Student In Viral Arrest Video: 'Change Needs To Come'
"Imagine going out, trying to enjoy your day, and then going through a war," Messiah Young's father said at a press conference Monday.
Young and his girlfriend, Teniyah Pilgrim, said that was their experience as they tried to drive home Saturday night in downtown Atlanta. The pair became snarled in traffic around Centennial Olympic Park after going out to get something to eat, and suddenly found themselves involved in something they never anticipated.
Young, originally from Chicago, is a 22-year-old rising senior at Morehouse College, where he's studying business management. Pilgrim is a 20-year-old senior attending Spelman College to study psychology.
Earlier that evening, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a 9 p.m. curfew. Many received an alert on their cell phones, but Pilgrim, who has an out-of-state phone number, did not.
Sitting there in traffic, Young said he saw a fellow classmate of his from Morehouse College being arrested by police outside his car window. As they threw him to the ground and put a zip-tie on his friend, he rolled his window down, took out his cell phone and began filming the arrest.
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Young's lawyer, Mawuli Davis, said he believes Young's filming motivated the police to intervene.
An officer approached Young and opened his car door, which Young quickly slammed.
"I'm not dying today," Young screamed to the officer.
He then drove a few feet down the street, when he is stopped by traffic.
Around their car, the environment around them has grown increasingly hostile. Protesters were throwing rocks and fireworks were going off in the distance around the CNN Center, Young said.
Officers crowded around their car and screamed at them to exit the vehicle.
Another officer yelled at Young to open his window before Officer Willie Sauls struck the window with his baton. The glass shattered after a different officer used a tool. Police also stabbed the front tire, according to a police report.
At that time, now-fired Officer Ivory Streeter aimed a Taser into the car, stunning Young as Investigator Carlos Smith yelled, “he’s got a gun” repeatedly.
In now-fired Officer Mark Gardner's police report, he said Young could be seen reaching into his pocket.
Young's attorneys said he was trying to protect his girlfriend.
"He looks over and sees her being tased, and his first reaction is to protect her," Davis said.
There was no gun in the car or recovered from the scene. The police report said Young had been charged with evading police and driving with a suspended license.
Davis said Young had zero history of arrests prior to the incident.
"If there was a gun, best believe this would have had a very different outcome," Davis said.
As Young spoke to the press Monday, a white cast was clearly visible on his arm. Davis said he was thrown to the pavement by cops, which fractured his arm and left him requiring 20 stitches.
He said the barbs from the stun gun were still lodged in his back as he was being carried away.
Young was carried away to a van, where she waited with other women who were detained. She said she asked officials for a mask to wear but was never given one. She also asked several times what she was being charged with to no avail.
"We could have shot you," an officer told her at one point, Pilgrim said.
A few hours later, her plastic handcuffs were cut loose and she was released near the Phillips Arena parking lot. She wasn't charged.
"I'm still very shaken up," she said. "If the cameras weren't right there, I don't know what would have happened."
Young was taken to the hospital, where he was later released.
Bottoms said Sunday she was in the process of making sure the charges were dropped against Young.
Gary Spencer, a prominent defense attorney in Atlanta, began working pro bono to have the arrest wiped from his record, as well.
At the press conference on Monday night at Morehouse, Young stared straight into the cameras. His voice was quiet, but his tone didn't waver.
"In this time of injustice, it feels good to know I have a support system who understands the severity of this," he said. "A change needs to come."