to see,” said the woman, an Allentown resident who doesn’t want her name made public and uses a pseudonym on Facebook.
The video prompted a large protest outside Allentown police headquarters Saturday night by Black Lives Matter activists and others who said they were stunned that the officer appeared to use a restraining move similar to the one that killed Minneapolis resident George Floyd and prompted nationwide protests against police brutality.
Assistant Chief Bill Lake said the incident came under immediate review, in keeping with the department’s use-of-force policy.
“As soon as this came to light, we got the ball rolling,” he said.
Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said his office will review Allentown’s conclusions, adding he can’t comment on the case until that process is done.
The woman, who lives near the hospital, said she and a friend drove by and saw three officers and a St. Luke’s employee surrounding the unidentified man, who was kneeling on the sidewalk.
She drove around the block to get another look and began filming as she approached because she could see the officers now had the man on the ground and were struggling to restrain him.
The video, less than 30 seconds long, shows one of the officers putting his shoulder and elbow on the man’s back before pressing his knee on his head and neck.
MORE: Protesters confront Allentown mayor, police Saturday night about video of officer kneeling on man’s neck
In a slightly longer version, the employee of the hospital — which is a campus of St. Luke’s University Health Network — walks over to the woman’s car and tells her she is blocking the street and has to move. No one from St. Luke’s could be reached for comment Sunday.
The woman posted the video online. She didn’t realize until Sunday morning that it had prompted such a massive outcry.
“My friend is part of the [Black Lives Matter] group and he was blowing up my phone all night while I was sleeping,” she said.
The video is already garnering national attention — including from attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents Floyd’s family.
“Allentown police held down this man’s face to the pavement and then one of its officers placed their knee on his neck!!” he tweeted. “This happened yesterday and is exactly what led to #GeorgeFloyd’s death. We need this officer’s name and badge # NOW. #ICantBreathe.”
Allentown, like many other departments in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, released its use-of-force policy last week. It specifically prohibits chokeholds, neck restraints and “similar techniques.”
Mayor Ray O’Connell and Allentown police Chief Glenn Granitz Jr. showed up to the protest to answer questions. O’Connell called the video “disturbing,” but said, “I think we need to gather all the facts and information before we go forward.”
Granitz added that he couldn’t say when the investigation would be finished. “I don’t have a 24-hour, 48-hour time table for you,” he said.
Through its Facebook page, the local Black Lives Matter group said it is awaiting official statements from the city before deciding what to do next.
The protestors last night were chanting “Black Lives Matter” for a reason. You’d have to be heartless to not hear the pain and anger in their voices, or the trauma in the voice of the man in the video saying, “I thought we mattered.” I can’t unhear his voice.
— Mike Schlossberg 😷 (@MikeSchlossberg) July 12, 2020
Meanwhile, the group has issued five demands: that the body camera footage of the arrest be released; that all officers involved be suspended pending an external investigation; that the mayor, police chief and city council president make a public statement; that the man’s name and medical condition be released; and that a criminal justice review board be put in place to oversee Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.
On Twitter, Allentown Councilman Joshua Siegel, who was at the protest, said he was “disgusted and outraged” and made similar demands, including the officers’ suspension and the release of names and body camera footage.
Siegel’s council colleague, Ce-Ce Gerlach, who also attended the protest, posted a video to Facebook in which she said she felt “raw” over the incident.
“That’s why I went down [to the protest] last night,” she said. “Not as a City Council member but as a resident that wants to see justice here in Allentown.”
Also on Twitter, state Rep. Mike Schlossberg, who represents Allentown, said he was horrified when he saw the video and stressed the importance of a thorough investigation.
“The protestors last night were chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ for a reason,” he wrote. “You’d have to be heartless to not hear the pain and anger in their voices, or the trauma in the voice of the man in the video saying, ‘I thought we mattered.’ I can’t unhear his voice.”
This is a developing story.
Morning Call reporter Daniel Patrick Sheehan can be reached at 610-820-6598 or [email protected].
The Morning Call relies on the support of our subscribers to fund our journalism as we continue to cover the coronavirus crisis. If you’re not already signed up, we hope you will consider subscribing. If you’re already a print subscriber and you haven’t activated your digital access, please activate your digital access today.