India Johnson and Yasmeen Winston, two Black women ages 26 and 25, took their babies to play at the fountains at the National Mall in the nation’s capital on the afternoon of July 30. Johnson parked the Ford Focus on Constitution Avenue, mere blocks from the White House, and the women sat in the vehicle, babies on the back seat, while preparing to make the trek to the Mall.
The women were startled by a crash and looked up to see that a secret service vehicle had driven into the front bumper of their car on the driver’s side.
“Get out! Put your hands in the air!” a uniformed secret service officer said while climbing out of the vehicle, gun drawn. Johnson and Winston were surrounded by more officers, who also approached with their guns in the air. Johnson exited the vehicle to ask what was going on, and Winston stayed in the passenger seat with her hands pressed against the roof of the car, while she says the officer placed a rifle against her head. She begged the officer not to shoot her son.
The mothers were handcuffed and separated from their babies. The women say the officers claimed the vehicle had been stolen by two Black men, although no men were present with the women, and Johnson provided proof that she was the owner of the car. The babies, boys 6 and 13 months old, were left in the back seat of the car for 45 minutes as the women were questioned. The mothers worried the children might overheat as the car doors were left open on the summer day.
The women were later released but have still not received an explanation for why they were detained. A bystander told Johnson the vehicle was searched without her consent as the women spoke to the paramedics that had been called to check on the children.
“I could have been another Breonna Taylor,” Winston told The Washington Post. “I could have been another innocent woman who has no record and got shot.”
She asked the officers for their business cards, but they claimed they did not carry any. Instead, she wrote down each officer’s name and badge number on a piece of paper.
“I had to stay strong, somebody had to be strong. I wanted to cry, but I’m not going to let them see me cry,” she said.
The womens’ attorney, Timothy Maloney, wrote a letter to the Secret Service demanding an investigation and requesting answers to more than a dozen questions.
The Secret Service said it was notified by D.C. police that there was a vehicle in close proximity to the White House that been associated with a crime. The agency said that, according to information it had received, someone who had driven the vehicle in the past was wanted for multiple felonies and characterized as “armed and dangerous.”
Both women have faced trauma and paranoia since the incident occurred. Winston is seeking therapy.