Justice 4 Tyree Carroll: Inside a Campaign Against Police Brutality in Philadelphia

Image—of Tyree Carrol (right) holding his child (left)—courtesy of Justice 4 Tyree.

Update as of 02/03/2018: The campaign won another major victory on January 29th, 2018. Tyree was set to stand trial for his remaining charges, but his legal team (Shaka Johnson, Berto Elmore, and Michael Wiseman) filed a motion to quash his charges on the grounds that the prosecution had no case. Judge Kai Scott granted this motion, exonerating Tyree of all charges. After four months in jail and nearly three years of court dates, Tyree can finally begin to put this process behind him.

By Avery Minnelli

On the night of April 3, 2015, Tyree Carroll was riding his bike in Germantown near his grandmother’s house when undercover police officers abruptly stopped him. What transpired that night could have been another overlooked instance of police violence until it later made headline news when witness video footage of the incident surfaced several months later.

The footage begins with Tyree being held down by four cops as he screams for his grandmother. The officers quickly escalate the situation, with more and more officers joining in kicking and punching Tyree while threatening to tase him, calling him “motherf—er” and “piece of s—”.

By the end of the video, the camerawoman counts 11 police cars and 26 officers, most of them white; Carroll is Black. According to the NY Daily News, Carroll sustained a swollen ankle as well as back and leg injuries as a result of the violent incident. However, when he was taken to the hospital, only his heart rate and pupils were examined. After the beating, Tyree was arrested and charged with assault, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, and drug possession. He was jailed and held for over four months until he was released on bail.

But as Black radical Assata Shakur once said, “where there is oppression, there will be resistance.”

Tyree’s support system have responded to this blatant act of racism by organizing the Justice 4 Tyree Carroll Campaign (J4T), a coalition effort by family, friends, community and anti-police brutality activists. J4T is coordinated by the Global Women’s Strike (GWS) and Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike (WOC/GWS), which Tyree’s grandmother has worked with for over a decade, together with Tyree’s family. Mothers and other women engaged in justice work for loved ones beaten by police or prison guards have been central to the organizing work. In addition to organizing a mass rally in July 2015, the grassroots campaign has mobilized for Tyree’s court appearances and held press conferences.

Carroll was arrested again in November 2015 on drug charges. According to GWS organizer and longtime friend of the Carroll family Pat Albright, in a phone interview with The Philadelphia Partisan, “They didn’t find any money or drugs on him. And one of the officers who arrested him was one of the ones who beat him.”

Police backlash against this campaign has reached not just Tyree, but also his supporters and neighbors. Tyree’s sister Ebony said that her teenage daughter was on her way to school when she was stopped by police. “They stopped my daughter one time, ‘oh, your last name is Carroll, we know who you are’, detaining her,” she explained in a phone interview with The Partisan. Albright was also pulled over by police one afternoon after dropping off Tyree’s grandmother Nancy. The officers wrote Albright a $300+ citation for having a broken tail light.

The ordeal has exhausted the entire Carroll family and their community. “We’ve been going to courtrooms faithfully for the last two and a half year and it’s taken a toll on everybody. Some of us work, we have families,” said campaign organizer Kai Akwei-Bey (WOC/GWS) in a phone interview with The Partisan.

The incident has left the whole family traumatized. Ebony Carroll described the situation as “stressful” and “scary,” expressing that she doesn’t feel safe around the police. “I have a teenage daughter, I have nieces, I have nephews,” she added. “And myself, I feel like I never can tell them to go to the cops if they’re in trouble… Sometimes I have nightmares, flashbacks about it, wake up in cold sweat. It’s never going to go away.”

Additionally, Ebony added her brother is “terrified” of further retaliation by the police. “Thank god he didn’t get killed,” she said. Akwei-Bey believes that Tyree “should be compensated” for the months he spent in jail.

“It’s obviously taken the biggest toll on him and his family,” Albright said. “His grandmother, Nancy Carroll… is not well at all. I’m sure the stress and heartache of having loved ones in prison and beaten like that takes a toll. She was at every hearing until she just couldn’t travel anymore… The whole family is affected, his children and all that… it’s just devastating.”

Despite the serious burden this situation has put on Tyree and his family, the campaign celebrated a major victory earlier this year. According to Philly.com, Judge Kai Scott ruled that the police had illegally stopped Tyree the night they beat him and thus cleared him of all charges from that night. However, Carroll still faces charges from the retaliatory November 2015 arrest.

The campaign continues to fight these charges and will be mobilizing to pack the court on January 29 for the beginning of Tyree’s trial. Although the campaign and their lawyers (Shaka Johnson, Berto Elmore, and Michael Wiseman) fought tooth-and-nail to get the original charges dropped, they still have a serious fight ahead getting these further charges dropped, especially given the dubious nature of police testimonies.

“I believe I saw people on the stand say things that were not true. And I believe they were not true because of what I saw in the video. So I chose to believe my eyes instead of what, in many cases, an officer was saying… So when they would be describing something where there was no video, I had no reason to think that what they were describing was correct either,” said supporter Marta Guttenberg in a phone interview with The Partisan.

Not only does the campaign seek to get Tyree’s remaining charges dropped, but they also seek further justice. To date, none of the officers involved in the beating have been held accountable in any way.

“Police brutality, it’s outrageous, it needs to be stopped,” stressed Ebony Carroll. “[Police are] supposed to protect and serve, and they don’t… I just want the violence to stop.” She wants justice served “so nobody has to go through this.”

Pat Albright said the campaign seeks to “hold the police to account… we don’t want to stop here.” Campaign organizers hope that with longtime movement lawyer Larry Krasner acting as District Attorney, they will be able to effectively leverage for change. Tyree Carroll’s life will never be the same, but organizers and supporters hope that such heinous institutional racism will one day be a thing of the past through building community power.

Tyree Carroll’s trial begins on January 29, 2018 at the Criminal Justice Center at 1301 Filbert Street, Room 808 at 9:00 am. For more information, contact the Justice 4 Tyree Carroll Campaign at justicefortyree@gmail.com or 215-848-1120.

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