What should have been a short trip for a bite to eat became torture for two HBCU students who were insulted and attacked by the Atlanta police on Saturday night (May 30).
"I don't want to die, that kept going through my head," the 22-year-old Messiah Young told BET.com. "Every time I close my eyes, I literally remember and be pulled back into the moment. I literally try to just delete it."
The case has resulted in six Atlanta police officers being charged with excessive violence. five with a heavy attack and two that are fired. Fulton County Attorney General Paul Howard announced this on Tuesday at a press conference. The released officials were identified as investigator Ivory Streeter and investigator Mark Gardner.
Young, an aspiring senior at Morehouse College, and his girlfriend, 20-year-old Taniyah Pilgrim, an aspiring senior at Spelman College, thought they had time to eat a meal before 9:00 p.m. Curfew. Atlanta wavered from demonstrations across the city against the death of George Floyd. Instead, the couple got into traffic. As they sneaked downtown, Young spotted a friend and chatted with him. The police suddenly pulled the friend away and started beating him, Young told BET.com.
RELATED: The Mayor of Atlanta says two policemen who verbally abused the HBCU couple on live television are released
Young worked reflexively, took out his cell phone and started recording. The friend can be heard on a body camera video asking the police and telling them that he did nothing. Young says that at that moment a policeman hit the window on the driver's side of Pilgrim's black Mazda with a truncheon while another opened the passenger door. Young can be seen in the car with his hands on the steering wheel, what his family taught him. He says he is compliant and yet the police have pulled both young people screaming and insulting them while Pilgrim screamed and cried. Young's lawyer claims that a police officer has also repeatedly punched the young man in the back.
"My family is keeping me isolated somehow," said Young, whose parents flew from their hometown of Chicago to Atlanta to be with him. "To be honest, I've slept maybe four hours since this happened on Saturday." I'm interested in watching the video, but my parents keep me protected. "
Young, a business student, suffered a broken wrist, upper body injuries and 23 stitches on the arm. He also spent a day in prison before the NAACP in Georgia urged the authorities to drop the charges of escaping the police and driving with a license.
Young said he was in great pain.
"My wrist is almost everywhere on my body, my ribs, my chest and my back – there is a lot of pain, a lot of pain," said the young man. "I literally feel my body ache, so it's pretty difficult right now."
The 20-year-old pilgrim who studies psychology was examined by doctors at a local hospital on Tuesday, her lawyer Chris Stewart said.
"She's doing more medical tests because she's been sanded several times and has injuries from being hit directly on the floor, and we're still waiting for the results," said Stewart.
"It hangs in there," he added about Pilgrim. "They are both outstanding, tough children and I think what helped them is their relationship. They sit closely together in a meeting. They support each other."
The pilgrim, originally from San Antonio, lives with an aunt and uncle because her parents are with the US military and are stationed in Kuwait. Her family members did not respond to an interview request.
"She is a soldier and I highly recommend her," said Young. "I might have been dead if she hadn't been there. She's just somehow distant."
Young's father, Charles Young, said that he and his wife also process what happened.
"In terms of our opinion of the incident, the health of our son and girlfriend was the number one priority for us," said the older Young, 48, who runs a nonprofit in Chicago.
Charles Young noted that although most of the police officers involved in the incident are black, problems with law enforcement agencies are crossing racial boundaries.
"We welcome the love and kind words we have received from everyone," he said. "I speak specifically as a father, there is still a bit of trouble, there is the knowledge that this is self-evident regardless of ethnicity. It is the behavior that has not changed. If you look at it, it is now much more pronounced and with the help of social media you can see that so much more of it is emerging. "
Atlanta officials have officially apologized to the couple. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced on Sunday that Gardner, a 23-year-old veteran of the Armed Forces, and Streeter, who has been with the department since 2003, have both been fired. Three other officials involved were assigned to the desk service until their role in the incident can be further investigated, the mayor said.
The status of this sixth officer was not clear on Tuesday afternoon, said a representative from the police department.
Police chief Erika Shields said she and the mayor had decided to fire the two after a thorough review of their body camera video.
"I apologize to both people," said Shields. "How we acted as an agency with these people was unacceptable and I know that we made you more afraid in a room that is already scared for so many African Americans."
Attorney Mawuli Davis, who represents Young, said he urged that all officials involved be legally disciplined and that shooting was insufficient.
"We believe the actions of the officials were illegal, exaggerated, unjustified and should be prosecuted," the lawyer told BET.com.
Pilgrim lawyers are also trying to file a civil suit to enforce better law enforcement behavior, lawyer Justin Miller said.
Georgian NAACP came in to drop the bail charges against Young, President James Woodall told BET.com. Woodall entered after receiving an email from Pilgrim's parents stationed overseas in the middle of the night.
"I got an email and called her father," said Woodall. "I have served in the US Army for eight years and I know very well what it feels like to be miles away from your loved ones when there is a crisis."
The organization also plans to drive further police reform across the state to reverse the militarization of police departments, Woodall said.
The Georgia NAACP was also instrumental in advocating the case in which Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was shot by a white man near Brunswick, Georgia, on February 23, when he ran, was killed.
"We still have a long way to go and we won't stop," he said.
Messias Young said this situation fits the lessons his family has been drumming into him for years. While the family was living in California, he regularly heard of the 1992 police beatings by Rodney King and subsequent riots that broke out across the country. His parents and sisters often have "conversations" about how black men have to be overly cautious with the police and expect to be targeted, he said.
Young said that he and Pilgrim actually had no intention of protesting on Saturday. The couple just wanted to eat something and spend the evening together.
"We didn't even intend to be near a crowd – we literally went to a place five minutes from where I lived," Young told BET.com.
It all started after he started chatting to his friend who was about to get into his car, he said.
Messias Young tried to find words to explain what he was thinking at that moment.
"It was just a mess, frankly," said Young.
"We didn't even speak 10 seconds before he was attacked," recalled Young. "It was really traumatic because this is my Morehouse brother. I see this man almost every day and it was just shocking to see him move away. That makes me so passionate because it's just an injustice. "
His father also tried to explain the events of the night. He is surprised that instead of switching off, his son did the opposite by speaking to the prosecutor, meeting with the Morehouse administration, and keeping himself busy. Charles Young said he hoped his son could be some day and wished both young people the best.
"As a parent, you just can't imagine that."
BET has covered every aspect of George Floyd's death in police custody, other social justice cases, and the aftermath and protests that followed. For our further reporting, click here.
Melanie Eversley is an independent New York City-based journalist who has covered the race and politics for USA Today and the Washington offices of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Detroit Free Press. She is a 2020 John Jay Criminal Justice Reporting Fellow.
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