By Khari Mosley
Special to the Pittsburgh Current
I am lucky it wasn’t worse.
That’s what I’ve been told countless times since that frigid night in Detroit. That night could have easily ended tragically for me like it did for those we march for: George, Breonna, Antwon and so many others that weren’t as lucky as me. I was lucky because I didn’t die for making the mundane mistake of forgetting my hotel room key. Forgetting my room key in a four-star hotel like Detroit’s Westin Book Cadillac turned my life upside down, but still I was lucky compared to what could have happened. The fact that forgetting your room key could result in a traumatic interaction with the Detroit Police, dubious criminal charges and slanted national media coverage speaks volumes to the dire situation that exists in this country. The fact that I am considered lucky in comparison to far too many other incidents is a national embarrassment.
As protests sweep the globe in response to George Floyd’s tragic murder, my mind has often drifted back to the night of March 5, 2019. That night and in the days following, my wife, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, and I became victims of an insidious plot by a corporation, local law enforcement and corporate media to promote a racist narrative in order to cover up misconduct and power of abuse. Their character attacks and false allegations that were published in media outlets across the country, fits a pattern of behavior that lies at the heart of global condemnation of American law-enforcement’s long history of white supremacy, institutional racism and brazen lack of accountability.
The George Floyd video was so powerful because it showed in such stark terms how law enforcement will lie to cover up misconduct. The casual nature in which they accuse cooperative and compliant citizens they interact with of resisting or being combative. Because I rightfully challenged the hotel’s assertion that I was sneaking into the hotel when my name didn’t appear on the room, the staff did to me what Amy Cooper did to Christian Cooper. Instead of trying to solve the customer service issue, Westin hotel staff made a false police report claiming I was a random drunk, belligerent man threatening staff and guests in the hotel lobby.
Security even mentioned on the 911 call, that I may be carrying a weapon. Hotel, street and police body cam videos and a 4-day jury trial proved all their allegations of disorderly drunkenness and disturbing the peace false, but for months they incessantly promoted a false narrative through the media. My wife’s political adversaries in Pittsburgh peddled vicious lies about a domestic altercation. On the way back from Detroit, KDKA media personality Marty Griffin texted my wife claiming he heard we were involved in a DUI, domestic altercation that resulted in my wife punching a cop.
Immediately following the incident, Detroit’s police chief James Craig held a televised press conference where he falsely claimed I was involved in a bar room altercation, fell asleep in the bar and was escorted out by the police. When we demanded the video from the hotel bar to prove all I did was have a glass of wine and charge it to my hotel room then leave for the front desk to retrieve a room key, the video mysteriously vanished. To this day, people still ask, “What happened at the bar, who were you fighting?” The most unbelievable aspect of this lie is that a white patron did get into a physical altercation shortly shortly before I walked into the bar. He was escorted by the hotel to his room, the security was coming from his room when they came to remove me from the front desk area.
In the past couple of days, I made the difficult choice beginning to post the videos from that night and the trial. I know everytime I re-watch, I relive the trauma of that night. I do it anyway because I feel an obligation to expose our broken criminal justice due to the unique platform my wife and I have. I have been moved by the overwhelming response to our stark example of a corrupt criminal justice system abusing their power to protect the interests of bad corporate citizens. The way the Westin staff gaslights me in the bodycam videos as if forced removal from a hotel and police detention is a normal course of action for forgetting your room key is nauseating. The way the Westin security and Detroit Police stand try to gaslight the judge and jury while testifying on the stand is infuriating and insulting. It all speaks to a culture of no accountability and the only way to fight that is tell our stories even when it is painful. We owe it to the voices they silenced forever to speak up.
I always say that night was like a trip to the Twilight Zone, I was profiled a vagrant, kicked out of the hotel, assaulted by hotel security, falsely accused of assault, detained in a police car, later removed from hotel in handcuffs, witnessed my wife get body slammed and arrested right in front of me. That nightmare was followed by enduring the emotional stress of constant media coverage & financial strain of a 4-day jury trial only to be fully exonerated of trumped up disorderly drunkenness & disturbing the peace charges. All for forgetting my hotel room key. For most people that would be the worst night and year of your life. For a Black Man In America, living with the trauma, scars and pain of that awful experience is considered being lucky for we all know it could have gone much worse.
Khari Mosley is the CEO of the Sojourner Group, a Pittsburgh based political consulting, civic engagement & public affairs firm. He lives in Point Breeze with his wife Chelsa Wagner and their two sons, Thaddeus & Isaiah.