In 2009, Alex Landau was a student at Community College of Denver. After a traffic stop one night, he was severely beaten by Denver Police officers.
Alex is African-American. He was adopted by a white couple and he grew up in largely white, middle-class suburbs of Denver.
Alex and his mother, Patsy Hathaway, came to StoryCorps to talk about how Alex’s race has influenced his life and what happened that night when police pulled him over.
WARNING–this story contains graphic imagery and language.
In 2011, Alex was awarded a $795,000 settlement by the City of Denver.
Two of the officers involved have since been fired from the Denver Police for other incidents.
Click here for the transcript.
Patsy Hathaway (PH): Yeah, the one that hurt me the most, you were 8 years old and outside on a really very hot day, covered from head-to-toe with a long-sleeved shirt. And I didn't understand why you were dressed like that and you said, "Because you didn't want your skin to get any darker."
AL: We never talked about race growing up, I just don't think that was ever a conversation.
PH: I thought that love would conquer all and skin color really didn't matter. I had to learn the really hard way when they almost killed you.
AL: Yeah. I was 19 years old. I had picked up a friend and I noticed that we had red and blue lights behind us--we were being pulled over. The officer explained I had made an illegal left turn, and to step out of the car.
So I get out of the car first, he pats me down. And then he goes around to the passenger side and pulls my friend Addison out of the car.
PH: Addison is white.
AL: Yeah, Addison is white, and he had some weed in his coat pocket. So he gets placed in handcuffs. I figure that everything is okay, I’m not in handcuffs I’ve already been patted down, plus there’s three officers on the scene. And I had never had a negative interaction with police in my life.
So I ask them, "Can I please see a warrant before you continue the search?" And they grab me and began to hit me in the face. I could hear Addison in the background yelling, "Stop. Leave him alone." I was hit several times, and I remember gasping for air and spitting and blood flying across the grass.
And then I hear an officer shout out, “He’s reaching for her gun.” I immediately started yelling, “No, I”m not. I’m not reaching for anything.”
And, I remember an officer say, “If he doesn’t calm down, we’re going to have to shoot him.” I could feel the gun pressed against my head, and I expected to be shot. And at that point I lost consciousness.
I woke up to a multitude of officers just standing around me laughing. One officer was like, “Where’s that warrant now you fucking nigger.” And it took 45 stitches to close up the lacerations in my face alone.
How did it feel when you got the call that I was in jail?
PH: I was in the middle of teaching a second grade class. All she said was, “You’d better come see about your son.” She didn’t say anything about what kind of shape you were in.
AL: What about when you finally saw me?
PH: All I remember is involuntarily screaming.
AL: That was the first time I had cried the entire time I had been in there. And it wasn’t my injuries that hurt. It was just seeing how it devastated you.
PH: My whole world view changed that night.
AL: Yeah. For me it was the point of awakening to how the rest of the world is going to look at you. I was just another black face in the streets and I was almost another dead black male.