Chicago, Illinois: Lawrence Crosby thought he could prove to the suburban Chicago police officers who stopped him for stealing a car that was actually his by immediately reciting the license plate number, the date he bought the car and the dealership he bought it from.
But instead he was reminded in a frightening way that to the group Evanston cops who tackled him, he wasn’t a doctoral student at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, but he was a black suspected car thief.
“I had seen so many situations where black people have been shot and killed just sitting in their cars,” Crosby said Monday, hours before the Evanston City Council was to sign off on a tentative $1.25 million settlement that city officials reached with him earlier this month just as his civil lawsuit was to begin. “At that moment, I didn’t know if I was going to make it through the night.”
The incident in a church parking lot near Northwestern University was one of several high-profile cases in the Chicago area in recent years in which police officers have violently confronted African Americans — and one that occurred within weeks of the release of a dashcam video that showed the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
Crosby’s settlement came days after a judge sentenced the officer who shot the 17-year-old McDonald 16 times to nearly seven years in prison.
For the now 28-year-old engineer, his run-in with police was set in motion when a woman spotted him repairing loose moulding on his car and incorrectly called police to report a black man stealing the vehicle.
Within minutes, Crosby’s rearview mirror filled with flashing lights and he climbed out, his arms raised, he said, to explain it was all a misunderstanding.
“Maybe they weren’t trying to be convinced” of that, he said, and the officers tackled him when he failed to immediately obey their orders to get on the ground.
Crosby’s lawyer, Timothy Touhy, said the officers eventually determined he was the owner of the car but charged him with disobeying officers and resisting arrest, with the city later releasing the video of the incident. A judge later threw out the charges, Touhy said, and Crosby sued.
On the day the jury was to be selected in the trial for Crosby’s lawsuit, Touhy said the city offered $250,000, which Touhy rejected.
“Then they came up with a million more dollars just before the jury was going to be selected,” the attorney said.
Crosby is happy with the financial settlement. But, he said the money cannot repair all that has been broken in him.
“I don’t sleep very well, and I have trouble trusting people, and I definitely don’t trust the police,” Crosby said.
That’s one reason why he’ll continue to write and speak out about the kind of bias that he said made it so easy for the Evanston officers to believe he had stolen his own car.
“We all have implicit biases,” Crosby said, explaining that he has found himself associating African Americans with violence and weapons. “Who am I to vilify others?”
Crosby’s plan is to show how that bias “affects people and their decision making … Hopefully, I can wake some people up.”