When Niko House was recently pulled over for a traffic stop in Georgia, it was the beginning of a police encounter in a string of similar interactions that sketch the ongoing reality of structural and systemic racism in the United States.

Niko House is a celebrated activist, independent journalist, college graduate and army veteran who was instrumental in the initiation of the DNC Fraud lawsuit. Jared Beck, who along with his wife Elizabeth Beck represent the plaintiffs in the suit against the DNC and former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, wrote about his first meeting with Niko In his book, ‘What Happened To Bernie Sanders.‘ Beck writes:

“Niko House walked into our conference room. An army veteran and political science major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Niko had been a prominent student organizer for the Sanders campaign… Niko, a bright and ambitious volunteer organizer… explaining… how he had witnessed, with his own eyes, the infiltration of the Sanders campaign in North Carolina by a known Clinton loyalist… Niko said the infiltration wasn’t isolated… he was personally convinced it was widespread enough in North Carolina to have “destroyed” Sanders’ chances there… Niko told us that if necessary, he was determined to do everything he could to convince Sanders to take legal action based on the events he had witnessed.”

Exposing the corruption rife within the Democratic Party primary process would not be the only issue House would shed light on, with his ongoing work in independent journalism covering a wide range of issues.

Niko, pictured front center, with the Carolina Students for Bernie Sanders Club which he founded at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Disobedient Media was honored to speak with Niko House about the brutality he experienced, after he described his latest personal encounter with systemic racism on Twitter. The event adds to a growing string of such incidents he had personally experienced with police officers from several southern States, multiple of which left him with serious physical injuries.

Niko House wrote about these recurrent, appalling events in a recent twitter post, saying:

“Many of you all are familiar with the run-ins with police in the past. Last year, I had a fun pulled on me for asking a police officer in GA to see his scanner after he accused me of speeding, the week before that I was harassed and abused for not having a “State ID” while walking by myself on South Beach [in Florida]. A few years earlier, I was jumped by six police, held down and while I was beaten in the face with a baton, which is why my front left tooth is a replacement cap. My only charge was ‘resisting arrest,’ the cops were called for someone else.

This past March, I was put in the hospital by several police officers, with a dislocated shoulder and a torn rotator cuff after being beaten and body-slammed by several police who were called to arrest three women, and then intimidated and harassed in the hospital so that I would not leave before they could falsify an arrest warrant. This past weekend I was stopped in GA doing five under the speed limit. When the police officer approached me, his immediate actions were to demand me to step out of the car and then proceed to explain that there’s a “Supreme Court case” that allows him to ask everyone he stops to get out of the vehicle with or without probable cause.

When he realized that I was not alone, he concocted the excuse that I “failed to maintain my lane,” and that he was worried for my safety. So worried, that he followed me for 8-10 miles before actually pulling me over. After running my license number, it turned out that I had a warrant for a probation violation. Confused, I demanded to know why I would be put on probation to begin with, considering I’ve never been convicted of a crime in Georgia.

Shortly after, he arrests me and the jailhouse clerk explains it’s because I failed to take a frug test for the speeding ticket I received in Georgia the year before. So my only options were to pay thousands of dollars MORE than I already had for the initial overpriced speeding ticket, leaving me in crippling debt. What’s more, it turns out that they likely only offered me this option instead of holding me in jail until a set court date because the original arresting officer was fired shortly after my arrest and is currently under FBI investigation for racial profiling, domestic violence, aggravated assault, for shooting up someone’s house, bribery, and other types of corruption. Most do not get to pay their way out of a probation violation. But then again, most do not get a probation violation for [declining to take] a drug test for a speeding ticket.

So I am humbly asking you all to help me raise the money to pay rent that I am currently unable to because I spent it all to prevent jail time (it’s damn-near illegal bribery), pay back those who helped me raise the money spent on these absurdly obscene fees, and finally to hire attorneys to fight all of these acts of corruption to get retribution for those who have suffered at the hands of the systemic racism and targeting [that] the justice system perpetuates against people who have no means to fight back. All the cases except my most recent ones have been totally dismissed…”

 

One of the most haunting aspects of Niko’s words, is the fact that the abject racism he describes is  horrifyingly commonplace across the United States. He discussed this point with fellow independent journalist Tim Black. Towards the end of their conversation, Niko shed tears when he spoke about the fact that though he has been supported by his following – which has grown in the wake of his burgeoning career in independent media – there are countless other young black men who experience similar traumatic, racist abuse. Many of those men do not have social media support, a or a platform through which they can ask for help.

During the previously mentioned conversation with independent Journalist Tim Black, House described the details of the most recent arrest:

“I was on the way back to Florida from a wedding. I had just taken over driving, because unsurprisingly I have a no-driving-in-the-South policy on the highway. Because driving while black, statistically, is real. It is very very real. If we even take away the fact that I’m a black male who is young, police do have quotas, especially at the beginning of the month. But, we were getting close to the border. I switched, took over, got off the off-ramp, and I’m immediately followed [by a police vehicle] for 8-10 miles. I had both hands on the steering wheel, doing 5 under the speed limit.”

House described the arrest, stating that the first thing the officer said to him was to “get out of the vehicle,” to which House replied: “No disrespect, Officer, but I’ve had a lot of run-ins with cops, 99% of them were not good, so I’m going to need a reason for me to exit this vehicle before I get out, because usually that doesn’t turn out too well for me.” Niko continued: “[The officer] says, well, I ask everybody to do this.” During the discussion, Niko recounted that two more police vehicles arrived on the scene, at which point he did exit the rented car. He said: “I had a witness, which is probably why he pulled me out of the vehicle.”

Niko, pictured, in an arm sling the night after a violent assault by police resulted in hospitalization.
Image via Niko House

Niko also expressed the strong belief that the police officer assumed there were drugs in the car, due in part to the vehicle having an out-of-state license. This opinion is backed by a report from The New York Times, whose report cited a 1990’s study that revealed: “New Jersey state troopers were found to have focused on minority drivers for traffic stops in hopes of catching drug couriers.”

Niko told Tim Black that, nonetheless, he cooperated as he was placed under arrest because, he said: “I know how these situations turn out.” Once at the precinct, he discovered that the probation related to a previous, equally unjust and unwarranted traffic stop, and that he had paid off the resulting ticket. He explained that the original traffic stop was just three counties from the latest arrest, saying: “Clearly, this is how they do business. Two out of the four times I’ve driven through that area, I’ve gotten arrested.” The reason given for the probation was that House declined to take a drug test, which is neither a crime or a valid replacement of a conviction.

Niko, who worked as a paralegal in the military before turning to activism and independent journalism, is fully aware of his rights, and the utterly improper and illegal way in which he has been abused by what he described to this author as a seriously corrupt system. Niko told Disobedient Media that: “The punishment has to match the crime. Speeding citations should never have lead to a drug test because a citation is not a criminal conviction. DUI’s, DWI’s, Hit and runs, etc. those would be convictions that could leave you on probation and forced to take drug tests because those would be misdemeanors/felonies that could result in jail time. A speeding ticket, registration, etc. would never result in jail time”

An additional, important point Niko makes in the above-cited Twitter post is the rarity of being able to pay to avoid jail time for a probation violation.

Others, including juveniles like Khalief Browder, were unable to avoid jail time after an alleged probation violation. In Browder’s case, he spent a total of three years at Riker’s prison, with two of those years spent in solitary confinement, all without conviction. After his eventual release from Riker’s, Browder struggled with the effects of the severe trauma he suffered while incarcerated, eventually committing suicide in 2015. As Tim Black said in his discussion with Niko – what’s heartbreaking about this story beyond the horrendous details and the repetition of the abuse – is that it is all-too-common, calling it: “pretty typical.”

Press reports indicate that: “The incarceration rate for American-Americans is so high that young black men without a high school diploma are more likely to go to jail than to find a job… The incarceration rate for African-Americans is about 3,074 per 100,000 residents, which is more than six times as high as the national average. Black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma are particularly vulnerable: with an incarceration rate of 40 percent, they are more likely to end up behind bars than in the workforce, Pew Charitable Trusts reports.” These astronomical rates of incarceration then contribute to a cascade of negative follow-on effects.

The Washington Post noted that: “Over the past 40 years, the prison population has quintupled. As a consequence of  disparities in arrests and sentencing, this eruption has disproportionately affected black communities. Black men are imprisoned at six times the rate of white men. In 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that black men have a 1 in 3 chance of going to federal or state prison in their lifetimes. For some high-risk groups, the economic consequences have been staggering. According to Census data from 2014, there are more young black high school dropouts in prison than have jobs.”

Niko also discussed the intersection of financial incentive and racism: “People think it’s just racism and then you’re pulled over. Police are incentivized to act, and that is when your biases kick in, and now you are incentivized to act, based on these biases. These towns are already notably corrupt. These towns have already been massively effected by politics. This town was home to a Nike factory and a textile mill. Both of those went to Mexico. So now the main source of their income is gone, because of policies like NAFTA. Policies like this have ripple effects. If it were a poor white town then it would be the poor white people that get pulled over.”

Tim Black added a comment in response, describing news reports regarding a poor white town whose authorities were profiting from sending juveniles to juvenile detention centers for small, “infinitesimally insignificant,” infractions. In essence, it seems that along with pre-existing structural and systematic racism, the increasing severity of economic inequality may be exacerbating many contributing factors which result in an amplified experience of structural racism for minority groups.

Niko, pictured right, at a fundraiser for ROCA, a program dedicated to preventing at-risk youth from becoming victims of the justice system.

The International Business Times related stark statistics: “In 2003, black men were reportedly 12 times more likely to receive prison sentences for drug offenses even though surveys have shown white and black people in the U.S. use and sell drugs at almost the same rate… Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be stopped by the police than a white driver, according to a 2011 Police-Public Contact Survey report by the Justice Department. Blacks were twice as likely to be searched during routine traffic stops, and five percent of blacks pulled over by police aren’t told why they were stopped.”

When Disobedient Media spoke with Niko, this author asked him what he believes can be done to change the horrendous status-quo. He told us that he believes federalizing education would be the only realistic way to begin to change minds, which could then help change systems and structures for the better. He spoke again on the problems stemming from highly localized police forces that seem to operate virtually autonomously, with horrendous practices within individual counties seeming to rise above the law – or at least to slip invisibly through the cracks of the larger state and federal systems.

What happened to Niko last week, and last year, forms yet another thread woven into the overwhelming tapestry of systemically racist incidents of abuses perpetrated against minority groups. These incidents are not limited to racist acts by police officers. Niko told this writer that he believes it is also reflected even within the sphere of independent journalism, with black journalists having to work twice as hard to grow both respect and an audience. He also recounted a string of incidents that took place before he graduated high school, in which situations manifested at interscholastic debating competitions which were inflected with racism. He described the efforts of his debate coach to hide the reality of these interactions from him, to protect him from feeling victimized based on race.

Niko also spoke to this writer about his decision to pursue independent journalism, despite being offered multiple scholarships to various law schools after he graduated from the University of North Carolina, describing it as the most difficult decision of his life, but one he does not regret. Thanks to his latest encounter with systemic racism, he was unfairly forced to pay thousands of dollars to avoid time spent in jail. This has left Niko unable to make his rent payment, forcing him to create a Gofundme page to avoid eviction.

This writer encourages readers to visit the page and donate as much as is feasible – or if not, to widely share Niko’s story on social media.

Co-Founder and Editor in Chief at Disobedient Media.

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