On Monday afternoon, D.C. police officers broke up two groups of fighting teenagers. A few minutes later, a female officer approached the lingering crowd and told the teens to disperse.
That’s when Aaliyah Taylor, a 17-year-old senior at Ballou High School, walked up to the officer and started playing “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” on her phone. Then she did the Nae Nae dance.
The officer, according to Taylor, laughed and said she had far better dance moves than that.
What happened from there on the 200 block of K Street SW wasa rather impressive dance-off between the police officer and the teen, and an example of positive community policing at a time when national attention is focused on discriminatory and abusive police tactics. The onlooking teens caught the dance battle on their cell phones while a song by rapper Dlow played in the background.
“Instead of us fighting, she tried to turn it around and make it something fun,” Taylor said. “I never expected cops to be that cool. There are some good cops.”
Taylor said the officer told the group that if the teens won the dance-off, they could stay. If the officer won, they would have to leave.
The two danced for a few minutes face-to-face — stanky leg and all — and Taylor said the officer would have kept going, but she got tired. Both Taylor and the officer declared themselves the victors, hugged and everyone left the area.
“I mostly hold my head down when I dance, so I didn’t really see her,” Taylor said. “But when I looked at the video after, I was like ‘Oh, she has some moves.’”
When reached by phone, the officer in the video said she did not want to be identified because she didn’t want to make the story about her. “It’s kind of embarrassing that this became so big,” she said. “This is what we do everyday.” The officer has been with the force for about three years and recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.
Marinos Marinos, the secretary of the D.C. police union, said these sorts of personal interactions between officers and residents aren’t unusual — it’s just that most don’t make it to the Internet.
“We are humans just like everyone else,” Marinos said. “Everyday we come in contact with thousands of citizens and almost all of them have positive outcomes.”
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier wrote in a statement. that “the viral video today of the First District Officer positively engaging with teens and diffusing the conflict yesterday in a manner that appropriately resolved the call is reflective of the many positive police-community interactions that take place daily in Washington, D.C.”
For Taylor, she said the dance-off marked her first positive interaction with police officers in her neighborhood. She has six sisters and one brother and, according to Taylor, all have been arrested or detained for non-violent offenses like breaking curfew. Taylor, who said she’s never been arrested, recalls her siblings saying that the officers acted unnecessarily rude and rough during their arrests.
Those experiences, Taylor said, had shaped her perception of police officers.
“I thought all cops were cruel because that’s how I saw them,” Taylor said. “I’ve now seen there are good cops out there.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser celebrated the officer’s dance moves on Twitter Wednesday, saying “DC has innovative ways” to keep the city safer and stronger.
As for the who actually had the better moves? Marino said the officer had about 40 pounds of equipment and clothes on her, so it likely wasn’t even a fair competition.