Trespassing Black Bodies

Leaving Emeryville, I swung around the tent city settled under the freeway.  Sensitive to several cop cars huddled together, I slowed to eye the activity.  

Perched on the corner of the sidewalk, surrounded by two Emeryville policemen, was Lionel, a Black man.

I pulled over to pay witness.  

Lionel sat on the curb, wrists cuffed.  His head hung low, staring through the ground.   

The two police cars were parked at an angle as to corner and trap Lionel into position. 

As casual as two old buddies at a tailgate party catching up on old times, two officers, who appeared to be white men, ever so casually leaned against their vehicles.  

Without choice, Lionel sat.  And he sat.  

Fifteen or twenty minutes later, two more cop cars arrived tightening the angle of Lionel's cage.  In foul arrogance, the newly arriving white, male cops strolled over to join the game.  

Standing four strong, they towered over Lionel as a lion does with their kill.  One cop paced back and forth punching his hands together as a fighter does in a ring before the big fight.  A second cop tauntingly leaned in and out of Lionel's face.  Lionel appeared dead.  Still.  Non-existent.

One cop reached for plastic gloves from his pocket, sarcastically he pulled them on snapping them in threat.  With a firm gesture, he demanded Lionel stand for the raid.  The hunt of his body.

Lionel could barely stand.  His legs crumbly.  Finding humor in his fragility, the searching cop slowed the violation prolonging Lionel's diminishing strength.   

The 'good' cop 'only' paying witness to this stunt, spots my prying eyes.  He nodded to the bad cops informing them of my entrance.  All cop heads turned toward me.  Tucked away in my car, they cannot make out who I am.

I chose to step from my car, my phone's video ready.  The occupants of the tent city enduring this scandal, see me rise.  All of us uncertain of what help I could possibly give Lionel.

The cop peeled off his searching gloves, tossed them to the ground and chuckled.  

With ropes and chains in tow, Lionel was free to go.

Lionel hopped on his bike and rode across the street to his tent.  I followed calling to him through his door.  

I'm so sorry that happened to you, I said as he exited his shelter.  Lionel put out his hand introducing himself.  We shook hands tightly.  A knowing.

Lionel explained he had been riding his bike down a one-way street and was pulled over by Emeryville police.  The hunt started with one cop then quickly turned into four.

Lionel said the cops artificially asked permission to search his body.  He said, no.  They proceeded to pull out the cuffs and read him his rights.  With a contrived, yes, they trespassed his Black body.  A sport.

I will see Lionel again.  I will see many Lionel's again.

(Shikira-May 2016)

Dear unknown teens,

I saw you this afternoon, your cars blocking my driveway as well as my neighbor's.  Black teenage bodies leaning on cars, laughing, trash talking, flirting, basketballs bouncing.  Your bodies are forbidden here and thousands of teens like you have been punished for encroaching on space that is 'not yours.'

Like a lioness scanning the land for danger, I do not watch you but rather watch out for you.  I survey cars rolling by, whose drivers slow to scope you out. Their expressions show doubt in this being a normal teenage gathering. I see you hold strong to your dignity as you stare down those suspicious eyes, quickening your basketball dribble, maintaining your exaggerated laughter. The struggle over space never ends for you. Never.

Wanting you to have a home in the world,  I approach all five of you. I grieve your long faces as I advance, guarded spirits ready to be vilified, ready to duel for your worth.  To remain safe, I make a request that you block only my driveway.  I trust you.  I see you.  You have space here. Silence overwhelms you.

Seeing others and offering space is something we can do each and everyday. Just imagine.