Imagine walking into your local beauty-supply store for a bottle of conditioner, tired from your workout at the gym. Your favorite tunes are blaring through headphones. You can hear nothing else.
Then, standing before you, are two Nassau County police officers with guns drawn, seemingly yelling at you, but you can hear nothing but the music.
That was the scene that played out for Ben Faulding, a Baldwin native and communications manager, earlier this month. Because Faulding is African-American, the incident has spurred a heated discussion about race relations on Long Island on social media.
Faulding spoke with the Herald by phone last week to describe the incident, the details of which were confirmed by an information officer at the NCPD’s 1st Precinct.
Faulding was headed home from the gym around 11:40 a.m. on Jan. 3 when he remembered he needed conditioner, so he stopped at Foxx Beauty Supply in Baldwin. He was wearing noise-canceling headphones, and, he said, “The headphones caused a problem at the front and back end of this story.”
Unbeknown to Faulding, police had received a call about a potentially armed shoplifter at Foxx Beauty. While he was quietly perusing the hair-care aisle, police had evacuated the building. As Faulding approached the front counter to pay, he first saw one officer with his gun drawn and pointed at him, and then a second. The latter was shouting at Faulding, telling him to put his hands on the ground and move forward, but the instructions were hard to hear and understand because of the headphones.
“All I wanted to do was follow instructions,” Faulding tweeted. “Last thing I wanted was some mild mistake to end my life. Like with Daniel Shaver.”
Faulding was referring to 26-year-old Daniel Shaver, an African-American who was fatally shot by an Arizona police officer in January 2016 because the officer believed Shaver had a gun. While Shaver crawled down the hallway, begging the officer not to shoot him, the officer opened fire after Shaver moved his hand.
“I’ve watched that video a dozen times, wondering if I’d make the same mistake if I were in that situation,” Faulding tweeted. “All Shaver did was reach back to pull his shorts up when they fell a little. A subconscious, small hand motion. He probably didn’t even think about it. And it ended his life.”
Eventually, Faulding said, his headphones shifted, and he was able to hear the officer’s instructions. He did as he was told, lowering himself slowly to the ground. Police restrained him without incident and then searched his pockets and gym bag. They found nothing and let him go.
“It was sort of surreal while it was happening,” Faulding said. “It was scary in a way, but it was also like I’m watching this on TV, like it was happening to someone else. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve seen videos like this before, so I almost didn’t believe it was happening.”
Faulding later learned that an employee had tried to get his attention during the incident but could not. “She said that she’d tried to talk to me and I didn’t respond,” Faulding said. “That had a lot to do with the fact that I couldn’t hear her because of the headphones.”
The employee, suspecting Faulding of shoplifting, had called the police and reportedly suggested that Faulding might be armed. “The call had come through as an armed robbery in progress, so they were looking for somebody with a weapon,” Faulding said.
No one from Foxx Beauty Supply was available to comment by press time.
Faulding has been vocal about his encounter on social media since the incident, prompting a discussion about law enforcement and race relations in this country. The conversation went viral within days, shared and retweeted by more than 100,000 people. “If this [had] gone bad,” he tweeted, “I never would have told my side of the story. Yeah, the news story would have said I was unarmed. But those four officers would have command of the narrative.”
“Listening to music on headphones so loud might not have been the smartest move, but it was almost deadly, and it shouldn’t have been,” he said.
Faulding said he learned a few lessons. “I have my wits about me a little bit more,” he said. “Now I’m a bit more aware, like I’ll remove [one of] the headphone cups from time to time, especially when I’m out in public.”
His advice for anyone who might be in a similar situation: “Do whatever you can to follow instructions.
“It sucks that that’s what you have to do,” he said, “but your number one task in that situation is to get out of there alive.”