Orange is the New Karen: Seven Things I Learned after Getting Arrested Today
Our neighbors moved in almost three years ago. Most of this time, they have kept to themselves; regardless I thought we had a nice relationship. When they had a baby, I bought them a welcoming gift of a cute little baby hat (because nothing’s cuter than a baby in a hat) and I made them lasagna. Once we rode together to a school function. We were always friendly. The woman of the house was lovely, if not very reclusive. The man of the house, however, has always given me the heebie-jeebies. Maybe it was the amount of tension in his face as he closely watched his wife speak. Maybe it was the way he only grunted and looked away when neighbors said hello. Or maybe it was the way he kept his lawn and grounds so intensely manicured and meticulously perfect – the kind of perfect you only get with a psychiatric diagnosis. Maybe it was all the times we realized he had been standing right next to us, quietly, out of sight, just on the other side of his fence, whenever we were in the backyard. Or maybe it was the way he sat in his backyard and continuously stared at my sister and her friends every time they went swimming in the pool last summer.
At any rate, I just assumed the family were not into socializing or having anyone over. Ever. Still, I invited them to our re-wedding in August. They did not respond to our invitation and they did not show up to the wedding, but just after 8:00pm when my husband/editor and I were having our first dance, the police showed up. The man had apparently called the police. The officers and I had a pleasant exchange and they ultimately agreed they saw no reason why they should have been called, and left.
Shortly after, a few guests, which included a 17-year-old young man, stood chatting on my lawn in front of my house. The 17-year-old was appreciating and commenting on the neighbor’s car, when we heard something rarely uttered here in the Northeast: the command “Git!” (as in “Git out of here!”). My neighbor shouted “Git! Git! Git!” as he ran over to our guests. The 17-year-old, in disbelief, asked “Are you talking to me?” My neighbor (let’s just call him Mr. Git) shouted: “Take your bitches and get out!” Now, since one of those so-called “bitches” happened to be the young man’s mother, the young man told Mr. Git to kindly fuck off.
Mr. Git shouted back: “I’ll fuck your mother!“.
Yes, that was actually said, in anger, on my front lawn, on my re-wedding day.
A growingly nervous mother sent the 17-year-old back into our home. Mr. Git then announced that he had a Glock inside his house. His wife appeared at their front door and begged him to come inside. Mr. Git shouted “Shut Up!” and she quickly retreated. Again and again Mr. Git made it very clear to our guests that he had a Glock and he was from Florida and so everyone better stay off his property. He seemed to be under the impression that his Floridian heritage allowed him to shoot our guests from his front lawn. Now kids, this level of crazy goes beyond what I’m normally accustomed to. This isn’t fun crazy. This is dangerous crazy. So I was glad when the cops showed up again around 10pm.
However, this second encounter with the police was very different. When the officers approached I told them I was glad to see them and told them about the neighbor threatening a boy with a gun. But the officer was very irritated. He said: “I will decide what we are talking about. You need to turn down the music.” I said “Ok, but can I make a statement about what I consider to be a dangerous situation?” At that point, the officer asked to speak with the man of the house. I said “Sure, let me just travel back in time to 1950″. I was laughing. “You can talk to me.”
Instead of discussing the incident, the officer and I went through a sort of power exchange tango. Since it was my wedding and I was the one in the white dress, I grew frustrated with the lack of progress and left to rejoin the party. The cops remained in the front yard interviewing our guests and talking to the neighbors. And they stayed there, in front of our wedding ceremony, for over an hour. Since they were kind of harshing the vibe of our wedding, I returned to the front yard and said: “This is enough. You have been here a very long time and we are done.” The office ordered: “You stand over there.” I said: “I am standing over here, on my property, but if you are not detaining me, then it is time for you to leave.” The officer asked: “Do you know what I can do to you?”
That’s a fear-based threat, kids, and I was feeling neither protected nor served.
I repeated my request for the police to leave or detain me. More words were exchanged, one of us puffed out his chest, and the discussion was becoming increasingly stand-offish until the good cop (there’s always one, isn’t there?) stepped between us, telling his partner to go to the car. The angry cop remained in the car for a long time before getting out and writing me a “disturbing the peace” ticket for $133.00. I thanked them and he finally left, though he was still visibly irritated.
The next day I went to the police station. I was overwhelmed. Why the neighbor hate? Why were the police so abrasive? Why the apparent misogynistic attitude from the police? Would I be able to feel safe living next to Mr. Git and his Glock? I also wanted to talk to someone about the possibly misogynistic officer who demanded to speak to my husband. I asked the officer on duty to place a report of my complaint in the officer’s file. The officer on duty told me that would not happen because: “if the officer misspoke, it would have been an isolated incident.” But how could he (or anyone) know it was isolated, with their apparent policy of refusing to file complaints? “Look, if it’s isolated, then nothing will ever come of it – but if it is a pattern, let’s start documenting it. Anyone with a regular job can get negative feedback documented. What makes the police so – ?” The officer interrupted: “I am not playing this game. You are not in a grocery store!”
Look, if you read this blog regularly you know that I’m an instigator. But I also have big love and respect for cops as a whole (my daddy was a cop – a good one). But everyone is accountable. Everyone.
More visits to the police station, more debates, and finally resolution – they reluctantly agreed to enter my complaint in the officer’s file. In truth I expected some backlash. I expected to get pulled over more frequently. However I did not expect what happened this morning.
This morning I was wrangling a gaggle of kids into the car for church when I noticed an enormous semi-truck completely blocking my driveway exit to the street (I am pretty sure this is not legal, and at the very least it is rude without asking). I went next door and knocked. I was surprised to see the mover answer the door. “Can you please move your truck so I can get out and get my kids to church?” The mover said: “Look lady, we block driveways all the time.” I was surprised by his answer, so I asked again. He replied: “If I move my truck I’ll just back it up so it blocks your driveway even more.” Wow. And that was from a total stranger. The woman who lives in the house came to the door and said “Karen, you block our driveway all the time.” Which seems highly unlikely since we only have one car and our own driveway – which easily holds four cars. But instead of addressing the questionable plausibility of her claim I simply said: “I am sorry if that has ever happened and if you let us know we will always move our cars as soon as possible.” Next I hear Mr. Git running down the stairs screaming “What is SHE doing here?”. I backed up, deciding to return to my kids. When Mr. Git reached the door, his wife, now pregnant with their third baby, whispered: “Please don’t go out.” Mr. Git grabbed his wife’s head and pushed it violently down, jumping past her, flying down his front porch stairs, and running at me fast. He put his finger right up into my face and screamed: “You have one minute to get off my property!” I raised both hands into the air, took a step backward from the finger in my face, and said: “I just need the truck moved.” He kept threateningly close. My dog was near us, barking. He chased after the little dog, shouting: “I’ll shut you up for good!” He called me a fucking bitch and a cunt. He kicked the dog. My dog yelped and ran away. Mr. Git then quickly returned, and we were face to face again. He shoulder-chucked me hard, really hard. It knocked the breath out of my lungs. I stepped back, and Mr. Git stepped in. If you read my blog, you know I believe there is never a good reason to use force. I teach this to my kids all the time. But the enraged Mr. Git just hurt his pregnant wife, just kicked my dog, and just hit me hard. I don’t believe in violence, but I also don’t believe in just sitting there and taking abuse. I shouted: “Oh no you didn’t!” and I hit Mr. Git’s shoulder, clearly surprising him, and knocking him back.
Mr. Git suddenly turned and ran into his house. With all the rage on display, I wondered if he might be going for his Glock. Deciding that I didn’t really want to find out what item he was rushing in to get, I shoveled the kids into the car, drove over our lawn and off the curb, and off to safety. I needed a little church and a little distance. I called 911 on my way, mostly because my heart was heavy with the idea that I possibly sent the bundle-of-rage that is Mr. Git back into his house with only the pregnant wife there to process his anger. I found myself wishing Mr. Git had just punched me in the face so he would be arrested and out of the house, which might offer his wife and her babies some protection. I relayed my concern to 911 about Mr. Git’s aggressive behavior with his wife, but 911 was more interested in knowing what vehicle I was driving and what road I was on so they could “send a car for me”. I said: “I am leaving a volatile situation and taking my kids to church. I will be back home in two hours.” 911 continued to press: “What vehicle are you driving and what church are you going to?” I answered: “I am in a minivan and going to church in a building.” The 911 officer was getting angry: “Look, we are going to get you on the road or at church.” I explained: “I realize this was not what you want, but I need to get my children – some of whom are still crying – away and to a safe place.” I needed for everything to calm down.
At church, I maintained my cool long enough to get the kids to their classes. And then I had a little breakdown, spending the next hour trying to regain composure. After church, the 911 officer phoned me. He told me he needed to talk to me in person. I asked if we could have a phone conversation. He was angry: “Absolutely not. If there is something more important you have to do, I can just arrest you and it will be up to the judge to decide your bond.” I was a little surprised. “What would the charge be?” The officer said: “I am not going to discuss this with you.” I said: “I think I have a right to know what I could be charged with.” The officer disagreed. He seemed as indignant as a parent realizing that “because I said so” was no longer working. Then, as if in an echo from police visits past, he threatened: “Do you know what I can do to you?” I calmly answered: “Yes, I understand you have power over me and you would like me to acknowledge that power by doing exactly what you say.” Then, because I have a father who explained to me when I was little that cops often have issues with power and that they do not like to be questioned because there are situations where loss of control can be lethal, I told him I would be home in 30 minutes and would talk to him then.
Shortly after I arrived home, three police vehicles pulled up in front of my house and five officers put me in handcuffs, arresting me in front of my children.
So, that was fun.
At the police station, they discovered I was not a clear and present danger, just a mom trying to put distance between her family and a rage-filled man with a Glock.
Oh and kids, the man who threatened my guests, attacked his wife, kicked my dog and hit me received no charges whatsoever and was not arrested. On the other hand, I was charged with trespassing, breaching the peace and assault. After two hours at the police station, I was released on my own recognizance. Apparently moms of seven are a very low flight risk (sigh).
Things I Learned From Getting Arrested Today
1. Talk to your neighbors when you are frustrated.
Good God, if Mr. Git had just come over and chatted about whatever was irritating him, this never would have happened. Don’t call the police when you have a gripe with your neighbor – just tell your neighbor and ask for change. I thought this one was obvious.
2. Even if authorities are angry and threatening, listen to your instincts to protect your family.
I now have a rap sheet, which is kind of cool, even though it may destroy my chances of ever going back to teaching, but I do not regret any of my choices. The officer later told me: “You should have stayed there and called the police. We can get there quickly.” But the consequence of waiting to see what Mr. Git was going to carry from his home could have been much worse. Guns and the threat of weapons up the anti on risk, and if I had stayed and brought harm to my family, well, that would be incredibly hard to live with.
3. Cops are control freaks.
But, maybe that makes sense. Custodians or house cleaners may have OCD, but that just helps them do their job.
4. People in power want to stay in power.
There are parallels between the cops needing me to validate their place in the power structure (and threatening me when their authority was challenged) and the threats and hate mail I receive after questioning the authority of others. When I call myself a feminist or spread thoughts that upset the current order, those with privilege – those who have the most to lose – are the ones most likely to threaten or try to shut me up. And yes, sometimes they ask if I know what they are capable of doing to me.
5. Stupid sexism is alive and well.
My husband is not my father, and I just checked the calendar again – we do not live in feudal times. I am a grown woman who speaks for herself. When I point out to officers just how ridiculous it is to ask for the “man in charge” (instead of simply talking to me), they must feel a little stupid. And if they have any power, calling them out on their sexism is risky, because they’re much more inclined to use their power against you.
6. Domestic violence is also alive and well.
And it’s hard to detect when those who are being abused refuse to speak. My pregnant neighbor denied that her husband assaulted her. We all need to be better at saying something when we see something. I called a woman’s hotline today to report what I saw. 7. When people in authority have no accountability, it is terrifying. Police officers pulled my arms behind my back and forcefully closed handcuffs tightly over my wrists (ouch). I was stripped of my physical freedom at my home, and in front of my children, without ever having an opportunity to make a statement or to explain to the officers what happened. I was cooperative, peaceful and respectful. Unfortunately my request to be taken in without handcuffs was rejected. And earlier, when I went to the police station to share my concerns about possible 1950’s style sexism, I was essentially told (again and again) that police officers are beyond criticism. I liked it much better when I felt safe. There’s a chance my arrest made the rage-filled Mr. Git feel powerful. If so, I’m okay with that, because I worry about what might happen to his wife if Mr. Git ever felt emasculated or powerless. That might be the most dangerous situation of all. That might be the most dangerous situation of all.