Viral video of Alameda Police detaining a black man while exercising is raising questions

A viral video of a black man being detained by Alameda Police officers while exercising is gaining the attention of city officials and the public in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd.

Four Alameda police officers restrained Mali Watkins on May 23 before wrestling him to the ground on the 2000 block of Central Avenue in Alameda. Watkins was later given a citation by police.

Alameda Police released body-camera video of the incident on Friday, along with the call for service. The call to the police dispatcher reported an African American man walking and dancing in the middle of the street.

Watkins told officers that he practices martial arts choreography every day in the area. “I do this every morning. Let’s me go! I have the right to exercise on my street,” he said after being detained by police.

For context, the incident in Alameda occurred two days before a Minneapolis police officer jammed his knee to the neck of Floyd for nearly nine minutes, leading to Floyd’s death and nationwide anger and protests.

Over the next week, a video of the incident in Alameda created by a member of the public went viral on various social media sites.

Watkins is known to those in the neighborhood as someone who exercises in the area. A woman in the video is heard corroborating Watkins’ daily activity. “Why are you making a problem out of nothing?” she called out to police.

Alameda Councilmember Malia Vella said she saw an initial description of the incident in a Reddit posting on May 23, but without yet witnessing video of the incident. Vella alerted City Manager Eric Levitt on May 25 and asked for more information, she said. The officer involved was described to her as a rookie cop who incorrectly handled the matter, Vella said. She also asked for the citation to be rescinded.

However, when Vella later viewed the video, the explanation previously given to her by the city manager did not match what she had now witnessed. In a tweet on Friday, Vella accused the police department of a “cover-up.”

“They said there was one novice officer who responded. In the video, there’s four officers. I don’t know why someone on staff would be compelled to mischaracterize what happened,” Vella said in an interview. “There’s no reason to lie. There’s no reason for a cover-up. This is what people are talking about police departments and closing ranks.”

In her series of tweets, Vella said Levitt apologized for the misunderstanding. “I don’t have cause to question Eric. I believe he is genuine,” Vella said. In addition, the city is beginning an independent investigation of the May 23 incident.

“I don’t think our city manager is involved in a cover up. I don’t know who he spoke to and what he was told,” Vella said. She hopes the independent investigation will help determine who disseminated the false or incomplete information to Levitt, Vella added,

“If a bystander hadn’t recorded this, if people wouldn’t have posted this on social media, this wouldn’t have come out,” said Vella.

Although Alameda, landlocked from its East Bay neighbors, once had a history of racial intolerance and redlining tactics that sought to keep African American off the island, it has since become one of the most racially diverse populations in the Bay Area, while also being, politically, one of the most progressive cities in the East Bay.

At the same time, Alameda Police has largely avoided controversy in an era when police brutality and accountability has become society-defining issues.

Last Tuesday, Alameda Police Chief Paul Rolleri noted an Alameda police officer has not been involved in an officer-involved shooting in 15 years, he said. “We can all talk about the things that are broken and wrong with this country, specifically with policing in this country,” Rolleri said. “That’s real stuff and I get it. But it doesn’t matter what I say, it’s what I do.”

19 thoughts on “Viral video of Alameda Police detaining a black man while exercising is raising questions

  1. Oh, come on now, now you are just being racist yourself. At least use the word “some” in reference to White Liberals.


  2. This man was UNDERSTANDABLY irritated having his exercise interrupted. That being said, and I am not a cop nor in any way related to one, when the police address you there are absolutely certain procedures they must follow through with. Let them ask their questions so everybody can carry on with their day. If they receive a call and then decide on their own “oh the situation is no big deal” and it turns out there was something unsafe going on, they would never hear the end of it from the public. Please try to stay as calm as possible, answer questions, and do not reach for your pockets. Again, I do realize there are some jerky cops out there but let’s hope that most are normal people trying to get a job done that, guaranteed, ain’t easy. Thank you APD for all those times when you do it right and thank you Alameda for having the kind of people that care about your neighbors 🙂


  3. White Liberals in the Bay Area are some of the most racist people I’ve ever met. They just care about the brown people being able to take care of their kids and mow their lawns for a good deal. They definitely don’t want brown or black people living next door and date your son or daughter.


  4. This is insane. This has got to stop! These incidents are unacceptable. What happened to human rights? Especially for the african american community. Black Lives Matter. This is not right and the police have got to stop treating the African American community like they are doing something wrong just for running, buying something and selling food.


  5. This is a common and shameful violation of human rights. This man showed amazing restraint, if he had showed anger which was justified he would have had a more violent violation of his human rights. If he was white it would have been a conversation and end of story. It doesn’t matter how the call came out, this was a clear abuse of power and excessive force and a violation of human rights. If you ask those officers and especially the supervisor they will say they were acting politely, peacefully,and respectfully and that is the most heinous thing of all. The racism is so ingrained and such a part of those men they have no idea how wrong and abusive they were if they reviewed that footage. Just because someone wasn’t shot or killed doesn’t negate the abuse or damage done. There was no listening, the bias and ignorance was already present. It is hideous, unacceptable and needs to end, and it happens every day here in Alameda.


  6. A CALL TO ALL POC’s IN THE OAKLAND/ALAMEDA AREA!..Did you hear about this shit! I”M DONE! Come join me..& whoever shows up tomorrow 6/7/20 SUNDAY 9am 2000 block of Central Avenue in Alameda. We will simply walk down the street doing stretches and exercises to STAND AGAINST THIS BULLSHIT! NO Trouble. Wear justwhatchalike..& be peacefully SEEN!


  7. Charge her with malicious intent….and the 911 dispatch operator who aided and abetted the callers insideous allegations which resulted in a innocent person being approached, apprehended,harrassed,detained, questioned, arrested & cited by thugs bka Alameda police officers. White caller? You soo stupid. You did the wrong thing. Truth be told, you a vigilante with nothing but malfeasance of cowardice in your miserable little insignificant existence.


  8. The racism here started with the caller who alerted the police to an “African American man dancing in the street.” Since when is dancing a crime? When you’re black, breathing is a crime, and I guess the caller wanted him to stop that too when she called law enforcement. She is to blame for the whole incident. When he sues, and I hope he does, I hope she is named in the lawsuit, then she’ll have something to occupy her time trying to defend her senseless action.


  9. Wow, after attending an amazingly peaceful Black Lives Matter protest here in Alameda tonight, I was feeling a whole lot of love and hope for the Alameda community. I’ve lived here with my husband for 20+ years; we’re raising our two sons here. I’m so disturbed by what I just read and witnessed in this police cam – a serious lack of common sense is demonstrated by the officers involved. Too much ego. Too much talking and not enough listening. Yes, I’d call this an example of racism. I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t be thrown in handcuffs for dancing down the street in my gym clothes. I’m white. The Alameda gentleman showed amazing grace and restraint. He had every reason to be upset and frustrated. The whole incident was ludicrous. How insulting and humiliating to be arrested in your own neighborhood, for doing nothing wrong at all. Dancing. Give me a break. Just so wrong on every level. I’m disturbed and disappointed by this, most especially in light of George Floyd’s murder. Serious retraining is called for. We need to be and do better than this Alameda.


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