By Christina Hager

BOSTON (CBS) – “You’re bending her wrists backwards!” Those frantic words can be heard in the background, as an onlooker took cell phone video of a black woman pinned down by security guards inside Boston’s Prudential Center mall.

“We’re all watching how you treat this woman,” someone else is heard shouting.

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Underneath several guards, Catherine Peters, who was 22-years-old at the time, is heard screaming. She shared her story exclusively with the WBZ-TV’s I-Team.

“They were on my back and bending my wrists back. It was making it hard to breathe,” she said in an interview.

She was visiting in 2017 when the guards stopped her and her date for suspected inappropriate behavior at a shut-down kiosk. Her companion was a white man. “They stopped me, and they just let him go,” she said. Asked why she thinks they focused on her only, she answered, “The color of my skin.”

Now there is a lawsuit. “And then one of the security guards called me the N-word,” she said, which is included in the complaint her attorneys filed in Suffolk Superior Court.

Catherine Peters was visiting in 2017 when the guards stopped her and her date for suspected inappropriate behavior at a shut-down kiosk. Guards had her pinned down for 20 minutes, during which time, Peters said, it was hard to breathe. (WBZ-TV)

Boston Properties, which owns the Pru, sent a statement. “The safety and security of all visitors to the Prudential Center is of paramount importance,” it reads, in part. Allied Universal, the company those guards worked for, did not respond to WBZ-TV’s inquiry, but Boston Properties added that Allied “has reiterated their commitment to this standard.”

The I-Team tracked down dozens of complaints filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination from people saying they were racially profiled in different public places across the state. In addition, the Massachusetts Attorney General took 66 such complaints in 2020 alone, even though the pandemic forced many businesses to shut down for much of the year.

In one case, for example, a black man says a Milford auto dealer wouldn’t let him test drive without an appointment and deposit. Then he saw a white man doing it. “I asked him, ‘Did you guys have an appointment?’ He says no.” The complaint says he followed up with “’Did you have to pay?’ He says no.”

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In another case, when a black ICU doctor tried to redeem a deal at a fast-food chain in Boston to thank healthcare workers, he says the clerk told him, “It’s for ‘real doctors.’”

“What researchers have found is that African Americans are treated with suspicion,” said Harvard Kennedy School professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad. “In cases like I have experienced myself, simply being the next person in line, having a person look over you at the next person in line, who just happens to be white, to say, ‘Can I help you?’”

Willie Bodrick, who’s the lead pastor at Roxbury’s Twelfth Baptist Church, says he has similar memories going back to when he was 9 years old.

“Going to a toy store, and we’re dressed to the nines, and my father and I are walking through, and literally we’re being followed,” he said. “I remember turning to my dad saying, ‘Why they keep following us?’”

That’s when he says they had “the talk,” which is a conversation Bodrick plans to have with his own young son someday.

“Make sure that I encourage my son to love who he is, but to also recognize you won’t always be given the presumption of innocence,” said Bodrick.

In Catherine Peters’s case, there were never any charges. “I didn’t deserve it. They should have just let me go from the start,” she said.

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Boston Police eventually responded and did let her go without any charges. By then, she had been pinned for 20 minutes, time that she says will haunt her for the rest of her life.

Christina Hager