Handcuffed & Humiliated
By Ebony D. Clement
Every fiber of my being is resisting writing this blog. I have busied myself with meaningless tasks because I have a fear of the feelings that may come up and the words that may come out. But here I am again, willing to do the brave thing and put a vulnerable piece of my story out into the world, in hopes that it will be a catalyst for change or at the very least, understanding.
*Deep Breath. Here comes the tide* Imagine being a young teenage girl walking to the local clothing store with your best friend. The sole purpose for this trip was to help your bestie pick out an outfit to wear to church on Sunday. You get to the store and browse the clearance rack like you normally do. Suddenly you feel your hands being pulled behind your back and cold metal clasping your wrists, as a middle aged white officer asks the store manager, “Are these the two?” Your heart is racing as you try to process what is happening. You faintly hear your best friend frantically screaming that she wants to call her father because it’s her right as a minor. She wasn’t cuffed but she was repeatedly told to calm down, by another white male officer, not too far from where you were standing. You continue to stand frozen in place as the officer asks you, if you had anything in your pockets. Because you are petrified, you question if you had stolen anything, even though you know you hadn’t. The cuffs never come off as the officers talk with the store manager who called because 2 teenage Black girls fit the profile of the suspects who had repeatedly stolen from her store in previous weeks. There you stand, handcuffed, humiliated and petrified because you don’t know how this will end and it’s the first time you’ve experienced law enforcement in this manner. Time continues to go by, people continue to spectate because in America if you’re Black, you’re guilty until proven innocent and even then you are somehow at fault. To add to your torment, you are now sentenced to more time in shackles because there needs to be a pat down & it must be done by a female officer. She never shows up and it is done by the male officer that put you in cuffs. Satisfied that you weren’t the culprits, you and your best friend are released back into the world with a soul wound that has forever altered your perception of protection and no apology from your accuser or abuser.
That was not where the story ended but that’s the bulk of it. This was what I remembered from the incident that took place, nearly 20 years ago. I still recall quivering in fear when we were at the precinct with our parents, filing a complaint, and one of the officers entered the station and waved us off. Talk about gut memory! The stomach really does store emotions. It was all chalked up to “a training error”. That training error costs me many years of peace. Every time I go to a store I make sure my hands are in full view. I always carry a basket or use a cart to make sure I have a place to put small objects. I have learned to spot plain clothes loss prevention personnel so I can be aware if I’m being followed by someone other than an employee. If I’m carrying a purse I place it in a cart, but when possible I only carry my wallet into stores. Soooo many coping mechanisms and adjustments to what should be a normal shopping experience because of a so called “training error”
I don’t share this for sympathy, I share because it’s reality. For many years I was far removed mentally from my blackness. It wasn’t something my family grew up conversing about. My parents had enough stress trying to pay bills and raise 5 kids. Racism didn’t get real for me until I went to college. Being a Black student in the middle of the corn fields in Indiana, was a welcome change from city life that turned into a wake up call. I had a professor blatantly tell me that I didn’t belong there. On more than one occasion I was in the car when my, now husband, got pulled over by white cops who claimed he had a broken tail light, which wasn’t true at all. That’s when I realized it wasn’t just about being unwanted in this particular town, my blackness is unwanted in this country period!
All of these experiences and some unlisted, were meant to incite fear and cause me to cower. To provoke self hatred so that I’d aspire to be something other than what God called me to be. As of recent I have resolved that, I am a wealth creator aka money magnet. My husband jokes that everything I touch turns to gold, which is funny because I grew up fearing money. I feared that having an abundance of money would make me lose friends, cause division in my family and make me less of a Christian. But now I see that that was a tactic of the enemy because the Bible clearly says, “...money answers all things” (Ecclesiastes 10:19). Money is a weapon, and when placed in the right hands it is the quickest way to solve problems and win wars. Money is more effective than any hashtag or protest. Never mistake someone’s silence for indifference. Sometimes those who appear silent during times of struggle, are actually calculating strategies to build wealth and create resources so that our communities can thrive without assistance from the very system that is set up to keep us in cycles of poverty and oppression.
I hope that people will get beyond the round table discussions, social media posts and take a more proactive approach to improving the quality of the Black experience in America. You don’t have to be a politician, millionaire or have a large platform to make a difference. You can start off by simply doing what I call, “Melanating Your Money” aka supporting Black owned businesses. If there was a pie chart showing where your money went, what percentage would be spent in your own community or on goods & services provided by people who look like you?
Other practical ways to start making changes are educating yourself beyond the Black history that you may have learned in school for one month out of the year, respecting our neighborhoods & learning basic financial management skills so that you can begin to amass generational wealth. And let's not forget to show up to the polls!
In my opinion, one of the key components to the forward movement of Black people in this country is healing. When we can act from a healed place as opposed to reacting from a place of fear or rage, it will help unify us on a greater level than when we are in an emotionally triggered state.
I am not saying that these are the only solutions, but they are starting points. We can’t afford to wait for another Malcolm X or Dr. King to rise up. There won’t be one and if there is, it’ll be after far too many mothers bury their sons. Great movements are led by a unified people, not one leader specifically. So let’s let go of that patriarchal thinking and do what we can where we are, even if it’s simply making the conscious decision to “melanate our money" so we are can rebuild an America where we aren't handcuffed to or humiliated by a system that doesn't protect or serve us.
Truth & Light,