The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
-Martin Luther King Jr.
The piece you’re about to read is very, very dear to me. It pertains to a life-changing event that happened to me on July 1st 2013. It’s been 7 months and since this is Black History Month (it was when I started writing this), I felt it was suitable to share my story and thoughts with everybody. The first difficult hurdle of writing about this life-altering event was the decision to share it with the public. Until this point, the only people who knew about this were my parents and some close friends who assisted me in my time of need. This incident left me feeling humiliated (and still does from time to time), so for that reason, I didn’t want anybody to know and take pity on me. A day in which I thought would be like any other day when it came to picking up and spending quality time with my daughter, turned into so much more. Instead, it served as a catalyst for a totally different agenda and gave me a friendly reminder on how men and women, but more importantly blacks and whites, are still put into unwarranted labels in America. This event would leave me to seriously reexamine my life and the priorities concerning my daughter.
How it all started (The short and simple version)
I’d just returned to the States for no more than a week prior, and to Seattle just the day before; I’d driven my car from LA to Seattle. I was going to pick up my daughter for the day when my daughter’s mother decided to start an argument about the type of water guns I gave my daughter the day before to play with in her mini pool. After about 5-7 minutes, she decided to change her mind. She said that I wasn’t going to see my daughter now and to come back with court papers saying otherwise. Once I heard this, I walked back to my car (which was a few steps away) and called 911 to report an incident about a parent going back on an arranged pick up date of a child. As a father, I learned a while ago that in America, we have no leverage/power in child disputes. All I could do in this situation was call the police so they could document the incident and to also put her in contempt possibly. Side note: No parent should just be able to change his or her mind at the last second after agreeing to a pick up visitation. I would understand if the welfare of the child were in danger, but to do it because they know they will not have to face immediate punishment or simply in spite, is just morally wrong. Once she caught onto what I was doing, she went back inside the house and also called 911 as well.
The three (un) wise officers
Ten minutes later, officers Nathan Shopay #7470, Zachary Pendt #7638 and Parker #6687 arrived on the scene to assess the situation. Two officers stayed outside with me as I told my side of the incident, while another officer took down her version inside the home. Once the officers had a chance discuss and share information, I soon found out she told the officer that I pushed her in the shoulder region and then threaten to have some girls stop by her home and “piece her up”.
Just to make sure everybody is following along, we now have two conflicting stories here folks. There were no witnesses, no physical markings on her, I wasn’t high, drunk, had no warrants and the person in question (me) had no prior history of domestic violence. Oh, and let’s not forget that I called 911 first to report what was going on and waited there until the police arrived. But even with all that on my side, it would come down to my word against hers, with the jury and judge being two Caucasian males and one female. As the police officers were looking at me on the surface trying to figure out which story was the truth I believe all they saw was a tall, athletically built, black man driving a Cadillac Escalade on rims. So I was automatically type casted and viewed with the likes of: OJ Simpsons, Chris Browns and the Chad Johnsons of the world. None of which are viewed in a positive light when it comes to black athletes/entertainers involved in domestic violence by the way. I couldn’t believe that as an almost 30 year old, college graduate that can almost speak 2 languages; I was going to be put into the same category with them by association because I was man, an athlete and black. I’m sure the positive characteristics about me were not something the police would automatically assume either. With that in mind, I even tried to inform them trying to give them a better idea of my character as a man and not their preconceived images of the men that I so easily reminded them of. But would that work?
I really wish I could tell everybody that after a long deliberation the officers took my side, allowed me to take my daughter for the day, and we drove off into the sunset. Instead I was reminded oh-so-quickly that this is America and in the real world common sense isn’t so common. I just wish I wasn’t so naive to think the officers were going to see the situation for what it really was. Maybe it was also the fact that I’ve been living in Italy for 36 out of the last 48 months, so I wasn’t in the right state of mind of reading between the lines anymore. When you factor in a false verbal threat along with false pushing and probably a good acting job on her part, I suppose everything else goes out the window thereafter. The police decided they were going to arrest me and take me to jail just to be on the “safe” side (their words not mine). Sitting in the back seat of that cop car is when it finally dawned on me that all of the good deeds and taking the high road meant absolutely nothing. All of the stereotypes I constantly had to prove people wrong about me, none of that helped me when it mattered the most. My future was left in the hands of three strangers, whom I had never seen in my life but were judging me like they knew me my whole life. It made me feel sick to my stomach. As I sat in the back seat handcuffed, I finally broke down and started crying like a little bitch. I was experiencing the lowest point in my life; I couldn’t help but get emotional.
Did the police act in the correct way? Did a racial element come into play at all? What if all 3 officers were black or maybe a more diverse bunch? If they were all females, would that have changed the outcome possibly? Probably not, but those were the questions going through my head as I was being transported in the back seat of a police car. They definitely dropped the ball on this. I thought police officers were supposed to view each specific situation as its own and with no prior judgment to not let their personal or past experiences interfere/influence their decision-making in the present. But do you really believe officers will actually do that in the heat of the moment? I certainly don’t now and they most surely did not in my case, I really don’t know what other facts they needed to see the situation for what it was. Did they not think for one second that this man’s reputation was in jeopardy if they were to arrest me? That my entire life could be ruined just because they wanted to make the “playing it safe” arrest? Perhaps, but nothing was going to change the perception society has regarding these cases. Instead I was labeled into a stereotype, and to protect their own jobs, they acted in that fashion. They couldn’t afford to let me go and then, lets say, I came back in an hour and killed everybody (Ok. Worse case scenario, but still). The backlash they would face would ruin their careers. So in their minds, “Let’s just arrest him regardless; it’s the safest options for everybody.” Wrong. It’s not the safest option for the person who is actually the real victim but being treated as if I had nothing to lose by being arrested. This could cost me future job opportunities and then that would directly affect how I will be able to support my daughter and my family. I guess that was too much to factor in when figuring out if this tall, black man, without a single piece of evidence pointing towards me, committed such an act.
The Current State of Black Men in America
When you think about it, I guess the odds just were not in my favor ever since I was born a black male. I was destined to be put in jail warranted or not, because the statistics regarding African American men going to jail are ridiculously high. One in every three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with police more than any other race, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. The reality of a black man in America is something most people will never be able to understand fully because you will never walk a day in our shoes. To simply put it, “You know but you really don’t know.” You will never know the feeling of a random person accusing you (in their mind) of possibly trying to break into a house all because you wore a hoody and decided to take a short cut through you neighborhood to get home. Resulting in you being killed for defending yourself. You will never know the feeling of a random person getting mad at you and your friends because the music your listening to in your car at a gas station they considered ”thug” music and not to their liking. Oh, and once again resulting in you being provoked and killed. You will never know the feeling of people calling you a “thug” and other negative racially driven slurs on twitter not because you committed a crime or killed somebody but because you were emotional and went on short rant after making a crucial play to win a football game and propel your team into the Super Bowl. I’m convinced the perception of the black man hasn’t changed very much, if at all. They might cheer you on the court/field, sing your songs or even pay to see you in movies. When it comes to an average American being put in a moment of adversity and decision-making, nobody is going to think about those rich, successful black celebrities we see on the telelvision. Default settings will be put back into place and peoples true colors/feelings will come out and then you will see how the real world works regarding black men in America.
No watching, “Lockup” or “Scared Straight”, “Cops”, “Jail” for me. I’ll take the real deal
Shows like, “Lockup”, “Cops”, “Scared Straight” always gave me a friendly reminder that one of my life long goals was to stay the hell out of prison. That includes drunk tanks, city and county holding cells, TSA detainment, federal prison, immigration pens, juvenile detention, overseas imprisonment, theme park jails, and any form of post-apocalypse captivity situation (insert “The Walking Dead” reference here). There are no words to fully explain the feeling when your human rights are being taken away from you for the first time. When the only thing you have in control of your day-to-day life is to breathe and go to the restroom. During my incarceration, they took all my belongings and I had to wear an overly washed, faded, orange jumpsuit and some recycled underwear. The fact that I didn’t know how many people wore them before me left me feeling disgusted. Six of my new cellmates and me had to walk together in a straight line through many clearances. It seems like every 5 minutes we had to stop and wait until somebody on the other side of the wall unlocked a door so we could continue our stroll to an elevator.
I stayed on the 6th floor on the southwest corner of the building. There were 6 chambers (occupying 2 floors) in our sector. The other chambers were more packed than the one I was headed too. I suppose those were housing some of the longer staying inmates. Before I walked into my “all purpose” cell for rest of the evening, I had to pick up my already prepared, rolled up bed sheets and pillow. They also handed me a plastic wrapped toiletry box containing a toothbrush, toothpaste and a bar of soap. The view from my small window was of the Puget Sound. It didn’t help that the weather outside was amazing, which was adding on to the isolation between the free world and me. There were about 20-25 beds in the chamber; I slept in bed number 12. To my surprise, there was a pay phone at our disposal. The only annoying thing was that it had a mind of it’s own, deciding when it wanted to work. So it took around the tenth attempt times trying to call out to different people so somebody would know where I was. The chamber was also half full, something I wasn’t complaining about. Residing inside the “country club of fun” was 4-5 Caucasians, 2-3 Asians and 1 guy who I think was Dominican. I was the only black guy in my chamber and from the looks of it, I think I was the youngest in our cell too.
I purposely tried not to talk to anybody, until some Dominican (honestly I don’t know what race he was but for sake of the story) guy asked me why I was there. I gave him the even shorter version and he concluded to say, “Bitches be crazy like that”, I concurred. That evening my cellmates and I watched, “American Ninja” and “Extreme Makeover” and “Wipeout”. While watching “American Ninja” there was a contestant coincidentally who was from Seattle and the same Dominican guy speaks out loud and says, “He was in jail with me in here before”. Then he gave us a convincing story, but I still wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth or not. I didn’t care either way. About an hour later we were watching a reality show of some kind and the same Dominican guy says this particular contestant was his assistant in real life. I was finally convinced he’s just talking just to be entertaining and funny. I found it amusing so I didn’t mind; it did help lighten my mood for a brief moment. For dinner I had a delightful dry baloney sandwich, an orange, and a carton of milk. The highlight of my night was when the television was abruptly cut off at 9pm. I stayed up probably for another two hours on my extremely comfortable bunk bed gazing up at the unoccupied mattress above me; I couldn’t help but think about so many things in my life and how they were to play out. One thing was for sure, as a writer this was going to make a hell of a story to share with the world one day.
So many scenarios ran across my mind, good and bad, but mainly bad. The first thing was hoping that this horrible news didn’t get into media. I don’t consider myself super famous, but making the papers in Seattle or back in LA and eventually in Europe online wouldn’t be so unrealistic at all. We all know that bad news travels faster than any other news. With the way my brain works, it naturally approaches an unfortunate lesson that I’ve been through and tries to puts a positive spin to sooth my nerves. How so? For example, I imagined the same exact thing happening but instead I was living in the South during the early 1930’s or anytime during slavery for that matter. I wouldn’t be in a county jail waiting for my release. I would for sure have a noose around my neck by now, swinging from a tree like some strange fruit (Billie Holiday reference). Another scenario I came up with was that if this happened on July 2nd (Tuesday) instead of on the 1st (Monday) then I would’ve had to spend not 1, not 2, but 3 nights in jail because it was 4th of July weekend. What better way than to be treated as a low life to ring in our great country’s independence. Another bullet narrowly dodged again. Having to tell my parents what happened and how this injustice resulted in me going to jail was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. There was no way that I could spin this into a positive outlook no matter how hard I tried. This was something I wanted to avoid all together.
The much bigger picture
I finally reached the point of my incarceration to where I was contemplating retiring from professional basketball. Not because this arrest would affect my basketball career and future job opportunities, solely for my daughter. I was convincing myself that this might be the sign I needed to make a sudden change in my life. I concluded that if a person who was willing to lie to the police and courts just to purposely put me in jail, for no reason, doesn’t deserve to be around my daughter while I’m overseas 8-9 months out of the year trying to provide for her and my family. A malicious person like that could be capable of doing more cruel things again (or on a higher level) and the only way of neutralizing that person is to take away the leverage that they incidentally inherited because of me playing basketball so far away. Me moving permanently back to the Seattle to be apart her daughter day-to-day life more; this was the only plausible solution I could think of. I soon realized that I wasn’t the only person being harmed here; my daughter was a victim too. A child that witnesses or who is in an environment of false domestic violence allegations is a victim of abuse (directly or indirectly) as well. I even went as far as announcing on my Facebook that I would be prematurely retiring from the basketball, I was that serious. The game that has blessed and given me so much in life would be cut short not by injury or by my own mistakes but by people who never had any influence in my career whatsoever. I never thought that I would be at such a crossroads to where I have to give up one love (basketball) for my main love (my daughter), at least not on these terms. A friendly reminder that life can be really unpredictable sometimes.
The next morning I had awoken to “Good Morning America” on the television. The various segments were all geared towards the 4th of July. So while looking at all these cheerful and happy people with no cares in the world in my mind I’m like, “**** America, and its independence, I need to move my ass to Europe for good”. That being my first and last time I ever thought that to myself. For breakfast, I had a delicious boiled egg and a juice box, the breakfast of incarcerated champions. Around noon, me and another 15-20 of my fellow jailbirds from throughout the building were finally summoned to the judge for our day of reckoning. In my mind the domestic violence charge against me should be dismissed, but so far my mind was 0 for 1 in these situations. So there was still a part of me thinking this could go even more horribly wrong. But before I walked into court to hear my destiny, I got to meet with my court appointed attorney for 5 minutes to go over my story and to give him any information to help my case. Luckily it was still early enough in the morning to where he still seemed to give a shit and listen to the key points I was trying to tell him and him not caring but coasting, waiting to get the day over with. When it was finally my turn up to bat, the judged released me and without making me post bail, which was a great sign, that being the only good news. There was a no contact order enforced with my daughter’s mother. This meant I couldn’t see my daughter until the next hearing and that wasn’t for another 3 weeks. So on top of being out the country for 9 months. Being back in Seattle for less than 24 hours and going to jail wrongfully accused, now I’m being told that I can’t even see my daughter after going through the most humiliating point in my life. The only person that could put a smile on my face and distract me from what I’ve just been through was now being taken away also. That was the icing on the cake and put me over the top. For the next three weeks, I went on trips, drank, and did things to try and fill the void of not having my daughter in my life. The charges were later dropped, but the damage had been done to my reputation, to my finances, and to my outlook on the criminal justice system.
I’ve had so much anger and animosity bottled up inside of me that I didn’t want to misconstrue the general message I was trying to make with this blog posting. Especially in a way that would seem revengeful instead of trying to enlighten and give insight to a serious injustice in America. I feel even worse for the men/fathers who are in a worse situation than I was in. I was eventually able to resume my normal life (to a certain extent) without any long-term effects. Others fathers aren’t so lucky. Some will lose their jobs, thus not being able to pay their bills. More importantly unable to follow the court ordered child support payments, which will then bring them back to jail and continue an ongoing cycle that is emotionally devastating to both the victim and his/her children. These false accusations are drawing resources and credibility away from women who really are victims of domestic violence and who really need the protection. For someone to falsely accuse another out of anger and vengeance silences the voices of the many real victims. So what’s the moral of the story? Sadly there isn’t one because even if you make all the correct decisions you can still go to jail because (1) you’re a man and (2) more notably because your black. The criminalization of black people in America is alive and well.
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