Note: I was hella nervous writing and sharing this because I didn’t want to look like a careless, irresponsible person. The fact that I felt that way when I thought about sharing my experience told me that I had to share this story. This is Part 1 of a three part series sharing my experience of being arrested as a black woman in the time of the Sandra Blands (we’re still with you sista).
I got arrested a couple of days ago and my black body wasn’t killed. As a matter of fact, it was ascended to a place of personal greatness.
Back story. Last year, I was sitting in traffic, when a cop pulled up behind me. After a couple of minutes, the cop turn his lights on to signal me to pull over. Turns out, my tags had been suspended by the Motor Vehicle Administration in Maryland for not having insurance on my car. I explained to the cop that I did in fact have insurance and I could prove it. When the cop took a look at my insurance card, he noticed that it said Alabama…made sense because when I bought the car in Maryland, I just added it to my existing insurance that was still attached my Alabama address. Anyway, the cop says, “No problem, this kind of thing happens all of the time given the fact that we’re sitting on the borders of Maryland, the District, and Virginia. I won’t take your tags, but I still have to write you a ticket because you’re driving while they’re suspended. Just go to MVA ASAP and you can resolve it easily.” At that point I’m relieved, I take the ticket and go on my merry way and I get my tag status updated the next day. In the next couple of days I pay the fine over the phone and stick the hard copy ticket into my glove compartment. Within the next couple of weeks, I start a new job, move apartments, get the kids ready for school, and from there life goes on. Fast forward, a few months; I’m cleaning my glove box out and the ticket falls out. I’m thinking nothing of it until I take notice of something I didn’t see on the ticket before. On the last line of the section outlining the violation, I see the words, “Must Appear”. My heart drops and it hits me, “I missed a court date for an additional charge on the ticket”. I started freaking out because I couldn’t believe I’d overlooked that last line on the ticket. How could I do that? I’d paid the fine for the other violation, yet I missed the most important requirement. I danced around the issue for a while afterwards, and that, my friends, is where the story of my arrest begins.
I ended up getting picked up on a Friday afternoon, as I was headed back home because of a rolling stop through at a stop sign that I go through every day. Allow me to say this…I was scared as hell when I saw that lights of a cop car behind me, and especially when I saw a young, white cop get out of the car to talk to me. Sandra Bland popped into my head immediately. When this cop came up to my car, I was so nervous that when he finished his initial greeting, I told him, “Please forgive my shakiness, but I’m nervous that this won’t end well.” He responded by saying, “I don’t blame you. I can understand why you feel that way these days.” I was shocked at his candor, but I was still praying that I wouldn’t die 500 feet from my apartment building while my children were having fun at the zoo with their father and his extended family. The cop took my license, and went back to his car to do his thing. After waiting for what felt like an eternity, he came back and I knew it wasn’t good because he put my license in one of the pockets on his shirt as he was walking back to my car. Once he was back at the car, he asked me to step out. I did and he informed me that I was under arrest for a failure to appear in court for a traffic violation. At this point, another cop, who seemed to be more senior, walked up. He was tall, stern looking, and black. When he started to speak, he was surprisingly kind in his tone and proceeded to tell me to stay calm because the process of me getting in and out would be relatively quick because it seemed like a minor violation, and where they were taking me (Central Processing) had a fairly seamless process. I was a little more relieved by his reasonable attitude and explanation, and his offer to move my car and lock my purse in the trunk. Even though this cop’s calm demeanor was nice, something bigger seemed to enter my spirit. As I was about to feel embarrassed (all of this was happening in a cul-de-sac surrounded by a lot of small apartment buildings with front porches that are frequented by my neighbors), I looked up and I swear every person I had ever spoken to during my time in the neighborhood had come out to watch the scene; and a couple of them were recording with their smartphones, and one or two straight up asked if I was ok. That scene and realization of community coming through when it matters, kicked me into a familiar place of walking meditation. I knew that I would be ok and that all of this was happening for a reason and the reason had to be damn good. I turned off the fearful thoughts in an instant, and despite the fact that I was in handcuffs, I felt like I was in full control of my faculties, and even the energy of the cops arresting me. I was calm, so they were calm. I knew that my children were safe and with my co-parent for their normal visit, and any other business I needed to take care of would be handled sooner or later. By the time I was put in the backseat of that car, the lessons started…
Lesson #1: When you won’t slow down or stop, the Creator will do it for you. I was exhausted and I needed to slow my ass down. Even though I was cuffed and mad uncomfortable in that backseat, once we were on the way to central booking and I could find some semblance of physical comfort given the situation, I all but dozed off. I’d been burning the candle at both ends and dealing with some emotional turmoil as a result of a lot of transition, and I refused to stop pushing. I was forced, literally and figuratively, to sit still and allow my mind to recover.
Lesson #2: Stay aware of timing…even in the present. Divine timing is always in play and it’s important to take it seriously even as it’s happening. I knew that a lesson was coming from the experience based on the timing of it all. I was picked up at a time of day that would’ve normally been reserved for my children, but on this day, they happened to go to their father’s house a lot earlier because extended family had come in town. I was child free and I only had me to take care of for the next couple of days. I was picked up and taken to a processing facility that had commissioners (they’re like judges) on 24 hours a day and it was a guarantee that I would be out the same day. If you know anything about the way jails and courts work when it comes to processing, getting arrested on a weekend is the worst because you won’t see anyone until Monday if you’re lucky.
Lesson #3: Never, ever, judge a book by its cover. After I arrived at CP, booked, and placed in a holding cell to wait to be seen by a commissioner, I met a young sista who had been in the cell alone for about 45 mins waiting to be seen for a traffic warrant. In talking to her (side lesson: I’m not afraid to chat a person up lol), she told me that she had been picked up five times for different traffic issues in the past 2 years. As I gasped on the inside and prepared to be taken aback and start wondering what her problem was, my conscious snatched my ego back real quick, because, well, we were sitting in the same spot. True, this was my first offense and it was likely I would be given a pass, but on the outside looking in we were the same in other people’s eyes. That opened the way for some real talk between me and her. She told me about her being a single parent that takes pride in working and taking care of her child without assistance from the state. She was actually running errands in preparation for the new school year when she ended up being taken in on the warrant. She was also holding down a boyfriend in jail. When it came down to it, sure she was a bit reckless for driving with her license suspended, but she made it very clear that: Mommy Law is greater than Man’s Law when it comes down to it. She had no shame in admitting that once she was out, she’d be driving again given that her livelihood and child’s well-being depended on her being able to work and get shit done. Now I’m not suggesting anyone else do the same things, but I am 100% on board with her attitude that she will do what she needs to do to make sure her kid’s good, and that sometimes we have to take calculated risks to meet that end. She wasn’t some randomly careless person who didn’t care about her actions, she was a person, a mother, who had to make tough decisions just like the next person.
Lesson #4: My empathy serves me well. I was happy to know that my empathy and compassion could kick in under even the most distressing situations. I was very aware that my encounter with the young lady was a testament to by willingness to be open to receiving quality information from unexpected sources, while being able to turn on the cheerleader and advocate for someone else…even if we’ve just met.
Lesson #5: A guard uniform can’t save some people from the Black Girl Magic. At the risk of sounding like a complete narcissist, two of the male officers/guards were straight lingering when I spoke to them. I wasn’t getting the all business responses that my new comrade was receiving when she asked questions. Don’t get me wrong, no one acted inappropriately, or violated my space, but they were a little too patient and accommodating to my requests. Hey, I guess when you work on keeping clean vibes, it shines through.
I still have the same mistrust for the cops that I had before, so the lessons were absolutely for me and those around me. I had to answer for my infractions nonetheless, and that in itself is a lesson on staying ahead of the things that can slow me down.
There are ten more lessons that came to me both during and after my encounter with law enforcement.
***Part 2 is up here.***
Comment below and let me know how you feel about this in general.