Photo of officers leading black man by a rope in Texas sparks outrage

A police chief in Texas has apologized after a photo went viral of two officers mounted on horseback walking a handcuffed black man by a rope, as if on a leash.

The image caused outrage, serving as a painful reminder of some of the bleakest moments in America’s brutally racist past, including the chaining of enslaved people and lynching of blacks in the Jim Crow South in the years after emancipation.

Vernon Hale, police chief for the coastal Texas city of Galveston, said that Donald Neely, who was arrested August 3 for trespassing, should have been taken to the station in a police car, but only mounted officers were available. Neely was then escorted on foot, led by a length of rope and flanked by the mounted officers.

“Although this is a trained technique and best practice in some scenarios, I believe our officers showed poor judgement in this instance,” said Hale, in a statement published August 5 on Facebook.

“First and foremost I must apologize to Mister Neely for this unnecessary embarrassment,” Hale said, adding that policy had been changed so that the technique would no longer be used.

Hale’s statement sparked frustration, with some activist groups saying his response was “weak.”

Others called for the officers to be penalized or fired for “humiliating” Neely in a manner that recalls extreme acts of racism from the country’s past, or even convicted criminals exhibited in public squares.

“This is 2019 and not 1819,” James Douglas, president of the NAACP’s Houston chapter, told the Houston Chronicle.

Democratic 2020 hopeful Beto O’Rourke, who is from the West Texas city of El Paso, also denounced the incident, tweeting, “This moment demands accountability, justice, and honestly (sic — because we need to call this out for what it is: racism at work.”