ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The woman who shot a video outside Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown 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 Sacred Heart 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.
In a slightly longer version, the hospital employee walks over to the woman’s car and tells her she is blocking the street and has to move.
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 Floyd’s attorney, Benjamin Crump.
“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.
On Twitter, Allentown Councilman Joshua Siegel said he was “disgusted and outraged” and demanded the officers involved be suspended during the investigation. The city should also release their names and the name of the man being restrained, as well as body camera footage, he said.
Siegel’s council colleague, Ce-Ce Gerlach, who 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 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.”