Thursday, September 18, 2014

The deadly, dehumanizing, police tactics in Ferguson are the RULE across America, NOT the exception. Pt. 2

The present degree of harassment against marginalized communities is quite palpable. And has been a long running thread woven into US history. See Pt. 1.

As I'd said I am gonna make this personal to show that for lots of certain people, Black bodies have no reason for being. And therefore, no rights, no place in the scheme of things and therefore can be treated in any way. I am just trying to shine light on how intimidation did not stop when slavery ended. It took on, and continues to take on, different forms over the years. And has increased for all marginalized people here. The easiest group to unleash without too much explanation is an eager police force. I'd like to recount a few personal incidences with the po po down through the ages with members of my family that could have gone very wrong. Also to show that a number of those who pledge to protect and serve, do not extend that motto to everyone. The initial trip down memory lane starts with my grandmother and her then husband. This incident happened in a Southern state firmly stuck in the Jim Crow era and firmly steeped in the execution of Jim Crow law at the time

1) Grandma, the car and the cop. Gram revealed this on her deathbed to an uncle of mine. I suppose she wanted to clear the air.

When Grandma was a young, married woman back in the 1920s (she was born in 1900), her then husband was a trumpet player, a talented musician she'd met in a "juke joint." Grandma was no shy, retiring flower. She was a flapper and liked fun. Her hubby played gigs on the "Chitlin' Circuit" and anywhere else he could to get paid. Following the money at times meant venturing into areas to entertain in places which were "White Only" and to put it mildly, places not frequented by progressive thinkers. These places' patrons were bigots who loved listening to live "coon music." Getting to these gigs entailed travel. Lots and lots of travel. Which was dangerous to do when navigating through an area some cretin thought you shouldn't be. A Black person couldn't just hop on a bus or train like every other Mr. Charlie and then be on their merry, unencumbered way. No-o-o-o. So, to solve the problem of getting to gigs unscathed, my grandmother's hubby saved up and bought a Model T to drive to his jobs. My Grandma would go with him to keep him company as they were childless at the time. Anyhoo, one night after a well paying job in some godforsaken backwater in Maryland (yes, Maryland is a southern state) they were driving along a road, and lo and behold, a representative of the local fuzz stopped them. Why? Well, pick a reason, any reason will do. They all were bullshit. Breathing while Black. Year is 1925. Nice car which must be stolen. Late at night. Whenever they drove, my Grandma used to take everything pertaining to that car with her. She'd cram paper after paper, manuals, license, permits. ANYTHING to do with that car into her coat lining or her purse, or kept it somewhere in the vehicle. So, the cop wanted to see the credentials to show it's theirs and not stolen. Grandma opened her purse and dumped the contents on the hood. Then emptied the lining of her coat. Caveman cop sifted through the pile, grunted that everything was IN ORDER and told her to put the stuff away. Her hubby sighed in relief. The cop didn't like that response so he proceeded to smash out a headlight with his baton and told them, "Get that fixed. Soon." As they may get written up, or worse, for having a broken headlight in HIS county. He turned to leave and my Grandma, who took nothing from no one, and clearly wasn't thinking, ran after the cop, swinging her bag like a slingshot to pop him in the head. Fortunately, her husband grabbed her by the collar of her coat, yanked her back into his hold and whispered low, "Are you crazy? You wanna die? Man will shoot us both, roll us and the damn car into a ditch! Let it go and let's get out of here!" Needless to say at 88, on her deathbed, if she felt compelled to speak of that scenario, it must have weighed heavily on her mind all her life..

2) My uncle the WWII Vet, the return and the fight for respect and a decent job

This particular uncle had served in WWII in the "European Theatre" (the Ardennes in France being one place). After being decorated and earning the nickname, "Bull of the Woods" (because apparently when battle ensued he didn't play around), he survived and the war ended. He came home and refused to be called 'boy' anymore or do low-paying work. He'd been a personal driver for an officer. He had references from this officer. He'd been FREE. And he was not going to take shit from certain folks anymore. When he returned home, he wanted a job driving. driving anything. He had applied to the transit system in his hometown of Philly. He passed all the tests and still got turned down. Surely wasn't because he couldn't drive. Anyhoo, many Black, returning WWII vets wanted decent jobs in Philly. With the transit company. Their demand for their applications to even be considered became a hot point of racial unrest. White protesters showed up to intimidate the men who's been brave enough to even apply. Chaos ensued and COPS and TROOPS had to be called in to keep the peace at transit depots. Fine. But they only hassled the Black job applicants. My uncle was in that group. The authorities were no better than the protesters. As has become the norm, an armed presence didn't help. They roused and manhandled the applicants. Made it worse. Fighting broke out anyway. Google it. Philly, Black men applying for jobs after returning home from WWII, riot, PTC transit. It's all there.

3) My Mother, a job interview and an escape

For years my mom had done domestic work before she applied to, and was accepted, into nursing school. On one of her many interviews for a house cleaning job, she seemed a possible hire. A divorced, White COP with two young sons needed a housekeeper. The person would have to stay late three nights a week to make dinner. A probable overnight if he had an emergency. When my mom heard those conditions she declined as she had a child. When my mom got home from the interview that day she was visibly upset. Why? I did not find out the sad facts until years later when I was grown.  Apparently in the midst of this interview, the man had decided that my mom was his opportunity to "get some for free." She had deduced that the commute would have been too far for her so she'd said "no thank you" to the position. Guess he didn't like that and thought he'd get something for his time. Yep, Mister-Fine-Upstanding-Public-Servant had put the moves on mom and had said that she'd better just go along with what he wanted because no one was going to believe her if she accused him of rape. Actually the words were, "no one would take a nigger's word over mine." Charming. She escaped being raped because his kids came home from school early. Oh boy.

4) Me, a term paper and an unexpected free ride.

Waaaay back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I did a daily commute to college. It was cheaper to do a "day-hop" than to live on campus. I took a train and a bus. A bus that didn't run when it rained too hard or snowed or if the road was slick with autumn leaves. Well, for two weeks I'd missed class due to a really nasty cold. That last week before holiday break, a paper was due. Big project that counted for 30 percent of the final grade. Could not be late handing it in. No excuses, blah, blah, blah. Well I still wasn't well but I'd decided to go to class to turn in the paper and return to my bed. Except the day I picked was the day the freakin bus wasn't running due to slick roads. Who knows really? Maybe a squirrel pissed on the leaves. SEPTA, the state's transit system, was, is notoriously inept. In fact, its other, less complimentary name is INEPTA. Anyhoo, the train pulled "into the top of the Hill"---the last stop. I got off and another, Black, fellow "day-hop" student was going in too. Without enough money between us for cab fare, add in no driving classmate passing by, we started to walk to school. We took a lesser traveled road. We took a short cut through a residential area. It was quicker and off the damned, main road where drivers got their jollies coming close to pedestrians. So, here we were walking. I knew that two Black chicks walking through a White housing tract were gonna draw some eyes and some crone was gonna call the cops. I didn't care. I had to turn a paper in. As sure as sun follows rain, a COP car of that county, containing a White cop, pulled next to us as we walked. Are you seeing a pattern here? My companion freaked. Personally, I was too fuckin' sick and too fuckin' tired to put up with this watchdog's ish. He questioned us: Who, what, where, when, why. Everything but our panty color. Said he'd gotten a call that there were "types" in the neighborhood who didn't live there. I kept telling my friend to chill. Whatever, it was apparent he didn't believe us. So, mouthy me said, "Whoever called doesn't know if we clean houses around here or not." Then I reined it in.and said, "You know what, Officer? We need to get to school. Take us to the college and get the story you need." At that he said, "Get in the car. Now." I really didn't want to in case he got nutty. 'Cuz I would have brained him with my book bag. (Hi, Grandma) But I was so sick. Nose running. Sniffling. I was ready. He probably thought he'd bagged a coke head.

Miss-OMG-We're-Busted and my unwell self climbed into the back of the car and got a free ride to the front door of the college,.Made it on time too. As Mister-Law-N-Order traipsed into the center hall with two girls he just knew were liars, a classmate of mine rushed over, hugged me and gushed how she'd missed me. Someone else welcomed my car partner. Finally, the nun/registrar exited her office, saw the policeman and marched right over to us. Sisters of Saint Joseph do not play. When they ask questions; you answer. Immediately. She knew me, said hello and then set her sights on the cop.

"May I help you?"
"No, Ma'am," he replied. "Found them on the road. Just gave them a ride." Sucker was beet red from ears to neck. I couldn't stop laughing behind my hand.
"Very well then. Thank you, Officer."
Lawman looked at me and said, 'You shouldn't walk in unfamiliar areas. Never know what might happen,"
"It wasn't unfamiliar, Officer. I go to school in this area. I belong here."
He didn't like that answer from the way he snorted and nodded.
Sister-of-St.-Joseph-To-The-Rescue broke in.
"Get to class, ladies." She took the cop by an elbow and steered him toward an exit. " Thank you again, Officer. Good day."

Loved that day. Anyway, do you see that while doing the most innocuous thing while Black can get you messed up? Driving, applying for a job, walking, going to school. Hell, existing. All things that non-minority people do all the damned time without eager police intervention. Intervention that at times is anything but lawful. Yeah, you are probably sick of hearing about it. But you know what? You are nowhere near as sick of hearing about it as I am of living it. And the weirdest thing is I weep for humanity but I have hope for it too.

No comments:

Post a Comment