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A 2009 police encounter nearly cost this Denver teen his life. He's alive and telling his story.

He survived his 2009 run-in with police. Many others weren't so lucky.

In 2009, 19-year-old Alex Landau was pulled over by three Denver police officers.

Officially, the officers told Landau that he'd been pulled over for making an illegal left turn, a minor moving violation that ordinarily comes with a small fine.

Unfortunately for Alex, his experience was about to be anything but ordinary.


GIFs from StoryCorps.

Last year, Alex and his mother Patsy Hathaway shared the story of that evening with StoryCorps.

StoryCorps has since made a short animated video featuring their retelling:

For Alex, things took a dark turn after he asked the officers if they had a warrant to search his trunk.

"So I asked them, 'Can I please see a warrant before you continue to search?'" Alex says. "And they grabbed me and began to hit me in the face."

A piece published in Westword expanded on Alex's story.

"[The officer] then asked Landau if he could search his car.

Landau agreed. As the cop rummaged around the seats, two additional officers, a man and a woman, arrived in a second squad car. Once he was finished with the front and back seats, the first cop took Landau's keys and went to unlock the trunk.

Knowing about the weed there, Landau took several steps forward with his hands raised above his head, as if to show he meant no harm, and asked if the officer had a warrant to search the trunk."



After knocking Alex to the ground, the three officers continued to hit him with flashlights, radios, and, yes, fists.

"I could feel the gun pressed to my head. I expected to be shot."

As he gasped for breath, Alex heard one of the officers shout out, "He's reaching for her gun!" One of the officers then put a gun to Alex's head, saying, "If he doesn't calm down, we're going to have to shoot him."

That's when he blacked out.

Luckily, Alex survived to tell his story. Sadly, he'd be forced to relive it for years to come.

It took 45 stitches to close Alex's wounds — graphic photos of his injuries can be found here. Alex filed a report with the city, but the officers involved sidestepped responsibility for the assault. Two of the officers were eventually fired after getting caught beating another person (this time, it was on tape).

In 2013, the Denver Police Department announced that it had determined that officers involved in Alex's beating were not guilty of misconduct. Two years earlier, the department settled with Alex and his family for nearly $800,000.


Alex's story isn't unique and that's what makes it so important to discuss.

The past few years have been filled with high-profile instances of unarmed black men like Alex being beaten and all-too-frequently killed by white police officers.

Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Akai Gurley, Rumain Brisbon, Tony Robinson, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray lost their lives after being confronted by police — and these are just some of the names since April 2014.

Photo by Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images.

This is the basis of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

If you have to ask why the movement is #BlackLivesMatter and not #AllLivesMatter, it's because to much of the world — and, disturbingly, to law enforcement — black lives often don't matter. That needs to change.

It's #BlackLivesMatter and not #AllLivesMatter because that's the reality. Alex's passenger — who was caught with drugs — made it through the night of their encounter with the police without injury. He's white.

We've seen how this plays out. We've seen that Alex's story is not simply an outlier.

No one should have to fear that their encounter with police will land them in the hospital. No one should have to fear for their life when they see the blue and red flashing lights. But until that's the case, the most important thing we can do is to lift stories like Alex's.

Photo: Jason DeCrow for United Nations Foundation

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