The organizers of a bus full of businesspeople interested in investing in new development sites in Anacostia probably did not expect to become the target of protesters. But that’s what happened Tuesday when members of DC’s chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement and Empower DC, an affordable-housing advocacy organization, interrupted a tour sponsored by Washington Business Journal and the Washington, DC Economic Partnership that showed off potential development sites in Anacostia
After the protesters stalled the bus for a half hour, police arrested Kephren Pondexter for blocking its passage as it was backing up. Pondexter, 20, was detained for four hours and had to miss work at Society Lounge in Silver Spring. His mother, Schyla Pondexter-Moore, a community organizer for Empower DC who arranged the protest, thinks his arrest “could’ve easily been avoided.”
Here’s a copy of the incident report. Pondexter says his mother won’t take him to any more protests for a while. He has a court hearing scheduled for May 11.
Washingtonian spoke with Pondexter on Thursday. Here’s his take on what happened:
What were you protesting for?
The stop of gentrification in Southeast DC. [The people on the bus] were developers looking to establish businesses. They’re preying on places that are already here–they can look at them and see if they want to demolish them.
And how’d you get arrested?
We were blocking the bus. Then the officers whispered to the driver, ‘you can go ahead and back out now,’ so I said, ‘they’re trying back out,’ and we all went to the back of the bus. I stood in front of the back of the bus, blocking the bus, but [the driver] didn’t stop. He was still accelerating backwards. Instead of the police officer telling him to stop, which was endangering my life, they threw me up against the car…
Yeah, they were like, ‘this is dangerous, stop doing this.’ And I was like, ‘well tell the driver to stop, because he’s still accelerating, he’s the one who has a powerful weapon, a bus. I’m just a person. You could tell him to stop, that seems more reasonable. I see him and he sees me, tell him to stop.’
I wasn’t really being hostile or anything like that. I didn’t touch them. They threw me against the car and were kind of bending my arm back , subduing me against the car. They were like, ‘we’re going to let you go when the bus leaves’, but the bus was totally down the street. It was gone. And I was like, ‘are you going to let me go now?’ And they weren’t really answering my question. Then I looked to the right, and there were two police officers throwing my mom around. They had her in handcuffs, they were using more of an excessive force…
How many people did they have in handcuffs?
It was just me and her that I could see. I looked over at my mom and I’m like, ‘why are you doing that to my mom,’ and I pushed off against the car and kind of got ‘disorderly’. That’s when they threw me on the ground. It wasn’t anything crazy, but that was their definition of disorderly.
So you got arrested when you spoke up after seeing what they were doing to your mother?
Yeah. They threw me to the ground after that. In my opinion, I wasn’t being disorderly. They ripped my shirt. I didn’t even know that until later, but I just bought that shirt and that made me mad. Then they picked me up and put me in the paddy wagon and drove me to 7-D.
And they locked you up
For like four hours. They gave me a paper and I have a court date, but I didn’t have to stay overnight.
Your mother says one of the watch commanders came up and talked to you while you were in holding. What’d he tell you?
He came maybe an hour into the time that I was there. He asked if I was okay, then he was like ‘this didn’t have to happen, but you know you can’t do things that potentially harm yourself,’ and that’s why they subdued me in the first place. He said he doesn’t have a problem with people protesting, that that’s what makes America great, or something like that. He’s going to talk to his officers in how to deal with protesters better. They didn’t have have any experience with protesting. That was their first time.
Did you appreciate him chatting with you?
It didn’t really affect me. I’m grateful that he came because he was a person of higher rank. But what he said to me didn’t really mean much because at the same time I was thinking they could’ve told that guy to stop moving the bus instead of moving me out of the way. If [the bus driver] would’ve hit me and hurt me and killed me– if it was not a protest situation and something like that happened–it would be the driver’s fault.
And do you feel like the cops used excessive force when they detained you?
They do what they usually do, what I’ve seen them on TV do. I didn’t really come off as harmful to them at all, so I don’t understand why they were doing that. I didn’t try to run away. They didn’t hurt me, I wasn’t scared. It was kind of like, ‘okay this is what happens when you get locked up, whatever.’
Was this your first time getting handcuffed?
That’s my first time for something I was actually [charged for]. There were times when I’ve been cuffed when [police] were searching me and friends and they didn’t find anything.[One time] I was coming out of the club I work at and me and my uncle got in a car, and not more than three seconds later [the police] knock on the window… I didn’t have anything on me, we weren’t smoking anything, and they were like, ‘how much weed do you have in here?’ I was like, ‘I don’t have anything.’ They searched us fully, they put me in handcuffs, they took my shoes and socks off… That was in Silver Spring.
Do you think that was because you’re black?
Yeah I really do feel like in a lot of situations things happen because the person is black. Just look how they treat white folks in even more dramatic situations, even crazier situations, when it comes to them breaking the law.
Do you think what happened Tuesday helped raise awareness for the cause you were protesting for?
I mean, you always get mixed opinions. You go to comments on Facebook or YouTube, there are some people who’re like: ‘look how unorganized this was… why do people do this…’ But on the contrary, it was actually very organized. We knew exactly where the bus was going to go, we had intel on where they were going to stop at, where they were going to start at, and we used that intel to go forth in the protest and we specifically planned to hop out on the bus on that corner, right by the Big Chair. That takes strategy. The red light came at the exact moment, we made sure there were no cars in front of the bus. A bunch of tedious, strategic matters going on and that’s my definition of organized.
How’d people react to your arrest?
I think it got people riled up. People called my mom and were like, ‘we’re ready for more direct action, more protesting.’
So in that way, was it productive?
I guess so. I mean I’m not really saying yes or no. In my opinion, the cause, it was already important before this happened. It was already an important thing, and then this [arrest] happens and everyone’s like, ‘yeah, I’m for it.’ I’m glad people are more intrigued in what’s going on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad people are interested now. But it shouldn’t just take somebody getting arrested.