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Black moms seek answers after Secret Service rammed into their car and handcuffed them at gunpoint

The women were parked on Constitution Avenue near the White House when a Secret Service cruiser rammed into their front left bumper.

Black moms seek answers after Secret Service rammed into their car and handcuffed them at gunpoint
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Two mothers in Washington DC are demanding an investigation into the Secret Service after a traumatizing encounter that left them fearing for their lives and the safety of their children. India Johnson and Yasmeen Winston were taking their infant sons for a splash in the fountains at the World War II Memorial last month when they were inexplicably confronted by Secret Service agents who detained them at gunpoint. The women, both African American, were parked on Constitution Avenue near the White House and preparing to walk to the Mall when a cruiser rammed into their front left bumper.



Johnson and Winston—best friends since seventh grade—looked up to see a uniformed Secret Service officer pointing a rifle at them, yelling "Get out!" and "Put your hands in the air!" Within seconds, more officers surrounded them with guns pulled out, the women told The Washington Post. Over the next hour, while their babies cried from the backseat of the car, the young moms were handcuffed without reason and handled by officers who, initially, didn't have any kind of protective face covering. When asked why they were being detained, an officer told them the vehicle had been reported stolen and that the suspects were two Black men.



However, the women said no men were with them. The 26-year-old Johnson even provided proof that she was the owner of the vehicle and informed the Secret Service that she had never reported the car stolen. "This incident took place near our national monuments across from the White House," Timothy Maloney—Johnson and Winston's attorney—wrote in the letter to Secret Service Director James Murray demanding an investigation. "It occurred after eight weeks of unprecedented national demonstrations about excessive police conduct, some of which took place right there on Constitution Avenue. Has the Secret Service learned nothing this summer?"



"I could have been another Breonna Taylor," said 25-year-old Winston. "I could have been another innocent woman who has no record and got shot." The Secret Service is yet to acknowledge receipt of their letter, said Maloney. "These were two young African American mothers with their babies sitting lawfully in a car with D.C. tags," he wrote in the letter. "Can the Secret Service honestly say it would have treated white out-of-town tourists and their babies, sitting there without District tags, the same way?"



Based on the angle of the collision, the women believe the cruiser drove across the centerline of Constitution Avenue near 17th Street to reach them. Winston's 6-month-old son G'esus and Johnson's 13-month-old son Sir Quincy—startled by the crash—were wailing as the officers surrounded them with their guns drawn. "It felt like a dream. It was so unreal," said Winston. "We're trying to understand what [the officer] was saying because we didn't want to make the wrong move and accidentally get shot up."



Winston, who was in the passenger seat, held her hands to the roof of the car while the officer with the rifle pointed it at her head. She pleaded with him not to shoot her baby, the traumatized mother revealed. According to Maloney's letter, neither woman was read her Miranda rights despite them being handcuffed. For about 45 minutes, the women watched helplessly as their babies cried in the back seat of the car—the doors of which were open, causing the mothers to worry about their children overheating. Winston said she was ignored when she asked if she could breastfeed her son.



"No one wants to hear their kid cry," she said. An officer on the scene eventually called an ambulance to check on the children and women were released from the cuffs and reunited with the babies. The letter states that a bystander told the women that officers searched Johnson’s car without her permission while they were tending to their babies in the ambulance. Winston said she asked the officers for their business cards but was informed that they did not carry them. She then got a pad of paper and a pen and went down the line, asking for their names and badge numbers.



"I had to stay strong, somebody had to be strong. I wanted to cry, but I'm not going to let them see me cry," Winston said. "The fact that our kids had to witness this? Nobody wants to introduce their kids to this. For this to randomly just happen, it's really traumatizing." Maloney revealed that he and his clients are prepared to ask for a congressional inquiry if they don't get answers soon. In a statement, a Secret Service spokesperson confirmed they had received a "query requesting the agency investigate an alleged interaction between Uniformed Division Officers and two members of the public", and that the agency is "looking into the matter" but "has no further comment at this time."



Maloney is calling on the Secret Service to publicly release details of the incident—including why it started and who was involved—and for the suspension of the responsible officers. He said they want to see the incident report and body camera footage if it exists. Meanwhile, Winston and Johnson have spent the days since the incident paranoid and traumatized. "We don't get in trouble. Nothing like this has ever happened to us," said Winston. "I thought the police was here to serve and protect us, and now it's really uncomfortable."

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