Picture this. You’re on your way somewhere, when a police cruiser comes speeding up from behind you, and lunges up onto the sidewalk, cutting you off. Just as you stop in your tracks, another cruiser does the same maneuver, behind you. A third, boxes you in by stopping curbside, on your left. In unison, the cops jump out of their cruisers, guns drawn, and yelling. “Freeze! Get on the ground! Face Down!”
You’re standing there, completely stunned and unable to move – unable, even to make sense of their commands. “I said get down! Get down on the ground NOW!” You hear one say, “if you don’t lie down you scumbag, I’ll blow you in half!”
“What’s going on, Officers? What did I do?”
“Shut up! Shut up and lie down or we’ll shoot!”
You lie down. Face down on the frigid sidewalk – you lie down.
“What did I do?” You feel one large man sit on top of you, his knee digging into your back. Your arms are violently pulled behind you, and with crystal clarity, you hear the ratcheting click of the cuffs as they lock into place.
Nobody has told you anything. Nobody has even asked your name. Someone or some thing is droning out your Miranda rights. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say, can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to…”
“… Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?”
“I didn’t do anything. I don’t want a lawyer. I don’t want to remain silent. I didn’t do anything.”
“Just answer yes or no. Do you understand your rights?”
Defeated even before the bell, you nod your assent, accompanied with a croaked out, “yes.”
Now you’re in the back of a police cruiser. The only clear memory you have is how much it hurt when they picked you up from the ground, by pulling at your cuffed arms. A searing scorch shot through your shoulders and upper back. You thought they were pulling your arms out from the sockets.
“Can you at least tell me what I did?” You ask, as the cruiser rolls on for what seems like hours.
“Please sit back and be quiet, sir. You’ll get all that information.” You hear him lean over and say to his partner, “God, I hate the talkie ones.”
A few more jokes, and good-natured conversation between them – as though you didn’t exist at all – and you’re at your first booking destination. You’re walked past rows of desks and computers, and finally placed in a cell. “Turn around,” somebody barks, and through a small slot in the barred door, your cuffs are finally removed. You feel like you just got off the Rack. Your only thought is how grateful you are to have those cuffs off.
Scared yet? If you’re a young Black male, in an urban environment, you stand a 1 in 4 chance of this happening to you.
You’re alone. You’re alone and although this nightmare has only just begun, you’re already broken. You’d say or do anything, if you thought it would help end this.
One of the cops – you recognize him. He more or less took the point on your arrest – keeps coming back to your cell and asking you pointless questions. “How old are you?” “What kind of car do you own?” “Do you live alone?” Finally, at one of his stops, you ask him, “Hey, can I go to the bathroom?”
“Gimme a few minutes, and we’ll get someone to take care of that for you.”
You wait for what seems like another hour. Finally, someone comes and tells you to turn around for cuffing. “I have to go to the bathroom,” you say as he clicks the cuffs home, and unlocks the cell door. “Yeah, yeah. We’ll get you there. Just be patient and don’t make any trouble.”
He brings you to a desk, where he removes one of the cuffs and locks it to an eyelet. You’re chained to this desk. After about 10 minutes, another officer shows up. Moving like a glacier, he takes a form out of a drawer and inserts it into a 1960s vintage, whirring and clanking, typewriter. “Name.” It’s not a question. It’s a monosyllabic utterance, drenched in boredom. You give him your name.
After you’ve given this man your address, your phone number, your identifiable marks and tattoos and the name of the first girl you ever got to 2nd with, you tell him that the other officer promised, you could go to the bathroom. He looks askance at you – his face, silently calling you a pain in the ass – and gestures to another officer. This one takes the cuff out of the eyelet, and walks you down the hall to a large lavatory. He leaves the one cuff on your wrist, but lets you go in, alone.
It’s been a good 4 hours since you were arrested.
After you’re done in the bathroom, you’re brought back to the cell. Still, no one has told you what you’re being charged with, or given you any pertinent information. To them, this is all business as usual, but to you, it’s the scariest day of your life. A simple nugget of friendly information might go a long way toward assuaging that fear.
More time passes. Eventually, someone comes, cuffs you up again and puts you in a van. You’re on your way to your second booking destination.
Entrance and egress is provided through back doors and special causeways, so you don’t even know the addresses of the places their pin-balling you in and out of. Now you’re in a much larger facility – a holding pen of some sort. Other people are in there with you. You’re actually more scared of them than you are of the cops, so you just sit quietly in your little corner and wait. They are all doing the same.
It’s now been 8 full hours since you were arrested. You’re tired, hungry, lonely, cold and afraid. Your Wallet, cellphone, car keys, watch and other personal effects were all taken from you. Your belt and shoes were taken from you. You’ve been given some foam rubber slippers, and other than pants, shirt and underwear, you have nothing. A cop comes to the door of the pen and barks out your name. You stand up, and he tells you, “You’ve been ID-ed. You’re moving into interrogation.”
Here’s where you get your proverbial one phone call. He takes you – cuffed – into a room with a large number of pay phones. He removes one of the cuffs and clicks it into another eyelet, this one anchored to the phone stall. He hands you a coin, sufficient for a 3-minute local call. Not knowing any alternative that makes sense, you call your BFF. In response to her natural question, you yell to the four winds, “Hey, where am I?” “_______________ County detention facility. _____________ ____________ Street,” someone replies from the ether. After you hang up, you wait for someone to come and unchain you from the phone.
You’re stripped, cavity searched, and issued an orange jumpsuit. You’re put in a small, ill-lit, windowless room with a large mirror on one wall. Other than 2 chairs and the table you are chained to, there is nothing in the room. You wait.
Finally, a team of interrogators comes into the room.
It seems, the more they talk – the more trouble you’re in. They deluge you with questions, show you mountains of unrecognizable photographs, badger you and accuse you. They tag team you with the good cop/bad cop routine. They threaten you with unfathomable torments, and try to convince you that confession is your only hope. They lie to you. They use your own body’s physical needs, such as food and sleep, as weapons against you. They eat in front of you, and drink coffee. They blow cigarette smoke in your face. It may be 12, 13 even 14 hours since you’ve had anything to eat. Sign this, and we’ll go get you a sandwich.
You don’t sign. Not because you’re some sort of staunch individualist who knows that his own innocence will eventually win out, but because you don’t have a clue what the hell they’re talking about. On the way back to your newest cell, they – jokingly – threaten to throw you down a flight of concrete stairs.
It’s Friday night. The earliest you can be arraigned is Monday afternoon.
The arraignment isn’t your day in court, your chance to stand up and speak on your behalf – while a deeply committed, and brilliant country lawyer snaps his suspenders, and challenges a jury. It’s 15 minutes of people using a foreign language to speak about you in 3rd party dissociation.
At the end, bail is set. 250,000 dollars. Of course, you only have to pay 10% of that. Do you have 25 grand? No. So back to jail you go. You’re awaiting trial. Six months – maybe a year. You’re in jail, you haven’t been tried, and you’re innocent of crime.
If you’re a young Black male living in a major city, the likelihood of your serving time at some point in your life is 28% . If you’re a young male of any ethnicity and poor, you are 150 times more likely to be arrested than if you’re wealthy.
Next time you post to an Internet site, about how prisoners wouldn’t be there if they didn’t do something to deserve it, I hope you think about my little story, here.
Now, as horrific and Kafkaesque as this story reads, try – just try – to imagine what it would be like, if you were Deaf.
BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.
- The Good Cop, Bad Cop Technique (bobsutton.typepad.com)
- Dear Superchief: I Spent 64 Hours in the Bronx Jail System for a Crime I Didn’t Commit (superchief.tv)
- Salinas v. Texas in the U.S. Supreme Court: Does the Fifth Amendment Protect the Right to Remain Silent? Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns (verdict.justia.com)
- Court grants six new cases (scotusblog.com)
- Know Your Rights When Dealing With Police Officers – 2013 Update (bikersofamerica.blogspot.com)
- What You DON’T Say Might be Held Against You (activistpost.com)
- The Longest Hunger Strike (guernicamag.com)
- America’s Incarceration Rate Is Crazy — Here’s How to Fix It (alternet.org)
16 thoughts on “There But For the Grace of God…”
This assumes you don’t just get shot before any of the above happens. A good friends son – “young black male in an urban setting” was shot in spite of being unarmed, for “behaving in a threatening manner”. Good young man, worked with troubled youths and active in the community. No explanation to the family for over a year and no apology – 2 years and counting. His family has held together somehow. It fills me with a rage I can’t even express. Yep, this is the USA, land of the free. Just don’t be a “young black male in an urban setting” and you’ll be just fine.
Yes, that too, happens all the time. As does unnecessary tasing and pepper spraying. And as I’ve learned, they don’t use the same pepper spray we can buy in stores. They use these fire extinguisher cans that spew out an orange colored spray that can burn, cause severe permanent injury – and even kill.
This vivid scenario captures the intense emotional upheavals, anxieties, and trauma that deaf people experience in encounters with police and jail officials. Lipreading and speech and writing notes simply won’t work to ensure communication. A sign language interpreter is needed.
Thank you Jean. Indeed, you are correct, but it should also be noted that things are barely better for the hearing. In this story for example, the protagonist is hearing. Police and other law enforcement are unnecessarily closed mouthed. A little information from a cop or a lawyer can go a long way to assuaging some of the fear and anxiety that a suspect – innocent or guilty – must endure. Sadly, they use that fear as a tool to further cooperation. This may in some small way, explain the massive numbers of false confessions.
Thanks for the track-back.
Great article az usual. Being a Nu-Afrikan male I had my 1st incounter with L.A. finist at tha ripe old age 10 yearz old 2 blockz away from home. To make a kong story short I ended up in jail 4 1 of the officerz hit my baby brother and we tried our best to break hiz azz something nice. I try and all contect with tha law az much az possible buy they don’t see it that way I am seen az a criminal and a threat.
Thanks Moorbey for reblogging this.
10 years old. Tragic, my friend. I hope for the day that 10 year-olds don’t have to fear those who are allegedly hired to protect and serve us.
U have a great blog and I am honoured to reblog ur workz az a show of support and get tha information to a broader audience.
Thank you. I’m flattered.
Reblogged this on Moorbey'z Blog.
Love the title and all the new stuff on this site! Great work!
Check out it’s baby cousin. http://bitcodavidsboxingblog.com. I know you’ve had to throw a few punishers in your day. I think you’ll appreciate this.