Last Monday my dear friend Adrienne contacted me to ask me if she could write about our experience of excessive use of police force which took place in the summer of 2009 in New Orleans. She wrote me because she feels that our story is relevant to the current climate in the States and she wanted to ask my permission first. She also wanted to tell me that she would not use my name if I wished not to be named.
I told her to use my name and to go ahead and tell our story of course. I have told that story before; I actually wrote about it shortly after it happened but I do not know where I have put the original text so I chose to write about it a second time on this platform. It is absolutely relevant, it was back then and sadly it is still now as the situation seem to get worse rather than better.
This is the text that Adrienne wrote and posted:
"I was in New Orleans with my dear friend, Raphaëlle, to celebrate my birthday. Raphaëlle is a petite yoga instructor of mixed racial background (she's black). We were leaving a club on Bourbon Street with the intention of heading back to our hotel room. It was late and I’d had a bit too much to drink, so I headed outside first to get some fresh air and wait for Raphael to settle her tab inside. An officer was trying to clear the sidewalk outside the club a few yards away. I was standing in the street as Raphaëlle exited the club to meet me. She stopped on the edge of the sidewalk in front of me. The officer quickly approached Raphaëlle from behind stating, “I told you to get off the sidewalk,” though she’d literally just walked out of the bar. Before she could even turn to see who was yelling at her, he grabbed her by the back of the neck and slammed her, face first, onto the cement sidewalk. Then he kneeled on her back, pressing all 6’2,” 250 pounds of his weight onto her petite frame. She was wearing a black dress which rode up over her thighs and ripped down to expose her breasts with the officer’s assault. She was humiliated and crying for help. My temper flared and I began to yell at the officer. I knew I could not touch the officer, so instead I stood over him and I shouted that he should be fired and that I would be contacting my attorney. I was arrested for my angry outburst and refusal to leave. Still, I could not help but notice that my treatment was significantly different than my friend’s. While I was not touched during my angry tirade, while I was treated gently and politely when I finally was arrested, Raphaëlle’s face was bloodied and swollen; her shoulder was fractured. Her black dress was ruined. I still question the officer’s motivations and the level of force he employed."
This experience is one of the most challenging event in my life and I remember feeling violated in so many ways and having lost something that day. No one had ever laid a hand on me until then and my spirit was definitely shaken, so shaken that I contemplated pleading guilty just so that I could put the entire experience behind me (something that of course would not have happened if I had done that but at the time I just wanted to stop thinking about it). Thankfully, Adrienne and her family stood by me and all around me and Adrienne made me see that I could not plead guilty to something I had not done. That officer had charged with four counts, one of them being battery; He had basically charged me for what he had done to me. I don't know what was going on in his mind but I know it had nothing to do with me. I never got to see his face (he slammed me to the floor before I even had a chance to see who was talking to me and when he pulled me up and I found myself half naked in front of people passing by and staring I only had the option to turn around and face the wall), something which made the whole episode even more eerie.
Two officers came to the scene and the officer in question disappeared. I was taken to a nearby hotel by one of the female officer who put my dress back up and placed my cardigan over my shoulders. Adrienne and I were taken to the precinct and put in jail while awaiting for our bails to be paid. It was so surreal. Overcome by emotions and flooded with adrenaline I had not realised yet how badly I was hurt. It is only when we got to the precinct and I was asked what had happened to me by the person who took my information and fingerprints that I realised. I could tell that she was looking at my face in disbelief so I asked her what she meant. When I saw myself in the mirror the left side of my face was bruised and swollen. I ended with nerve damaged in my left hand (which healed) because of the way he had pulled both of my arms back at the same time to handcuff me. The way to handcuff someone is to guide one arm back first and then the other so as to avoid causing injury to the shoulders, arms or wrists.
Adrienne and I spent hours waiting to be bailed out, eventually Adrienne's bail got paid first as she had less charges than me and her family was also closer geographically. I was fortunate enough that my mum happened to be in NYC at the time and she managed to get the funds to bail me out, not before I was put in an orange jumpsuit(in which I was swimming lol) and faced the possibility to be transferred to jail and spend the weekend there (from what I was told this is what happens during the weekend, the inmates get transferred to county jail I believe). The waiting was filled with anxiety about that prospect but it was also funny as I was the only woman in the precinct jail and some of those guys were quite funny. I think I have a pretty good sense of humour and I have the ability to find some comic relief in any situation and I am thankful for some of those guys for making me laugh (some of them unknowingly :) )
I remember staring at the board which displayed your name when your bond had been paid so intensely and praying my mum would pay it before we were all transferred. The whole situation felt so surreal and by that point my adrenaline levels had considerably lowered and I could feel all the pains and aches from the force the officer had used. It was not pretty, I hadn't eaten in hours (the bologna sandwich was definitely not something I was going to put in my body on top of everything else) and I felt exhausted, physically and emotionally. When I finally saw my name on that board I was overwhelmed with tears, I was freed...
The following Monday Adrienne and I had to go to court to make a plea, not guilty. I am so grateful for Adrienne, I can't say it enough. I lost a little bit of myself for a moment but she made sure we made the decision I knew I wanted to take but was so distraught to make. The cop did not show up in court to hear our plea (this was already a sign that something was wrong and our charges were dropped 3 months later, just a few days before I was due to fly back to New Orleans for our trial. Whatever I lost during that experience was not lost for long. It got me to educate myself about police brutality first in New Orleans and then realising that this was rampant all over America. The system is so fucked up and corrupted but I came out of this feeling so loved and empowered.
It saddens me that we are still here, at the same place, if not worst than we were 10, 50, 100, 200 years ago. Will we ever learn?