Actress Taraji P. Henson, currently starring in the hit show Empire, has issued an apology to Glendale, Calif., police officers, who she had accused of racially profiling her son. After the Los Angeles Times obtained and released a police video of the encounter, which refuted Henson’s claims and quickly went viral, the actress was forced to make a public apology.
While being interviewed for Uptown magazine, Henson claimed officers stopped her son because of his race and searched his car illegally, then did not issue a ticket for any violation. Because of the incident, and one other in which she claims that USC police stopped her son because his hands were in his pockets, Henson says that she will no longer send her son to USC, but will instead enroll him in Washington, D.C.’s Howard University, where she herself went to school. The Emmy- and Academy-award-nominated actress told Uptown that she will “not [pay] $50K” and then be unable to sleep for fear that her “son is getting racially profiled on campus.”
The accusations that her son was racially profiled by campus police troubled USC’s chief of their Department of Public Safety, John Thomas, who reached out via a statement to Henson and her son, saying that he wanted to speak with them about the alleged racial profiling. Thomas says that as a teen, he himself “experienced racial profiling,” and has a vested interest in “doing all [he] can to reach a just resolution.”
In the video, which chronicles events which occurred at approximately 10:10 p.m. on Oct. 18, the officer is driving through Glendale when a Honda Civic, driven by Henson’s son, 20, fails to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. In the footage, it is not clear what the driver’s race is. The officer speeds up behind the Civic and makes a traffic stop.
The officer then approaches the Civic and tells the driver that he has been stopped for failing to yield while a pedestrian was walking across a lit crosswalk. The driver explains that he is on his way to Calabasas to visit a friend. He gives his insurance information to the officer and tells him that he has no arrests on his record. The driver identifies himself as Marcell Johnson, says his mother is Henson and explains that his father’s last name is Johnson.
When asked if there is anything illegal inside of his car, Johnson admits that there is marijuana inside of his backpack, but says he has a license issued by the state to use medical marijuana. He says he is unable to find the license. The officer tells Johnson that he could smell “weed” inside of the car and appreciates the young man’s honesty, thanking him multiple times for his admission.
During the recorded encounter, the officers search Johnson, who admits that he has Ritalin in his car, but that he does not have a prescription for the hyperactivity drug. He consents to a search of the car. Two additional officers and a police cadet then arrive on the scene.
Although officers search the car, they never locate the Ritalin, but they do find marijuana, a grinder and hash oil. A knife is recovered but is determined to be legal. A sobriety test is administered to Johnson after he admits to having smoked marijuana two hours prior to taking the wheel. Henson’s son passes the test.
The traffic stop concludes with Johnson receiving only a citation for marijuana possession and the confiscation of the substance. The officer declines to give Henson’s son a ticket for the crosswalk violation, saying it would harm his driving record and force him to attend traffic school “and all that stuff.” He tells Johnson that he will have to appear in court to show that he does indeed have a valid prescription for the marijuana and will more than likely be fined. He also advises Henson’s son that being caught with Ritalin is a “big violation” and tells him, “don’t do it.”
According to Chief Robert Castro of the Glendale Police, the accusations of racial profiling resulted in threats against the force. He calls the interaction between Henson’s son and his officers “legal, professional and empathetic.”
After the release of the police video, Henson posted to Instagram. Using the hashtag #TurningANegativeIntoAPositive, Henson apologized both to the officer involved as well as the Glendale Police Department for her claims. Recognizing the difficulty of being a mother or a police officer, Henson admits that she “overreacted,” as humans sometimes do, “without gathering all the facts.” In her post, Henson thanks the officer for showing kindness to her son.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Image by Genevieve – Flickr License