My heart absolutely breaks for Chikesia Clemons, the 25-year-old woman who was brutally assaulted/arrested last weekend at a Waffle House in Saraland, Alabama.
It’s really hard for me to write my blog this week. I’ve wavered, I’ve teared up, I even debated not writing anything because I knew this had to be my topic, and yet, I almost couldn’t face it. Not because I have trouble articulating my point of view, but because the empathy I feel for this black woman is actually painful.
My skin itches. I’m twitchy and jittery. It took me four tries to get through the 1:40 minute video recording her humiliation. Typically I would link to it, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t imagine what she must be going through.
It’s not a new story. Just last week I blogged about two black men who were taken away in handcuffs for sitting in a Starbucks. But the difference is, Starbucks apologized. It’s taking steps to make amends, to hopefully turn the incident into a teachable moment.
Furthermore, the public outcry was swift. Charges were dropped. With the exception of public outcry – most of which has come from black people on social media – none of those other things have happened for Clemons.
What’s different about Chikesia? Is it her name? Is it too ethnic to warrant the same level of care and concern as a Jane or an Anne? Did diversity fatigue set in that quickly? Are all the #MeToo feminists boot and rallying for better treatment of women only concerned when those women are in the workplace? Perhaps they’re asleep? Or is it as Zora Neale Hurston said, and the black woman really is the mule of the world? Fit only to be worked, used, mistreated and discarded as if of no account?
Perhaps the difference, the lack of response, is related to the location? The Starbucks incident happened in Philly, not outside Mobile, Alabama. Any black person knows that our treatment in most places can be questionable, but you move too far south, and your chances of survival – certainly of being treated with a scrap of human decency – drop alarmingly.
We know the police in this country have a serious problem understanding the difference – or even feeling any need to distinguish – between de-escalation and enforcement when it comes to black people. A friend broke it down for me when I asked him what he thought about the Clemons incident. His father was a police officer, and he understands more than most the mentality that leads to the brutalization of black bodies with little to no provocation at the hands of police.
Police in the U.S., he said, are primed to approach every situation involving a black person with their chests puffed up and their boots ready to stomp. Too often they approach us immediately demanding that we submit, that we debase, that we cower. Too many are prepared, even eager to enforce the law – laws many don’t even fully understand – long before it occurs to them to ask questions, to assess a situation, or to reach for a peaceable way to de-escalate a situation rather than hurt, maim, degrade and kill.
But what can we do? I’m so tired of writing about this shit. The bottom line seems so stark, so obvious: If Clemons was white, this never would have happened.
If Clemons was white, the employee who called the police and allegedly told them two black women and a black man were drunk and had a gun and were threatening to shoot up the place, never would have picked up the phone.
If Clemons was white the officers who arrived never would have put their hands on her. The perverts certainly wouldn’t have put their hands around her throat or ripped off her clothes or casually threatened to break her bones.
If Clemons was white and asked for plasticware and queried why she had to pay today when she didn’t have to another day, she would have gotten an explanation. She probably would have gotten the plasticware too.
If Clemons was white and the police were called, the officers would have come in, rolled their eyes, and told the overeager employee that calling the police for frivolous reasons is a dangerous no no.
If Clemons was white, the police would have believed and not ignored the witnesses who spoke up for her, refuting claims that she was drunk and causing a disturbance.
Because Clemons is not white she will probably have a criminal record. She will probably have to spend valuable time and money defending herself against charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest when she did nothing to warrant them.
Yet, there are still many people who will look at that video and insist that she was at fault. That she deserved to have her name dragged through the media mud. That she deserved to be forever associated with a hashtag, forever attached to a degrading, squalid incident on the filthy floor of a third-rate eatery.
But again, what can we do? Main stream media has completely ignored this story. It’s disgusting. If it wasn’t for social media I wouldn’t have known about it.
Yes, I can write my blog. I have already joined the litany of other mostly black voices who’ve posted our support for this young woman. Yes, we can petition. Yes, we can boycott. We should boycott, absolutely. I’d like nothing better than for the historic Waffle House – every single location in the entire stupid corporation – to be out of business in the next few months.
We do that, and we send a long overdue message to any company – and any employee of any company – who is happy to take black dollars, but refuses to grant their owners the respect they are due as patrons. That would be stellar. Some of the best lessons, I always say, happen when you hit someone in their wallet.
But is that enough? These officers should be punished for their abuse of Chikesia Clemons. Make an example of them. Their punishment should be swift, severe, and firing is not out of the question.
Did they even read her her rights? Threatening to break her arm, choking her, exposing her, Lord Jesus, my own arms have closed protectively over my chest at least a dozen times as I write this, and I’m only thinking about how they ripped this poor woman’s clothes off in public. The skin on my breasts is literally crawling. It’s as though I’ve been exposed to the rabid eyes of those three demons masquerading as the law.
Clemons family and friends should raise the outcry on her behalf to epic proportions. They should flood the media with positive pictures that portray her as the classy, devoted mother they say she is. They should counteract the gross images that are currently flooding the Internet, and when the time comes to vote for lawmakers and legislators in Mobile and in Alabama, they should demand an accounting.
In any situation where black patrons are disrespected, whether it’s in Philadelphia or Alabama, boycott. Whether it’s a brand, a company, a location, whatever, withhold your dollars. We can demand respect and get it, but we have to do it as a group. We have to do it consistently, and we have to use the power of social media to inform one another who is not behaving in a manner that we deem acceptable.
Chikesia Clemons deserved better. And in the words of Shaun King, don’t you dare go to Waffle House again.