Bored Cops, "Suspicious" Women: On Getting Arrested In America

BuzzFeed - Latest 2014-09-18


I’m a black woman who was arrested while out with my white male friend. The cops said it was a case of mistaken identity, but eight years later, I find that hard to believe.


I like my name. Danielle Bell. It rhymes. It is charming when I say it in my Southern accent, or so I've been told. But on one particular balmy Louisville evening eight years ago, it was not a good time to have my name.

It was my last night in town before I returned home to Brooklyn and I was craving derby pie. I rode shotgun in a pickup truck with peeling white paint alongside my friend, Nathan. Back then he owned a vintage clothing store and had a Bonnie Prince Billy beard. On the way to the restaurant we drove too far and had to turn into the entrance of a very wealthy, very white neighborhood to get back on track. Suddenly we heard a police siren coming from an unmarked SUV, signaling for us to pull over. Before the arresting officer made it to Nathan's car, two more unmarked SUVs and a police car joined them.

I no longer remember the cops' faces. I do remember that one wore a CBGB T-shirt, clearly not his usual getup, but perhaps he was going undercover as "punk" in order to blend in on Louisville's lively Bardstown Road. He looked ridiculous.

Their first question was addressed to Nathan: "How do you know this woman?"

Nathan explained that he owned a store nearby and that I shopped there, that we were friends. Registration was up to date, but the vehicle was searched. They found nothing. Nathan handed over his license and I my college and military IDs (my father is in the National Guard). The cops made small talk as our names were run through the computer.

I was asked if I'd lived at a number of addresses where I'd never lived. I gave them my parents' respective addresses. I also explained I'd been in New York for the past six years and that the address on my college ID was where I'd lived the longest.

I was annoyed, hungry, and sweating. I wanted them to hand me back my identification so I could get my damn slice of pie, à la mode! Then I was told to step out of the vehicle.

The second both my feet hit the ground I was slapped into handcuffs, tightly. I demanded to know what this was all about.

"That will be explained to you at the jail."

Naturally, I thought of my nana, a civil rights activist and local celebrity, the kind of person a black calls when they get their ass kicked by the cops or when a country club refuses to admit them. This is a woman who once told a cop, "a cracker" (her words), that his mother should have swallowed him. I demanded their badge numbers and told them that I was no fool, that the reason we had been pulled over in the first place is because I am black and he is white and we were riding in his car at night. (It is often whispered in the South that when a white man is seen with a black woman it is because she is a prostitute, or, at best, his concubine.) They told me I was playing the race card. "I ain't racist," CBGB said. "My wife is black, so don't try that with me." I gave them my grandmother's name and told them to expect a march of some kind very soon.

"I know exactly who your grandmother is, " said one of them with a smirk.

I became less bold once in the cop car. Watching Nathan pull off, I was filled with fear and grief. Should something be done to me, there would be no one to witness it. I could be dead and they could say whatever they wanted. They would be acquitted. No wonder then that while I waited for the cops to return to the car I tried to slip out of the handcuffs, or that I let out a series of screams no one would hear.

For his part, Nathan got off easily, unless you count the added weight to his (already considerable) load of white guilt. They did say he failed to signal — he is adamant that he did not. He drove to my father's house to inform him at midnight I had been arrested. I was later told he was in such a state that my family felt as sorry for him as they had for me. He was one of the good ones.

The warrant for my arrest stated that I had attacked another young woman. My last fight had been in the sixth grade with a boy; I did in fact win the fight, but this was something else.

At booking when asked my religion I said agnostic and was given a dirty look. I made my one phone call to my grandmother, because I couldn't remember anyone else's number. I hated that I would be waking a 71-year-old woman in the middle of the night, but she was used to such things. She pledged to get me out of there. I was t


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Date tagged:

09/18/2014, 20:01

Date published:

09/18/2014, 19:51