'When I Was Violently Attacked, It Was Me The Police Arrested' - What It's Like To Be A Young Black Female Living In New York
The Debrief: In the aftermath of Eric Garner, African-American Writer Shea Peters Tells Us What It’s Like Being Young, Female And Black And Living In New York
‘If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.’ – Zora Neale Hurston
This week I moved back to Brooklyn after two-and-a-half years of personal exile. Two-and-a-half years of fear, financial hardship, and starting over – all after being falsely arrested by the NYPD. The night I moved back to the city was game night at the Barclays Centre, the Brooklyn Nets hosted Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavs. The game made the news as Beyonce and Jay Z were on hand to host Will and Kate. While the royals played inside, outside the stadium was a very different story. The story of New York City and Eric Garner’s death: ‘I can’t breathe.’
A blue wall of NYPD uniforms surrounded the stadium, hundreds of protesters, and the entire neighbourhood... Streets were blocked off, traffic was snarled, and all the while Jay Z posed for pictures with Will and Kate. Some of the NBA players wore ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-shirts to honour Eric Garner’s last words before he died. I look at some of the police cars and they say 88th precinct. This is the same precinct that falsely arrested me.
When you are Black there are things you cannot do... One of them happens to be: you cannot just call the police. I learned this one July afternoon in 2012 while walking to a neighbourhood bar with my boyfriend and our dog.
The way New York City reacted to the grand jury’s non-indictment of Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner was much different than the reaction to the similar non-indictment of Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. The difference in reaction many believe is due to the sophistication of New York residents, when in fact it is due to our deep history of police brutality and injustice... We are simply used to it.
When my landlord’s daughter grabbed me by the back of my head and started banging it on the trunk of a car while he jumped on the back of my boyfriend, I ran and called the police, thinking I’d done the right thing. The 911 operator asked me if I needed an ambulance, I stated yes. While on the phone with the police I stood by while she hurled bricks, while my boyfriend deflected them with his hands. One of them broke his hand. I waited for the police, they weren’t coming fast enough and I called again. When they arrived, my landlord (a White city employee) and his daughter were questioned. My landlord had a bruise on his eye. My boyfriend and I had torn clothing, broken bones, head injuries, strangulation marks, and remember... I called the police, twice. They never did. The ambulance came and not only were we arrested, but the ambulance for my head wound was given to my landlord for his bruised eye. He was transported to the hospital, while I sat in handcuffs vomiting from a concussion and my boyfriend sat in handcuffs with his broken hand the size of a football.
New Yorkers have gone through the era of Stop and Frisk, in which minorities were profiled and were allowed to be stopped by the police simply based on the notion that you “could” commit a crime. We’ve developed thick skins, which others deem sophistication, and it’s really just quiet anger. We have been through the era of Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, and now we live in the days of Akai Gurley and Eric Garner. We feel like not much has changed.
Eventually, an EMT decided that I needed an ambulance and one was called for me while my boyfriend was transported via squad car to the local precinct. After several complaints about his hand, eventually he was transported to the hospital. I was handcuffed to a hospital bed while the 911 dispatch argued with officers over the radio about who called 911. I needed a MRI for my injuries and the ER doctor had to inform the officers that my cuffs needed to be removed in order for the procedure to occur. After the procedure, they cuffed me to my hospital bed again, doctors informed police that my boyfriend’s hand was broken and should have been treated on the scene and now he might need surgery due to the hours of neglect, I was informed they realised that I had called 911, but they were going to charge me anyway, and told me the ‘victims’ had been released from the hospital.
Things can change for New Yorkers – because we want things to change. We are tired of hearing about another young Black man dead or injured at the hands of the NYPD. We are weary of having the eyes of the world on us because we are handling another crises remarkably well.
After eight months, seven court dates with the Brooklyn DA not being able to produce evidence (classic prosecutor tactic in cases against minorities in order for you to exhaust financial resources and plead guilty for the city to get a win) and 10,000 dollars later, lost jobs, and lost apartment, the charges were dropped against me and my boyfriend was given a ticket. All records were expunged.
Behind every great man is a great woman, and behind every necessary cause women provide strength, comfort and the voice of reason that cannot and will not be denied. If the women of New York took more of a stance against police brutality and led the charge against injustice, I believe real changes can be made. I’m not just talking about minority women, because, unfortunately, we get ignored. We need and encourage White women to become more involved in the injustices against the minority community, because we are all connected. I have several friends that are demanding justice for Mike Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and Akai Gurley and the list goes on... But very few are White women. They are often silent, because they don’t seem to see the connection to their lives. The Civil Rights movement of the ’60s was fronted by mostly Black men, but minorities including Hispanics, women, gays, and other disenfranchised communities benefited from those marches and now seem to have forgotten that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has benefited everyone in the United States.
Mayor Bill DeBlasio, whose children are bi-racial, has stated that he will be working with the NYPD on retraining techniques in the aftermath of Eric Garner's death. Retraining techniques will help, but what will help more is changing the view of Black men as being dangerous in America. Black men raise their kids, have jobs, go to school, just like anyone else... But the media and political groups have aided in the systematic brainwashing of the US.
The scene in Downtown Brooklyn last night gave me hope for New York City. Protesters laying down in the street for Eric Garner for the world to see. When Will and Kate left Barclays Centre after taking in the game, getting photos with Beyonce and LeBron James... I wondered if they looked at each other and said, ‘I Can’t Breathe.’ I’d like to think so.
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