From his first day at the Providence Police Training Academy, Michael Clark alleges he was harassed by training officers. 

“They made it very clear that they were going to -- and in fact did -- try to humiliate me, try to make me quit,” Clark said. “They told me, ‘You’re not supposed to be here. You don’t belong here.’”

Clark, who is from Providence, said he was studying criminal justice at Johnson and Wales University when he decided to become a police officer. He was accepted to the 69th Providence Police Academy, which was among the most diverse academies in the department’s history, according to the city. 

But according to a lawsuit filed in federal District Court Tuesday, training officers repeatedly taunted Clark about music videos he had posted online, in which he rapped about police violence towards Black people. 

“When you see cops killing Blacks on every channel news how can you not worry?” Clark rapped in one video from 2018. “Wrong place, wrong time, you choked out on the floor. I can't breathe.”

Clark said he was responding to the recent high-profile killing of Eric Garner by New York City police. 

“Being a spiritual man, and being someone who wanted to be a police officer, it was hitting me heavy,” Clark said. “Black Lives Matter. I’m a Black man, so I was trying to cry out to God, ‘Bridge the gap. Can we come together?’ Because these are both two parts of me.”

Clark said training officers threatened and humiliated him, assigned him additional work, and attempted to isolate him from fellow recruits. In one incident, Clark alleges he was tailed by an officer outside of Training Academy hours. 

And, according to the lawsuit, Clark was singled out for punishment. When recruits were being trained to use a taser, the lawsuit alleges, “the Training Officers selected [Clark] as the only recruit to demonstrate that a suspect could move while being Tased. [He] was continuously Tased until he crawled across the floor and reached a set goal. At the conclusion of the exercise, the Plaintiff’s skin was burned, he was bleeding and his shirt was torn… The other recruits were Tased as follows: three volunteer recruits were shot with the Taser and had the probe penetrate their skin and received a shock. The remainder of the recruits had the Taser taped to their skin and received a shock.”

A spokesperson for the Providence Police declined to comment on the allegations due to the pending litigation. 

Clark was dismissed from the academy after five months, in what his attorneys claim was a violation of constitutional protections of freedom of speech.

“Public employees such as police recruits do not give up all of their first amendment rights as a condition of working for the government,” said Georgi Vogel-Rosen, one of Clark’s attorneys, who noted that Clark did not threaten violence against the police. “So this is why Mr. Clark is alleging not only that he was discriminated against because he was Black, but also that his First Amendment rights were violated.”

The suit is seeking punitive damages, as well as compensatory damages for lost employment. And the suit is asking the District Court to order the Training Academy to end discriminatory practices, and provide additional training to Clark’s fellow recruits on First Amendment protections and racial stereotyping. 

“What makes Mr. Clark's experience at the academy particularly disconcerting is that, by witnessing how he was mistreated, all the recruits there were inculcated by the training officers in a set of very troubling values,” commented Steven Brown, Director of the Rhode Island ACLU. “Values that rely on racial stereotypes and intimidation, and that wrongly attempt to justify retaliation against any officer who might recognize the very real concerns of the Black community about their treatment by law enforcement.”