Image Source: Cops, Fox Network
The very first time that I saw anyone get in trouble with the police, I was about ten years old. My dad and I were standing on our driveway, shooting the breeze, when we suddenly heard tires screech, followed by a loud crash. “What the hell?” my dad said, straining to see through the bushes blocking his view. At first, we had no idea what happened, until from out of nowhere we saw our neighbor Denise running toward us.
“Hey, Denise!” my dad called out. “Are you alright?” Denise ignored my dad’s question, neither looking at him nor slowing down to talk. Instead, she headed straight to the house next door to ours, where she disappeared, slamming the front door behind her.
“I wonder what’s with her?” my dad wondered aloud.
“Beats me,” I said. “Let’s see if we can see what happened.”
We walked to the corner of our street, where we could see a half-block away a large station wagon that had slammed into a telephone pole.
“That’s Julie’s car,” my dad said without a shred of doubt.
“Oh, yeah,” I responded, as I slowly recognized the now mangled Country Squire. Julie was Denise’s housemate. They were both students at the local university and were sharing rent on a tiny two-bedroom house.
“Man, that car is wrecked!” my dad said with that been-there-done-that air of authority he had when talking about hard-luck things like this. Out of the twilight we heard a siren peeling down the road. Moments later a patrol car arrived, stopping behind the abandoned station wagon. At which point, neighbors started gathering to gawk at the commotion. My dad and I stayed at the corner. I wanted to take a closer look, but my dad said “no.” “Aw, man!”
As we watched the policeman examine the damage, my dad decided he’d better go next door to talk with Denise. He knocked on the door several times before Denise finally appeared with her German shepherd. Lily recognized my dad and started hopping up and down, sniffing at him. But Denise held her tightly by the collar. I watched them talk for a couple of minutes before my dad joined me again.
“She’s been drinking,” my dad told me. “That’s why she ran. I told her she should go over there, otherwise the cops are gonna go after Julie, but she’s too scared.”
Just then a car drove up. It was Julie. As she got out of her friend’s Ford Mustang she had a perplexed look on her face. She’d arrived from the opposite end of our street, so she was unaware that her station wagon was sitting smashed up against a telephone pole a mere fifty yards away.
“Hey, Julie!” my dad called as he went over to tell her what was going on. It had grown considerably darker by now, yet I could tell from Julie’s body language that she was alarmed and anxious. When my dad finished his account of what happened to Denise, Julie began walking briskly to her car, where it was surrounded by neighbors and now two police cars.
I think Denise must have been peeking through the curtains because, not long after Julie walked away to see her vehicle, she went hurrying to catch up with her friend.
My dad and I continued to stay clear as both Julie and Denise spoke with the police. Eventually, I saw one of the policemen put cuffs on Denise and place her in the back of his patrol car. Meanwhile, Julie kept talking with the other policeman. The more she talked the more animated she became. I could see the policeman gesturing at her like he was being stern about something. Julie, even from a distance, was clearly agitated.
“Don’t argue with the cop, Julie! Don’t argue with the cop!” my dad said, obviously knowing what was about to happen. The cop then grabbed Julie by the arms, swung her around and slammed her on top of the hood of his car, cuffing her. The neighbors milling about at the scene simply stood and stared as Julie was arrested and placed in the other patrol car.
“I knew that was going to happen,” my dad said matter-of-factly.
I don’t think I really understood what was going on. Since we watched from afar, Julie and Denise’s arrest seemed unreal as it transpired under the brightness of the streetlamp. I watched intently but silently as the two patrol cars drove away, leaving the crowd behind to disperse as the excitement quickly dissipated. My dad and I were back inside our house when a tow truck noisily impounded Julie’s forlorn and demolished station wagon.
Although I don’t recall what became of Julie and Denise, other than the fact that they were at some point replaced by another pair of college students in the house next door, I do remember their arrest vividly. It stands out, not only because it was the first time I’d seen such a thing with my own eyes, but also because they were both college students, not to mention middle class and white. However, it wasn’t their whiteness that made their arrest remarkable to me, it was their status as college students. In fact, I remember thinking, “How can you go to college and wind up in jail like that?” Obviously, I had a lot to learn.