This is a call to any decent police officers out there to kindly step up and show yourselves. Because what we are seeing in our nation’s police forces, again and again, is racial profiling and blue-on-black crime at levels that have me constantly checking the calendar to make sure it’s actually 2014. The latest example to hit the news is that of Danièle Watts, an actress who was detained by police officers in Studio City, California, on suspicion of prostitution.
Danièle shared the story on her Facebook page, along with the photos below. Apparently, she and her husband were “showing affection” in public when policemen approached as though they were a prostitute and her john. Those aren’t mocking quotation marks around “showing affection,” mind you. I use them because I’m quoting the words Danièle herself used, I wasn’t there, and it has not been reported precisely how they were showing their affection. Was it a kiss? Was it a hug? A combination of the two? I don’t know.
What I do know, and what I am certain of with my entire being, is that she was detained because she is black and her husband is white.
Danièle and her husband, chef Brian James Lucas, were asked to present ID when questioned by the police. Brian did so, but Danièle didn’t, writing that she “refus[ed] to agree that she had done something wrong.” It was broad daylight, they were standing outside, and you can see in photos that she’s wearing shorts, a T-shirt, and sneakers. NOT THAT THAT MATTERS. But of course it does.
When I saw the above picture, I was confused at the palpable pain and rage breaking free from her face while the cop looks like he’s asking her if she has the time. I wondered if they had beaten her or had a gun on her that was just out of frame. Of course it is not up to me to question her tears or quantify her response, but I admit that I was thrown by the image until I read her full account. The way Danièle type-shouted “I STILL HAD POWER OVER MY OWN SPIRIT” really hit me. She continued:
“Those cops could not stop me from expressing myself. They could not stop the cathartic tears and rage from flowing out of me. They could not force me to feel bad about myself. Yes, they had control over my physical body, but not my emotions. My feelings. My spirit was, and still is FREE.”
I commend Danièle’s grace in choosing this path in that situation. I salute her in solidarity, having been in similar situations. One that comes to mind is being in the passenger seat of a white boyfriend’s car when he was pulled over by a cop in a rural area. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach and said “This could go really badly.” He thought I was joking and went into our usual lighthearted banter about how silly it is that people still look sideways at interracial relationships, but I was completely serious and stonefaced. The officer peered into the car and looked me over like he was about to ask for my “papers” or ask my boyfriend if I was his legal property. He made a request to search the car with no clear reason given for having pulled us over to begin with, and my boyfriend’s Confident Whiteness allowed him to firmly decline that request, secure that his rights were not to be violated since he’d done nothing wrong, and that that knowledge would not lead to him being handcuffed, which of course it didn’t. I was mostly silent for the rest of that ride, and of course the guy I was with understood that something was wrong with the situation, but he didn’t understand the extent of it.
It’s more than just silly that the sight of a black woman and a white man who are kissing (or hugging, or both) led to her being detained in the back of a cruiser in handcuffs so tight they drew blood. It’s more than just silly that the police persisted upon seeing what was nothing more than an affectionate couple, and a married one at that! I don’t support Puritanical ideals of marriage as a requirement, but for those who need that to sleep better at night, it’s there.
It’s not silly, but rather deeply damaging to not feel that we can move freely in society and live fully realized lives without suspicion and interrogation from those who aren’t comfortable with how we look. Danièle made a choice to feel all of that in that moment, to weep and wail the full breadth of this intrusion upon her spirit, and for similar injustices that stain our country.
“And moreover, I deeply enjoyed connecting with the cops who detained me. I allowed myself to be honest about my anger, frustration, and rage as tears flowed from my eyes. The tears I cry for a country that calls itself “the land of the free and the home of the brave” and yet detains people for claiming that very right.”
That she can use the phrase “I deeply enjoyed connecting with the cops who detained me” is a testament to her choice to walk a path of enlightenment. In fact, both Danièle and Brian put forth phenomenally uplifting and inspirational presences via social media, and I imagine that they embody this adorable, loving spirit in person. These are two people who appear to exude love.