Amidst the media storm that’s surrounded the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, there’s a real danger of losing sight of the injustice and the human tragedy in both cases.
"Traffic Stop," a popular animation by StoryCops, refuses to fall into that trap. In it, Alex Landau, a young black man, recounts how he barely survived a 2009 run-in with local police officers. Told both from Landau’s perspective and that of his white mother, the story places the human impact of institutionalized racism front and center.
The cartoon starts with Landau’s mother confessing that before the incident, she didn’t want to believe that her son’s life outcomes could be determined by the color of his skin. "I thought that love could conquer all, and skin color didn’t really matter. I had to learn the hard way when they almost killed you," she says.
That lesson came at a high cost. While driving with a white friend named Addison, Landau was pulled over for making an illegal U-turn. Though the cops asked him to step out of the car, and placed his friend in handcuffs, Landau didn’t think that the interaction was out of the ordinary. When the officers asked him to open his trunk, he inquired if they had a warrant.
That’s when they beat him, nearly to death.
They grabbed me and begin to hit me in the face. I could hear Addison in the background yelling, "Stop! Leave him alone!" I was hit several times. I remember gasping for air, and spitting, and blood flying across the grass. And then I hear an officer shot out, "he’s reaching for a gun!" I immediately started yelling, "No I’m not! I’m not reaching for anything!" And I remember an officer say, "If he doesn’t calm down, we’re going to have to shoot him."
Landau then momentarily lost consciousness, only to briefly wake up to hear the officers laughing and taunting him with racial slurs.
The three officers who almost took Landau’s life were ultimately cleared of misconduct charges, though Landau was later awarded a settlement by the city of Denver.