A crowd estimated at more than 200 people rallied Friday evening on the Lancaster County Courthouse steps to protest a city police officer’s use of a Taser on a 27-year-old man the day before.
When an individual is “sitting peaceably ... you do not abuse your power,” community advocate Kevin Ressler told the crowd.
A bystander’s video shows Officer Philip Bernot deploying the Taser on the back of Sean D. Williams as Williams sits on a city curb. It has amassed more than 2 million views on Facebook.
Police had been called to the scene for a disturbance reportedly involving Williams; he was arrested on an outstanding warrant and arraigned, then released on unsecured bail.
In a statement, the rally’s organizers called Bernot’s action “a shocking unprovoked incident of police brutality.”
Williams himself was in the crowd Friday. He watched the rally standing off to one side, accompanied by family members.
He said he appreciated all the support, but added: “I really don’t want to be here right now.” He said Bernot had been speaking too fast for him to follow his instructions.
“If that was a gun, my son would have been dead,” his mother, Dana York, said.
Ressler and a half-dozen other speakers condemned the incident. They called for Bernot’s suspension, a community meeting with the police and the creation of a civilian review board to review such incidents in the future.
People can’t be confident that reviews of police incidents are fair and impartial when the district attorney’s office or the police themselves conduct the review, Ressler told LNP: “Self-investigations are never going to yield a genuinely objective result.”
In an online statement Thursday, Mayor Danene Sorace called the video upsetting and the incident of “great concern.” Chief of staff Matt Johnson said a news conference is planned for Monday to address policy issues and the next steps to be taken.
At the rally, speakers connected the incident to larger issues of social justice, in both Lancaster and the wider world.
“We are not anti-police,” said Michael Booth, campus pastor at Water Street Mission. “What we are against is bad policing.”
“Let us use our power to create a justice system that works for all of us,” said Michelle Hines of liberal group Lancaster Stands Up.
City Councilman Ismail Smith-Wade-El commended the crowd for coming out in support of “real justice.”
He said more information on the Taser incident will be coming soon from City Hall and the police.
“As an elected official, here’s my promise,” he told the crowd. “We are going to get this right — and you are going to make sure of it.”