(RNS) — In the video, four Phoenix police officers are holding down Muhammad Muhaymin Jr.’s body on the asphalt, with at least one officer’s knee on his neck.
“Please, Allah!” Muhaymin cries.
“Allah?” one officer responds. “He’s not going to help you right now.”
Moments later, Muhaymin vomits and his body goes limp. “Yeah, he’s dead,” an officer confirms.
Civil rights advocates have publicly released body cam footage depicting the 2017 police killing of Muhaymin, a 43-year-old unarmed and disabled Black Muslim man who was handcuffed and repeatedly cried out “I can’t breathe.”
The nearly 10 minutes of footage shows the aftermath of Muhaymin’s arrest Jan. 4, 2017, after he attempted to bring his emotional support dog into the bathroom of a Maricopa County community center.
“Muhammad Muhaymin Jr. was a man — a man with a family who loved him,” his sister Mussalina Muhaymin said in a statement. “He was attacked and suffocated by Phoenix police in a wanton, malicious and depraved manner for nearly eight minutes as he cried ‘I can’t breathe’ until his death.”
Taken from the body camera of Officer Jason Hobel, one of 10 officers named as defendants in the Muhaymin family’s $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against Phoenix, the footage was uncovered during the civil suit and released by the family’s attorneys. The footage was previously reported on by CNN and has now been made public.
Details of the police killing have drawn comparisons to the recent killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, which has sparked ongoing racial justice protests across the globe.
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Advocates are now intensifying demands that Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the killing and fire, charge and arrest the officers involved.
All of the officers directly involved in the killing are still working for the Phoenix Police Department. None has been disciplined; one has been promoted. Civil rights advocates and the Muhaymin family say it’s long past time that changed.
“The lack of any criminal action is a constant reminder to our family that black and brown people’s lives and rights are not valued by the politicians and public servants of Maricopa County and the city of Phoenix,” Mussalina Muhaymin said.
A county examiner declared the cause of death as “homicide.” But after an internal investigation, the Phoenix Police Department cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, the Muhaymin family’s legal team said. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office later agreed the officers “did not commit any act that warrants criminal prosecution.”
According to CNN, the city claimed in legal filings that Muhaymin “assaulted a government employee,” though body cam footage shows the manager saying he was not assaulted. The city also argued that officers’ level of force was “both reasonable and necessary, given his behavior.”
In the filings, the city says Muhaymin “tensed up, thrashed about, pushed and kicked at officers.” The footage does not show Muhaymin punching or kicking offers, though it does show him resisting at times.
In a letter sent to Adel and Gallego on Thursday (Aug. 20), advocates argue the footage and other details revealed in the suit show the officers violated the Phoenix Police Department’s policy on use of force and duty to intervene, warranting the case’s reexamination by the county.
“What you have is undeniably clear evidence that is newer, that certainly wasn’t considered back in 2017 that shows that Muhammad was treated with hostility,” said Scott Simpson, public advocacy director for the national civil rights group Muslim Advocates. “He was treated with disdain, because he is disabled, because he is Muslim, because he was Black, because he is low income.”
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Muslim Advocates and Phoenix-based nonprofit Poder in Action convened the letter, which has been joined by more than 60 local and national organizations.
Those include the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, Black Lives Matter chapter in Phoenix, the Islamic Community Center of Tempe and several national Islamic organizations.
All of the officers involved in Muhaymin’s killing are currently policing communities that contain people who are minorities, low-income, Muslims or disabled, Simpson said.
“The evidence is so clear, so naked,” he said. “When you see such naked animus and cruelty coming out of that footage, we can’t just ignore it.”