Originally Published in The Washington Post
Jaclyn Peiser - October 9, 2020
Apreala, who noticed one of the officers was wearing an Immigration and Customs Enforcement badge, questioned why he’d been stopped since he’s a U.S. citizen. It was only when Apreala started recording the interaction that the men let him continue on his run.
As video of the incident spread on social media, the mayor of Boston, as well as city, state and national lawmakers, demanded an investigation into ICE’s actions.
“Let me be clear: racial profiling and stops like these are wrong, unjustified, and will not be tolerated,” Mayor Marty Walsh (D) said on Twitter Wednesday. “For him and others who might have lived through an experience like this, I’m demanding that ICE stop this cruel practice of inciting fear in the lives of our residents, particularly our Black and Brown residents, and undocumented immigrants.”
Apreala’s tense interaction with ICE is the latest incident of “jogging while Black” that has gotten national attention this year. A White father and son face murder charges in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was on a run in Brunswick, Ga., in February. Within weeks in late August and early September, joggers Mathias Ometu of San Antonio and Joseph Griffin of Deltona, Fla., were each stopped by officers and handcuffed because police said the men matched the description of a suspect.
A similar story line played out for Apreala on Tuesday. He had been jogging along VFW Parkway, a few miles away from his home, when he noticed two black SUVs with tinted windows nearing him. One of the cars drove up and blocked off the sidewalk and another pulled up beside him, Apreala told WBUR.
“These guys just hopped out in full camouflage uniforms with masks over their face, and stopped me, and told me to immediately identify [myself]," he said. “I was confused as to whether or not they were even legitimate authority.”
The men, who Apreala said were White, would not identify themselves. But when he noticed the ICE badge, Apreala told the men that he was born and raised in Boston. An officer told Apreala that he matched the description of a man they had been investigating and insisted he provide identification. But Apreala hadn’t brought any on his run.
“They said that immigration isn’t the only thing that they investigate and proceeded to question me,” Apreala told WBUR.
Apreala gave the men his full name and address and then pulled out his phone to start recording the interaction. When they noticed him filming, Apreala said, they told him he was free to leave.
On the video, which his wife posted on Facebook, Apreala confirmed with the three federal agents that he was allowed to go. Then, as he began walking away, one of the men asked if Apreala could show them his arm.
“Do you have any tattoos on your left or right arm? So we can confirm and we’ll be out of here,” the agent said.
“Am I free to go?” Apreala responded. “Do I have to show you? If I’m free to go, then I’m not showing you anything. Thank you. Have a great day, guys.”
Local and national officials reacted forcefully to the news. At a news conference on Wednesday, Walsh called the video “disturbing to watch” and said the actions of the ICE officers was “unacceptable.”
“It violates someone’s rights just because of the color of their skin and it is unacceptable,” he said.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) demanded an “immediate investigation” into the incident.
Matt O’Malley, the Democratic city council member who represents the area where Apreala was running, called the stop “unlawful” and “outrageous and unacceptable.”
“Racial profiling should not happen here or anywhere else,” he wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted on Wednesday that her office reached out to ICE to confirm its involvement in the incident. “People are rightly terrified of ICE & this secrecy only makes things worse. I expect answers, & our local, state & federal officials do too,” she wrote.
ICE did not immediately respond to inquiries from The Washington Post. The department confirmed to NBC News on Thursday that officers from its Enforcement and Removal Operations division were involved.
“ICE officers were conducting surveillance as part of a targeted enforcement action Wednesday in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, looking for a previously deported Haitian national with multiple criminal convictions and pending cocaine and fentanyl trafficking charges that may have been residing in the area,” a spokesperson told NBC News.
The ACLU of Massachusetts says it is representing Apreala and plans to investigate.
“This incident raises serious constitutional questions and is disturbing on a human level,” Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts said in a statement.
Apreala’s family said the experience was traumatic. His wife, Michelle, took to Facebook to encourage people to vote.
“This isn’t something you can ignore and say ‘it doesn’t happen here,’ it does. It happens to your neighbors, friends, and family,” she wrote in the caption of her husband’s video. “This blatant display of racism is a direct result of the elected officials we give power to and the man in office turning a blind eye and helpful hand to formerly closeted racists who now have an open forum to degrade and dehumanize others.”
Apreala’s mother told WYCN she was relieved her son wasn’t arrested.
“I have too many videos running in my head about young Black males with law enforcement, and it was not a pretty sight, I can tell you,” Patricia Apreala said.