They Should Live Where You Live

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait,” Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am not going to rant about the deaths of unarmed Black men and women, and unarmed men and women of color killed by police or those who have unnecessarily died in police custody.  As someone who was once harassed by police, I need no convincing that this nation has a policing problem.  (And I’m too exhausted with the campaigns for President of the United States to make any commentary about that.)  Yet, as much as this nation has a problem about the often poor relationships between police and communities of color, I would add that it is dangerous to make or create a single national narrative about these relationships. We need several narratives and they need to be local.  Let me give you a scenario that paints one local picture about where I live.

On that rare occasion when I have called police, I typically got a quick response.  And I live in a 99.9% Black middle class Atlanta neighborhood.  Typically, the only time the police are called on the street where I live is when someone has a dog that barks late at night (this usually requires a phone call to Animal Control, as well), or when some kids are playing music too loud and late at night; but none of this happens with any real frequency.  Some homes are occupied by renters who often have to learn that some things are not tolerated in this subdivision.  Now, one of the key differences about my subdivision’s relationship to police is that there is a small group of neighbors, all of who are homeowners, who regularly speak with police about anything they see as out of the ordinary.  I also learned from these same neighbors to call the Non-Emergency Police Line and request that an officer come out to see you personally.  You do this when you want a small matter handled without getting someone arrested.  Let me give you an example.

A dog was barking continuously late at night.  I rarely saw the pet’s owner because she worked odd hours.  She was a renter, looked to be maybe twenty-something years old, but I did not know her, and I rarely saw her long enough to speak to her about the dog.  A neighbor had placed a note in her mailbox about the dog, but nothing happened.  I was awakened late at night and in the early morning to this barking dog for about two weeks.  Every night he would bark, I would go look out my windows to make sure there wasn’t some stranger or some intrusive animal lurking around the house.  I never saw anything.  I called Animal Control, first.

Animal Control said call the police because the owner of the dog was violating a Noise Ordinance by allowing the animal to stay outside and disturb the peace after 10:00 PM.  I called the Non-Emergency Police Line.  The officer that answered the phone asked if I had contacted Animal Control.  I told him that I had spoken with Animal Control, and then I asked him to send a police officer to my home so that I could speak with them.  Because it was not an emergency, he told me someone would come by in about two hours.  In roughly 45 minutes a police officer was pulling up in my driveway.  I walked outside and spoke to the officer, and told him about the dog.

“What do you want me to do?” he asked.  I said, “I want you to go over to her house and just tell her that she either needs to put the dog in the house at night or get the dog one of those collars that deters barking.  Let her know about the Noise Ordinance law because she might not know this. I don’t want anyone cited for anything.  I just need you to let her know that the dog is keeping people up late at night.” 

The police officer did exactly what I asked him to do.  He came back and told me he had spoken with the woman.  Since all backyards on my street are fenced in, it is quite typical for pets to remain safely outside in one’s backyard during the day or night.  I reasoned that because she worked odd hours, often at night, she probably never heard her dog creating a disturbance.  That same evening before she left for work, she put her dog inside her house so the pet would not wake up her neighbors.

Now, what I did to resolve this small problem here in Atlanta might not work somewhere else.  It might not even work in another section of Atlanta.  In a different town or neighborhood, I might have been harassed (or possibly, shot) because I dared complain about a barking dog; and the police might not have even bothered to come out to speak with me or with my neighbor about what the police considered a trivial matter.  In some scenarios, where you live matters almost as much as the color of your skin or the nature of the problem.  However, too often the narratives or plans of action, come from national leaders who do not have a clue about the relationships between police and citizens in any particular neighborhood or town.  Furthermore, what works in Atlanta might not work in New York City and then again it might work in New York City.  Yet, Atlanta is not New York City is not Ferguson is not Baltimore is not Chicago, and etcetera.

Many powerful public voices are speaking out against police brutality and the need for more meaningful dialogues between the police and people in the communities the police are supposed to serve.  They are right for doing so.  Yet, many of those national and/or regional voices do not live where you and I live.  In fact, many “so-called” local activists do not live where we live.  Every Black person I know, knows of at least one activist minister who only visits a particular neighborhood to preach on Sunday, while that same minister no longer lives in the neighborhood where the church is located, but rather lives in some distant suburb.  We all know at least one activist politician who is always speaking out about something that has gone terribly wrong in one of our communities.  The problem is that minister or politician often never sets foot in the neighborhood in question until there is a problem or until it is election time.  Their voices may be necessary, and much of what they have to say might be useful.  Yet, they should not be the only voices defining the narrative about how to address these problems.

If you want to find out more about the police where you live, you can and probably should stop by a nearby police precinct and introduce yourself.  You will find out rather quickly how cordial those police are to you in a few minutes.  It never hurts when a few police officers know you as a law-abiding citizen that tries to look out for your neighborhood.  Additionally, when there is a real problem in your neighborhood, you might get a much swifter response because of that relationship.

Yet, you should also carefully monitor and choose who should speak for you and your community.  Whoever it is ought to know the lay of the land, how the people who live there interact with each other and with law enforcement officials.  It ought to be someone that has a personal vested interest in where you live, not simply someone who shows up when a problem arises so that they can get some good press coverage.  It ought to be someone who lives where you live.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

An Encounter with the Police on My Way to Latin Class

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Most of my encounters with police have been rare and routine.  Most of the police officers I have dealt with have been courteous and helpful.  I have made the occasional phone call about the neighbor whose dog has been running around the neighborhood terrorizing a few people.  The police come out, speak with the offender, and the matter is resolved.  Yet, I remember this incident…

A police officer discovered I had a “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension” on my driver’s license.  For those of you born late in the 20th century, let me explain.  An insurance cancellation suspension was common if you changed cars or changed insurance companies.  You used to get a form in the mail from the Department of Motor Vehicles instructing you to record your new insurance or new car.  Occasionally, however, you might not receive the form by mail, and you could easily forget about it.  Therefore, if your new car/new insurance data had not arrived at the Department of Motor Vehicles when you bought a new car or changed your car insurance, you could end up with this particular type of suspension.  You typically had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, show them your new purchase, along with your new insurance card.

In what appeared to be a routine road check for driver’s license and insurance, the Decatur Police held me for three hours only a few months after I purchased a car from my elderly uncle.  This happened in the spring of 1998 when I was back in college to complete my Bachelor’s degree at Agnes Scott College.  After checking my Driver’s License number the officer stated that I had a “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension” on the car I previously owned.  I showed him my new insurance card on the car I was driving.  I knew I would have to straighten out the suspension before I drove my car again.  Since I was about a mile from the campus, I asked him if he could radio the Agnes Scott College Police and have someone from that police department drive down the street, and pick me (and the car) up.

I explained that I would have my Mama come pick me up at Agnes Scott and we would go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get the suspension problem cleared up.  “I’m not calling anybody,” he said.  I pulled out my student ID.  He said, “I don’t need that. Girl, get out of the car.”  I was a grown woman in my thirties; and while I might not have looked as old as my birth certificate said I was, I was no “girl.”  I kept my mouth closed, but I am sure he sensed my displeasure.

I got out of the car and he instructed me to lie down in the street.  When I asked why are you doing this?  He told me to shut up.  While I lay down in the street for over 30 minutes, he and another two officers pulled the back seat out of my car.  They searched the trunk.  If it had not been for the little old man that came out of his house to watch, I do not know what else might have happened.  I was terrified, but I suffer from something my Mama used to call, “Your Daddy’s Disease.”  She said my father never showed fear when under pressure.  He always looked fearless, even menacing, when some horrible event was going on.  Then later when everything was all over, he would fall apart, shaking and reaching for a good stiff drink.  “That kind of thing can get you killed, Joy,” Mama said, “When someone expects you to be afraid, sometimes the worst thing you can do is look like you have no fear.”

Eventually a female police officer appeared and asked me if I wanted to call my Mama using her phone.  The first police officer decided to write me a simple ticket for driving with a suspended license and left me standing there in the street.  He drove off.  That sweet little old man stood there and talked with me until Mama arrived.  He told me he thought the Decatur police were doing some kind of sweep.  “They’re looking for somebody that’s up to no good, and they’re tryin’ to find ‘em in these road blocks,” he said.  Mama arrived in about 30 minutes and picked me up.  My new best friend—that sweet observant little old Black man told me to leave my car where it was until the suspension problem was straightened out.  “Them SOBs are probably waiting somewhere watching and waiting for you to drive off so they can give you another ticket or take you to jail.  I’ll watch your car until you get back,” he said.

Mama asked me how my clothes got so dirty.  I lied and told her I slipped and fell.  She would have had a heart attack if I told her what really happened to her only child.  We headed to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  The clerk handed me a simple form that I filled out citing that I no longer owned the previous vehicle and therefore had no insurance on that vehicle.  I had to write down the serial number and model of my current car and provide my proof of insurance.  The clerk recorded my data and lifted my “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension.”  All of this took about 20 minutes.

I did argue my case in traffic court.  The police officer rolled his eyes at me as I explained in detail his refusal to call the Agnes Scott College police even after I showed him my student ID.  I told the judge every detail and showed him my insurance card, the purchase of my car, and the statement from the Department of Motor Vehicles that lifted my insurance cancellation suspension.  To add as much injury as I could, I said, “I missed my Latin Class because of this!”  The judge dismissed my case.  I paid no fine.  I was lucky.  Yet, I sensed that what happened to me was not rare.  This kind of treatment happens to women, and particularly Black women and women of color, with a frequency that many people do not want to admit.  Black women encounter more than our share of rudeness and physical intimidation from police.  

I consider myself to be an average size woman.  I finally managed to gain enough weight to make it to a whopping 135 pounds at 5 feet, 5 inches tall.  At the time of this incident, I weighed only 115 pounds.  That police officer was at least 6’ 2” tall and weighed over 200 pounds.  He called me a girl.  He told me to shut up.  He did not throw me to the ground, Thank God.  Yet, just imagine how easy it would have been for him to do so.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Stranger in the Neighborhood – The Worse Case Scenario

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

*

(Update 6-24-2013: When I wrote this blog last year the public only saw a photo of George Zimmerman in an orange prison suit where he clearly weighed roughly 250 pounds.  When he finally appeared in public, I, like everyone else was shocked to see that he had lost weight. (Of course he appears in 2013 to have gained much of it back.  I mentioned Zimmerman’s size in this blog and have left it as it is because I think it is important to note that our impressions are based on the kind of information we have access to.  My opinions have not changed and neither has the blog below.

*Update 3-29-2012:  When I wrote and published the piece below on March 25, 2012, news reports stated that there had been a physical altercation between Martin and Zimmerman in which Zimmerman had a bloody nose and blood on the back of his head.  A new video obtained by ABC news showed Zimmerman being brought into police custody, also showed that he had no signs of physical injury or blood anywhere on his person.  Then in a couple of days there were new accusations that the video had been doctored–a new video showed Zimmerman with gashes on the back of his head.  I am, however, leaving the contents of this blog “as is” because there are some questions that need to be answered that have little to do with how badly Zimmerman was allegedly injured by Martin.  A hyperlink to the “first” ABC video is provided at end of this blog.*)

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I will not bore you by retelling what has already been reported about the fatal and tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.  If you have been anywhere near a television or the internet, you know several stories about this already.  I would like to share my take on what questions need to be asked about this case and to share my own personal experiences with fear.

I remember the first time I called the police because I saw a person walking around my neighborhood who I had never seen before.  The person stopped at every house, looked in a few neighbors’ windows, and they did not seem to be selling anything.  I called the police, looked out my window at the person and wrote down everything from what they were wearing to how old I thought they were.  I have done this a couple of times, once when the person was Black like me and another time when the person was White.  As a police officer once told me, “You ladies should not be taking chances.  Call the police when you see anything out of the ordinary.”  In each instance the person had a legitimate reason for being in the neighborhood, but I let the police question these individuals and then waited for the police to stop by my house to let me know what they discovered and to assure me that I had nothing to worry about.

Right now George Zimmerman is under fire for his fatal shooting of Black,17-year-old,140 pound Trayvon Martin whom Zimmerman claims attacked him from behind.  Most people are reasonably having a hard time understanding how Zimmerman, who weighs 250 pounds, was over powered by what is obviously a slender teenage boy.  That Zimmerman had a bloody nose when police arrived on the scene does raise the possibility that Trayvon might have, at some point, hit the man in the face.

Friends of Zimmerman have come forward to paint him as someone who was certainly not racist; someone who mentored a young Black boy; and a man who has been crying and feels very bad about what has transpired.  He should feel bad, because if the police had properly conducted their investigation, Zimmerman might be in a jail cell where he would probably feel much safer than he feels right now.  He and his defenders understand his suspicions about Trayvon Martin, but there has been no statement from Zimmerman or anyone in his camp that suggests he has the faintest understanding that his actions probably frightened the hell out of Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman and all other parties also need to understand that even if he is not a racist as he and some of his defenders have claimed, that many people who are not Black and who bear no particular ill-will against the Black community often harbor some dangerous and downright stupid stereotypes about Black people.  You do not need to be a virulent racist to harbor stereotypes about any group of people.  I have met many White and allegedly non-racist liberals who have assumed certain things about ALL Black people, only to embarrass themselves when they discover their mistake.

There are some questions that should plague everyone about this fatal shooting.  First, let us suppose a HYPOTHETICAL scenario where Trayvon Martin jumps George Zimmerman from behind and actually physically gets the best of him.  If this scenario is true then the next question is what motivated Trayvon Martin to attack in this way?  What would you do if someone continued to follow you and you were not near your house?  If Zimmerman was safely driving in his SUV with a loaded gun, following Trayvon Martin, then why did Zimmerman not just crack his car window, say, “Hello” to Trayvon and then calmly ask the boy what he was doing in the neighborhood or if he lived in the neighborhood.  And if the person walking in your neighborhood seemed so threatening, why not follow from a safe distance and wait for the police.

I remember driving one night, with a car following me; the experience was unbelievably frightening.  I drove until I found a well-lit parking lot, populated with several people.  The car followed me into the parking lot, made a U-Turn and then quickly sped away.  My heart raced with fear, but I hurried home glad that nothing happened.  I do not know what I might have done (or might do) if I were out walking and suddenly discovered someone was following me in a car.  If you are walking, you cannot outrun the vehicle.  Then, what would you think if the driver exited the car?  Certainly, I might be convinced that the person was trying to harm me in some way.  Being followed also provokes feelings of vulnerability and anger.

George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin when he did not have to do so.  WHY SHOULD ANYONE EXPECT A BOY WALKING DOWN A STREET TO STOP FOR A COMPLETE STRANGER  THAT THE  BOY BELIEVES IS FOLLOWING HIM?  If Zimmerman’s account of what happened is correct: that Trayvon Martin jumped him from behind, then Zimmerman should be prepared to explain why he thought Trayvon Martin did this, and how such a small framed boy managed to over power a 250 pound man.  I must admit that when you think your life is threatened, fear will make you much stronger than you ever knew you were.  If Zimmerman’s account is correct then he needs to explain his role in provoking such a response from a boy who was a good student and who had no criminal record.  The key word here is “boy.”

We probably will never know exactly what was said by Zimmerman or Martin.  It is always possible that a nasty verbal exchange took place between them; this would not come as a surprise.  However, that Trayvon Martin told his girlfriend over his cell phone that he was being followed is frightening.  She too is an adolescent who told him to run.  He said he would just walk fast.  Black boys who “walk fast” are not always doing so because they have done something wrong or fleeing the scene of a crime.  But anyone who is afraid will walk fast or possibly run.

Even in the worst of all possible–not actual–scenarios, no matter how mature or responsible Trayvon Martin might have been in his too short life, his ability to reason like a mature adult was still a year or two away.  Some maturity comes with time and experience.  Some mistakes in judgment are expected when you are a teenager; and no one expects a 17-year-old boy to never make the wrong decision.  At the risk of invoking a stereotype about all adolescent males, can someone tell me whether they have ever met a young teenage boy who has not had at least one fisticuff over something silly or even something serious?  Yet, it was completely rational to try to walk or run away from someone Trayvon believed was following him.  For Zimmerman to assume that his following someone walking down the street would not be frightening to that person is about as absurd and irrational as anyone can get.

The public may never know the exact details of what transpired on that tragic night in February.  I freely admit my anger over this boy’s death.  Yet, no matter what happens next or whose story becomes the narrative of this tragedy, there is still one clear fact that no one can escape or ignore, and that fact is that George Zimmerman was not/is not a teenager, but A GROWN MAN who should have known better.  Trayvon Martin left this world, his family, and his friends while he was just a boy.

(*This is a hyperlink to the surveillance video of George Zimmerman being taken into custody by the Sanford, Florida police on the night he killed Trayvon Martin: http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/trayvon-martin-case-exclusive-surveillance-video-george-zimmerman/story?id=16022897)

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Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.