Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the driver, Christopher Divens, was unlicensed at the time of the accident, according to police, and also to include statements on the incident from the Randolph Police Department that were provided Friday night.
On any other night, Christopher Divens and his wife might be binge-watching “The Office.”
They’d be eating peanut butter ice cream together in their Randolph home.
But Divens has been hospitalized since Aug. 25, when he was hit by a police cruiser. The 29-year-old is recovering. He was recently transferred to a rehabilitation center where he is undergoing physical therapy three hours a day. He cannot move his right leg. His pelvis was broken in two places. His eye was nearly swollen shut.
And as he lay in the street bleeding, he asked for his phone. He called his wife, Kristina.
“Hello. I just got hit by a cop car,” he told her. “I’m OK, I think.”
Divens had been out getting ice cream. It was too packed. So he exited the parking lot, and as he went to switch lanes, what appeared to be a landscaping truck smashed into his car. The airbag deployed. The car spun. Divens said his feet slid out of his slip-on shoes. But he was unharmed — in that accident.
When the police arrived, they asked him to get out of the car. Safety reasons. He didn’t stop to find his shoes. There were no arrests. The crash wasn’t his fault. But his car was deemed unsafe to drive. Additionally, the car was uninsured and unregistered and Divens was unlicensed, according to police, so they issued him a citation and his car was towed.
But what about his bare feet? What about his birth certificate, banking information, and other vital personal objects he would need to retrieve his car from a tow lot? All of it was still in the vehicle, Divens said.
The tow truck driver told Divens he could not get his things. Divens asked the police if they could get them for him. They said no. Again and again, no, despite his pleas. He grew agitated. So did they. And they turned their backs on him, with one officer telling Divens they didn’t want to hear him whining.
This is all captured on audio. A year ago, Divens downloaded an app that tracks every call he makes. At some point during the dispute, he called his wife and it recorded his last exchange with the police. He says to the officers that people are protesting because of this type of apathetic behavior and pretends to photograph them.
The police have their side of the story, too, that isn’t captured in Divens’ recording. They say they helped Divens obtain items from the car at least twice prior to it being put on the bed of the truck, and that once it was on the truck the tow operator had assumed responsibility for the vehicle. They say they believe he was driving barefoot, and that a search of the car and crash scene turned up no shoes, even though in the audio Divens can be heard telling his wife his shoes were still in the car.
But what happens next in Divens’ recording makes all the back-and-forth suddenly pale in comparison. After he’d begun walking away from the scene, sirens blare in a dragging bang. A car crashes. The call goes silent.
“I end up going flying. I don’t remember how far I flew. I just remember thinking the concrete was attacking me. I felt concrete on all sides of me,” Divens told me. “Why didn’t he slow down? Why wouldn’t he swerve away from me?”
We still don’t know a lot of the details behind what led to Divens being hit. The Quincy Police Department is investigating the crash as an outside agency. The Randolph officer whose car struck Divens has been put on administrative leave. Randolph Police Chief William Pace said the officer who hit Divens was responding to a domestic violence incident and wasn’t among those at the scene of his initial car accident.
For Divens, it’s too coincidental.
“I understand he might not have been on the scene,” he said, “But I do remember a few of the cops turning away from me after telling me I’m whining about my stuff. And they ended up getting on their walkie-talkies and mumbling things into them before I walked away. So I don’t know what to make of that but I do think it’s very convenient.”
Randolph police on Friday night released 911 calls that they say prove the officer who hit Divens was responding to a separate case, and restated that the incident was just a horrible accident.
“I wish to reiterate, for the record, that every piece of information we have indicates that this was an accident,” Pace, the police chief, said in a statement.
“On behalf of the entire Randolph Police Department, I wish to apologize to Christopher Divens for the injuries he has suffered as the result of the crash, and I apologize to his family for what they are going through during this difficult time. I have spoken with the family and have offered to meet with the family,” Pace said.
Tragic coincidences happen, and this may well be one of them. But given what’s happened in Rochester, in Kenosha, in Minneapolis, it should come as no surprise that Divens is going to suspect the worst — because the worst is what too many Black people have gotten at the hands of the police.
While Randolph police have not reached out to Divens, they have spoken with his mom, Jenelle Ambroise, who protests outside the department each night. But Ambroise says they have given her no answers.
All her life, she considered police heroes. First, Ambroise tried to understand her son’s hospitalization as a tragic accident. When she heard the recording, it was too much.
“I thought I would turn into ashes and blow into the wind,” she said. “This is something I would never dream and couldn’t have a nightmare about. I taught my kids their whole life that the police are the only ones they can trust wholeheartedly. I support good blue uniforms. I just can’t live with the bad ones.”
As a Black man, Divens tried to adhere to what his mama taught him. What happened to him Aug. 25 has challenged everything he knew.
His grandmother is white. His wife is white. He’s always felt loved by the white people in his life. But he’s not naive. He knew racism in America and police brutality were systemic and real. But knowing it and living it out loud and barefoot are two different things.
“I have been around the country and whether it’s Colorado or Kentucky, Virginia or Florida, there have been times and places where police would find frivolous reasons to stop me. But because I was raised to believe that police were good and here to help, I have always tried to brush it off, like that is just one guy. But at some point you have to ask yourself, ’How many times is it just one before there is an issue with the system itself?’”
His mom wants to see the cop who hit her son put in prison. But she still stands by good policing. As an 11-year-old in Miami, police saved her life.
“I was smashed in my head and thrown into a trunk and kidnapped by creepy, crazy sexual predators,” she told me. They held her for three days. A broken tail light caught the police’s attention.
“I cried for God to please tell the people to find me,” she said. “I thought I would never be a grown-up, a mother, or a grandmother. Police saved me. They were the only reason I am here and a mother. I’m Black, broke, a Democrat who doesn’t believe Trump. But the police have always been my friend.”
Now a cop is the reason her son is struggling to walk, does not know when he will be able to return to work, or how he’ll pay his bills.
Divens just wants the police to be accountable.
“Honestly, it made me feel like a grain of dirt,” he said. “Normally, when you see accidents on TV or a movie, the victim gets treated with a little more care or kindness. They were treating me like a nuisance. I felt like a bad guy.”
His feet were bare and they didn’t even offer him a ride home. Police say they didn’t refuse a ride. This is not the same as providing the opportunity for one. This is why he was walking when a police cruiser crashed into him. Accident or not, police apathy is why he ended up on the street that night.
“The hate needs to stop,” Divens said. “Honestly, I don’t think they do this because they just unabashedly hate us. I feel like there is a lack of understanding. I don’t think they see us as equals, so they don’t feel the need to treat us as equals. But there needs to be more understanding on both sides.”
He just wants to go home to his wife, he told me. He just wants to feel normal again by her side.
But in America, police killings crashing into our timelines and turning lives into deaths and injuries is normal. It’s hard to build trust and not question accidents when we carry hashtags like companions. Like Daniel Prude in Rochester, N.Y.
He was naked and having a mental breakdown, on a street, on a cold night in western New York. They put a “spit hood” over his head. One officer had his knee in his back. Another put a hand on his head. He couldn’t breathe. He died. It happened in March. Before George Floyd. After Breonna Taylor. We just saw the video this week.
Without reform, divestment, and policy change, there is only one American understanding about Black folk and police: This is our normal.