It was Sunday and 46-year-old real estate agent Eric Brown was showing off a Wyoming, Michigan, home to 45-year-old Roy Thorne and his 15-year-old son Samuel. Thorne, an army veteran, was in the market to buy a home and Eric Brown has worked in the Grand Rapids area of Michigan selling people homes for two decades. At some point during the 30-minute walk around the prospective homeowner was doing, six uniformed Wyoming police officers surrounded the property with their guns drawn. All three men were forced to exit the home with their hands up as officers pointed their guns at and then handcuffed them. The men were then placed in three separate police vehicles.
Eric Brown, Roy Thorne, and Samuel Thorne are all Black. According to the Wyoming Police Department, the officers were responding to a 911 call from a neighbor that claimed the home was being burglarized. It was only after spending around 20 minutes in handcuffs that the three were released. Brown told a reporter that he would be lying if he didn’t believe race played a large part in the 911 call and police response. He explained to the reporter, who is white, that “if you had walked up to that house I don’t think the neighbor would have called, and if she would have called, I don’t believe the officers would have reacted the same to you than [sic] they did to us.”
Brown told NBC News that he and Roy Thorne have known one another since they were teens. Before showing his old friend Thorne the home, Brown did what he always does—he arrived early enough to test out the doorbell and open the lockbox that holds the keys to the place in order to let himself in before a client arrives. He does this to make sure the home is presentable, with doorways and closets open for inspection. More open doors show off the space better. According to Brown, Roy Thorne arrived first and his son showed up a few minutes later.
The three waved to neighbors outside doing Sunday things — the guy who was mowing the lawn, the family next door who was hosting an outdoor gathering.
Brown and the Thornes went inside to check out the home. Brown told The Washington Post that he has been helping his old friend look for a new place over the past two months, and the men “toured the property, noting features they liked — the size of the master bedroom and front yard — and what they didn’t, like the outdated basement.” Brown says about 30 minutes into the tour he began to notice a growing police presence in the neighborhood. At that point Samuel, who had been looking around downstairs, came up and told the two men that police had surrounded the home.
Brown initially feared that police might be searching for a fugitive, and the home’s open door might end up attracting such a fugitive. That fear was replaced by a worse one, after Roy Thorne called to one of the officers from an open window.
“They were so focused on organizing themselves that they didn’t hear him screaming,” Brown told NBC News on Friday. “When the officer did hear him, the officer pointed his gun at the house.”
“That’s when I knew they were there for us,” he added.
Roy Thorne told the Post “I was scared. I was scared for my son.” Cops used their vehicle doors as shields as they made all three men come out separately, hands over their heads. Thorne told WOOD-TV that “They keep the guns drawn on us until all of us are in cuffs, so that was a little traumatizing … Under the current climate of things, you just really don’t know what’s going to happen.” With an endless history of brutalization and in many cases murder of Black American citizens by law enforcement, Thorne’s apprehension surrounding the experience is easily understood.
Eric Brown says he has a lot of anxiety about what this means for him going forward and showing homes for a living. He says he and his friend and his friend’s son were treated like “criminals,” and it happened on the “whim” of a biased misunderstanding.
Captain Timothy Pols of the Wyoming Police Department released a statement saying that his officers were following “department protocol” when handcuffing the three men. He also said that a “previous burglary had occurred at this same address on July 24 and that a suspect was arrested and charged for unlawful entry during that incident.” Brown and Thorne say that police on the scene said there had been a “squatter” there who had been arrested with a “black Mercedes [that] resembled Brown’s black Genesis.”
Of course, if this is true, Thorne and Brown wonder why these officers chose to fan out with their guns drawn before running a check on Brown’s license plate. How come the officers did nothing to announce their presence? Roy Thorne says he plans on requesting a copy of the 911 call and the dispatch call to the officers to see whether or not he can find an answer for why the police responded as intensely as they did. He tells the Post he isn’t against people reporting crimes and calling 911, “But if you see us just living life the same way you do, just let us do that.”
Brown told NBC News that he’s gotten angrier about the experience as time has passed: “I felt definitely guilty of breaking into this house. And I had the keys to it.” According to Thorne and Brown, they have not been talking with lawyers about the experience but have been focusing on finding emotional support for themselves.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.