Thursday, November 10, 2016

Churchy Things People Say That Don't Really Help At All

Image result for michelle rapping gif
Several years ago, the media reported that there was an extremely important message from the President that would be interrupting evening programming. No one knew whether the news was good or bad and I remember Twitter had some hilarious predictions (Michelle is dropping a mixtape!) and somber ones (we're entering another war in the Middle East -- eek!) As we waited for the POTUS, I mentioned to my two roommates, "I'm starting to get nervous." One scoffed and said "It doesn't really matter what he says; Jesus is Lord and God's got it all under control. Worrying doesn't do anything so stop wasting your time. Where's your faith?"

In other words, she gave me the churchy, religiousy version of a husband telling his wife to calm down. (Spoiler alert: this NEVER works!) Note: As it turns out President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden was dead. Ish cray.

Fast forward to now, just after our electoral college has elected Donald Trump president. There are many people grieving and many rejoicing; there is anger and there is glee. And most interestingly, there is an odd strain of something I call churchspeak. Yes, I made that word up. But I'll share a few examples so you'll know what I mean:

"Jesus reigns on the throne so it really doesn't matter who is president."
"Yesterday, I woke up and Trump wasn't president but Jesus was king. Today I woke up and Trump was president and Jesus was still King."
"Trump isn't my president; JESUS is my president."
"Ya'll worried about the election but God is in control and His plan is perfect."

Let me be clear, I'm super fluent in churchspeak. I'm a PK (Preacher's Kid) from a Pentecostal church. I imagine it has a purpose and in certain situations can be comforting. (Like say when you're getting to know a new coworker and a little churchspeak leaks out so now you know you can talk about your Bible Study group without them being creeped out.)

But for the most part, when people are in need of encouragement, empathy, or a shoulder to leave a trail of snot on, churchspeak comes off as condescending and tone-deaf at best or demeaning and cruelly insensitive at worst. It allows no room for people's actual lived experiences and as people of faith - we are called to serve each other. We are not called to dismiss people's genuine fear, sorrow or mourning, particularly before they've had time to process something as monumental as a presidential election.

And by the way, elections aren't the only inopportune times churchspeak crops up. I've seen people struggling to feed their families be met with churchspeak (Pray and God will provide!), when a bag of groceries might have been a better way to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Churchspeak finds its way into conversations about how hard it is to meet a spouse (Revel in your season of singleness; it's a gift!), or even with women struggling to get pregnant (Don't question God's timing!)

Here's the dangerous and tantalizingly tempting thing about churchspeak; it is almost always true. God is a provider. Singleness can certainly be a great season. God's timing is right. But a friend I respect named Jason Walker said this: Pharisees interact based on law and rightness. Christ interacts based on people and compassion.

Sometimes, when someone is fearful, anxious, or discouraged - the best thing you can do is hold their hand and be a safe space for them to be fearful, anxious, or discouraged. (Pssst, the Bible even says so.) Many of us have read the Scripture that calls us to grieve with those who grieve, and we all know the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. But how often do we stop to consider that before healing Lazarus, Jesus first took a moment to weep with Lazarus' grieving sisters? That sounds crazy, right? I mean Jesus obviously knew that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead; but yet he stopped to grieve anyway. Jesus knew then and we know now the value of taking a moment to validate people's suffering by sharing in it - even if for just a moment. Even if we know we have good news coming, we acknowledge the bad news that rocks our brothers and sisters to their core.

This acknowledgement, this validation, this shared grieving is the Christ-like response that we all have craved at some point in our lives - and this election may be that thing for many. Scripture (and a little Kirk Franklin) is often just what you need when you are feeling especially low. But wielding Bible verses or churchspeak as a weapon to cut away sadness versus as a thoughtful dose of medicine isn't the solution.

And as a final note, Jesus is not your president. That's just weird. Please stop saying this.

P.S. My sister in faith who I consider to be the Master of Words That Heal wrote this piece. If you want some encouragement that lacks churchspeak - I recommend it! Read here.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Random Thoughts While Wedding Planning

1. Everyone's an expert. There are more opinions on what vendor, date, dress, food, flowers, venue, beverages, favors, hotels, locations, and literally everything else under the sun wedding-related a bride and groom should choose than there are Black people voting for Trump. (Admittedly - a low bar.)

My face when I have to cross someone off the list so that we can afford a child one day
2. SURVIVOR: THE GUEST LIST EDITION: Finalizing a guest list feels a lot like determining which character on The Walking Dead you are ok with being killed off. A lot of people you love don't make the cut; and a lot of people you are obligated to include do make the cut. Hopefully folks will understand. If they don't; it's fine. That's why you didn't invite them anyway. Kidding not kidding.

3. WEDDING CRASHERS: The agony of #2 has me daydreaming about various forms of terrifying things to do to wedding crashers. That movie is no longer funny to me. It is now a horror film. WHY WOULD YOU COME TO A WEDDING YOU ARE NOT INVITED TO?? Do you know there are people that we want to come but can't invite because we're not rich druglords? But you don't care. You're just nosy and/or wanted free dinner or to be in the room where it happens. If you crash a wedding, someone should call the police. I'll be petty in vintage lace. I don't care. (This guy gets a pass.)

4. "It's YOUR day" is the biggest lie I have ever heard. Sure, you can be a total bridezilla and make everyone do exactly what you want, and refuse to take into consideration anyone else's desires, but then... you have to live with/deal with/spend holidays with these folks afterwards, so no need to unnecessarily make everyone upset while they are bending to your every whim. I'm learning to choose my battles.

5. Conversely, you don't have to do anything just because. There are so many wedding traditions that people do just because. Why are we throwing the bouquet? Why do we have bridesmaids? Why does the dress have to be white? Why do we have to eat cake? (Why not say... flan?) I don't think any of those things are bad, but if you really like cupcakes, have cupcakes! As mentioned in #4, if you're kind of ambivalent about something, but your mom REALLY wants a cake, just have a cake. But if you really think throwing the bouquet to single women desperately grabbing for it makes your feminist core shudder, don't do it.

6. The whole thing is a scam. We all know it. There's no reason for vendors to mark everything up just because it's a wedding, but they do. And there's little you can do about it unless you want to become a florist overnight and/or quit your job so that you can have the time to create everything on all your meticulous Pinterest boards. But it's ok. Once you finish, you'll be inducted into a fraternity of married people that all got hustled. And hopefully, it's a one time hazing process.

And that's all. I'd say more, but I have some Excel sheets to update and a pb and j to eat. (Can't afford real protein until we feed an inordinate amount of people an elegant dinner in a few months.)

Plus, my mom keeps reminding me to have fun. And ya know... it is kind of fun planning the beginning of forever with someone who is committed to you even though they know eventually your teeth will fall out.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Man Up And Own Your Relucant Vote... It Still Counts

One of my favorite things to do after I watch some “breaking political news” drops is to call my mom and get her take on it. It feels almost like we’re discussing family news as she riffs “I tell you what, if Barack Obama had had just ONE of these scandals, he wouldn’t be smiling from my mantel right now!”

But what I love most about her, is her enthusiasm and not just because it’s for Hillary, but just because it’s great to hear someone who actually LIKES one of the candidates and isn’t ashamed of it. “Now did you see how good she looked in that white? Oh and she just smiles and takes that hate so well. So graceful. I love me some Hillary. I’m praying for her now.”

Her positivity is refreshing in an age where it is officially the cool, counter-culture thing to rail against both candidates, the establishment, this entire “rigged” election, and the mainstream media. I’ll admit, I’ve found myself getting caught up in it.

I have a few friends on both sides who have attempted to outdo each other in their display of “I hate both candidates so much; let me prove it by saying horrible things about both although I will inevitably vote for one of them anyway.” I told one of those friends “I get it. I understand a grudging vote for Trump more than I understand voting for him because you genuinely think he’s a great choice.” It seemed like a diplomatic thing to say… an olive branch of sorts to someone who I sharply disagree with but I respect.

But the more I think about it… nah. That’s dumb. A reluctant vote isn’t 3/5ths of a vote. It’s a whole vote.

If based on all of the information available to you, you decide to vote for Donald J. Trump, that is your constitutional right and your choice. But please, don’t attempt to make me feel better about your choice by saying “I mean, honestly, I don’t like either one. They’re both horrible choices but I just hate Donald less. At least he tells it like it is.” (Note: You really just want to make yourself feel better. And no, he doesn’t tell it like it is. He ensures all the fact checkers earn overtime, by refuting things he literally said an hour prior.)

A reluctant vote for Donald doesn’t make you a racist; but it does mean you voted for one and I don’t know how much the differentiation matters.

A reluctant vote for Donald doesn’t make you disgusting, but it does mean you voted for someone who as a 59-year old man, talked about grabbing a woman’s genitals and then dismissed it as locker room talk before pivoting to ISIS.

A reluctant vote for Donald doesn’t make you a dictator; but it does mean you voted for someone who suggested his opponent should be in jail, much like they do in authoritative countries.

In summation, a reluctant vote for Donald doesn’t count less than an enthusiastic vote from a woman with a Make America Great Again hat, pin and bumper sticker who is convinced that Secretary Clinton has a stunt double and that our President was born in Kenya.

So do your thing. Vote as your heart leads you to vote. But don’t find solace in your lack of enthusiasm. The final tally won’t include a curve for lack of zeal.  

Monday, October 10, 2016

The only Nat Turner I acknowledge is… Nat.

Several months ago, when I heard whispers of a film based on Nat Turner, I didn’t believe it. It seemed too good to be true. Then it was purchased at Sundance for a record $17.5 million, the trailer dropped and I was GEEKED. Actually, we (my fiancé and I) were geeked, because there’s rarely a time where we both want to see the same thing. (He’s a “Walking Dead” fan; I’m more of a “This is Us” kinda gal.)  

And then… sigh. Nate Parker and his team, in an attempt to get ahead of the media, discussed the rape case that he and his co-writer / former classmate had both (eventually) been acquitted of. I thought, “Well he was found not guilty, so we’re done here right?” (By the way, this should dispel the conspiracy myth... he brought it up!)


As more details emerged, the court documents were published, the alleged victim’s family emerged to share that she had committed suicide as a result of her experience, and Nate Parker went on a Refuse to Apologize Tour. And I get that. If someone falsely accused me of rape / sexual assault and then I had to discuss it over and over as I was dropping something I’ve been invested in and worked on for years, I’d defend myself as well. But despite my desire to turn a blind eye and enjoy this film, the human in me decided to research. I read the transcript of a phone conversation shared between Nate and the victim where he shows no remorse, no compassion and only admits to inviting his friend in to participate when she suggests that she is pregnant. (Days before, he attempted to convince her that his friend wasn’t present. If she genuinely consented to have sex with two people, why would you even try to convince her that the second person wasn’t there? Seems like a hard sell unless you know she wasn’t coherent.)

I read the court documents where the victim describes in alarming and harrowing detail the campaign that Nate – then the popular Penn State athlete – and his friends engaged in to destroy the young lady’s character. This goes beyond defending yourself; this is indefensible and deplorable.

And yet… I still was torn. Birth of a Nation is Nate’s baby, but it’s the culmination of hard work by countless other cast and crew who don’t deserve to suffer (least of all my fav Gabrielle Union). Why should I skip out on the movie just because the headliner did something gross almost two decades ago? I was undecided.

But there were two things that really pushed me into the “I can’t see this movie” column.

  • Nate is the epitome of #SorryNotSorry. People of color are honestly some of the most forgiving people I have ever met -for better or for worse. We listen to Chris Brown, R. Kelly still sells out concerts, and Bill Cosby could probably pack out an audience with fans. To go back even further, our universities and our homes were always open to others even when we were barred from theirs. Nate Parker likely knows this. With a thoughtful apology for his past behavior (yes what he admitted to, not what he was accused of) and an effort to illuminate discussion on what consent is, Nate Parker would probably be in a different position now.  But that’s not what he chose to do. After a brief moment where he released a statement that seemed to be headed in the right direction (versus his initial “This was a painful moment in my life” (not necessarily for her – the woman who committed suicide), he reverted to a horrifying, even bellicose stance, frustrated that he has to even address it. Robin Roberts asked him about the topic and he replied “What are we talking about?... I’ve addressed it so many times… I’m not going to apologize for that”. It literally made me sick to my stomach to see him be so dismissive of a very real problem.
  • The movie isn’t even accurate. Look, we get it. Films aren’t going to be 100% accurate; especially when they are depicting history that occurred way before video was an option. However, when Nate Parker compels us to see this movie because it is “so important”, it’s important to stick to some major plot points like say… the impetus for the entire insurrection, or whether Nat Turner had a wife or kids, or whether his "master" was kind or cruel. Seems pretty relevant, right? Oddly enough, Nate Parker inserted a rape scene that there is no record or proof of in the historical record.  I’m no historian but these folks know the truth and have pointed out gaping mischaracterizations in the film: Dr. Leslie Alexander for The Nation, Clay Clane for CNN, and Patrick Breen of Deadline, to name a few.

I can’t speak to what others should do in this instance. Seeing this film won’t change what happened back at Penn State decades ago. But at some point, we all have to decide if there are consequences for people who mistreat women and then dismiss it later. We can do that at the ballot box and also at the box office. 

For those who want to know more about the powerful story of Nat Turner – you are in luck, there are a lot of direct accounts on his slave rebellion:

Monday, September 19, 2016

I Am Slowly Becoming My Mother (And My Goodness, I’m So Glad!)

me and Mom
When I was a kid, I knew the easiest way to get a “yes” from my mom was to ask while she was reading a book. She’s one of those people that gets so lost in stories, that the permission slip I’d slide under hand was a blurry distraction that she simply wanted to dispose of – no review needed. (Ask her poor husband; an evening with Stephen King means she’s reliving the stories in her sleep and he wakes up with a few bruises).

And that is probably one of the first habits I picked up from my mother – the joy of reading (which likely led to my fondness for writing – so is her fault too).

But that’s not all. For the past several years, I’ve joked that when I open my mouth, my mother come out. But the past couple months as we talk almost every day through this wedding planning process, it is crystal clear – just about every part of me that is good can be traced back to her. And I’m ok with that because she’s so dope. And she’s not selfish. So I shouldn’t be either, right? So here’s a gift for you. Here are four lessons she taught me that really could make the world a better place if we all adhered to them.

On Fashion: Quality Matters – Designers Don’t. Starter jackets, Jordans, Tommy Hilfiger… these are all name brands I remember from my childhood… on the backs and feet of my classmates, not myself. My clothes were tasteful and practical –  but definitely not branded or flashy. Like any other kid, I desperately wanted FUBU – but as an adult who works in advertising and knows the hustle, I am so grateful she spent that money on encyclopedias and dial-up Internet instead. I feel like adults are being duped when they pose in a way that expertly reveals the bright signature red bottoms of Loubotins or hold a purse that strategically places the Louis Vuitton logo front and center as if the brand was paying them to be a billboard. Why pay a premium to advertise some stranger’s brand?! Isn’t this backwards? (And now I sound judgey so I’m still not my mom yet… #imworkingonit)

On Family It’s natural to disagree and fight, but outside of our house – it’s your family versus everybody else. I have been suspended once. My sister and I got into a fight on the school bus. The principal called my mother to inform her that we were being suspended. I remember her saying “Well who where they fighting and why?” When the principal shared, “Ah… each other” the silence that followed was so loud my ears burned. For her, fighting is bad.  But fighting your sister is an unspeakable crime. The day we were suspended was a day we spent priming and staining the largest fence of all time and we haven’t fought since. Even now the smell of primer gives me a back ache.  

On Forgiveness - People will not deserve it. Give it anyway. You’ll likely need the same favor. My mother has this uncanny way of letting you know that she is on your side, while gently helping you to see things from a different perspective that allows for grace. I can’t tell you how many conversations sound like this:
Me: Mom, you won’t BELIEVE what she said! And then she had the nerve to….!”
Mom: Now that is crazy. Mmph. Mmph. Mmm. She definitely was out of line. You know, maybe this is new for her and she’s just trying to get acclimated. Give it a few days, then invite her over for dessert. Anyone that acts like that needs our prayer and some ice cream.

Some of my bestest friendships have been saved by my mother’s diplomacy. Maybe we should send her to Syria.

On Forevers. Last summer, I was sitting in the back seat with my mother, her husband and my (then boyfriend now fiancé) were in the front, and we were headed to the airport back to LA after a great family vacation. My mom nodded in Eskias’ direction, waited a beat and then she said: “You did good.” My parents’ marriage didn’t work out, but my mother didn’t give up on love. Despite experiencing heart break I can’t even begin to describe, she somehow found a way to open her heart, accept love and surrender 100% to it. She is a living example that the last love of your life can overcome the failed first (and let’s be honest, the second and third one and so forth).

That’s all I got for now because I’m still working on sharing and I’m already upset that people feel the need to call her Auntie and Mom. I can be territorial.

What lessons have you learned from your parents? Are you becoming more and more like them every day?  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

I Love You Even If...

“I love you.” Those special words are often the climax of a rom-com or the ones we desperately want to hear from a family member. I was (and still am) fortunate to hear it from both of my parents often, but my mom’s "I love you" is different than my dad’s.

To give you an idea of the kind of mother I have, here’s an example. Several years ago, while going through TSA at an airport, an agent pulled me aside and said, “Excuse me miss, are you Lil Kim?” I shook my head in horror until he clarified “I mean, are you Kimmie’s daughter? She told me you were coming to the airport, showed me your picture and told me that I should take care of you.” And that’s how I got a bottle of lotion onto a cross country flight in my carry-on bag. When my mother says “I love you” it’s a warm confirmation of what she’s already proven with emergency Western Union transfers, non-judgmental advice, a short stint at Waffle House so we could have a great Christmas, and yes… a TSA hookup.

With my dad, it’s a little more complicated. When my parents divorced, my dad pretty much dropped off the map, only to reemerge during holidays, summer vacations and special events. My mother would do the hard work of schlepping me to track practice, drama rehearsal, Upward Bound meetings, and my dad would show up for the graduation and say “I love you!” I know that he means it, but it means something different than when my mother says it.

Bob Goff, a great author/speaker wrote a book called “Love Does.” In short, Goff’s philosophy is that “Love doesn’t just think about it, love doesn’t just plan it, love does it.” My mom gets that. My dad’s more of a work in progress.

After the horrible shooting in Orlando where 49 people were killed at a gay club, I heard those words and over again from both sides of the political spectrum, “We love you Orlando. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

What does it mean when someone who has stood by your side, rallied for you, sacrificed for you, defended you (even when you didn’t deserve it) says I love you? It’s the icing on the cake, but in reality, you knew it already. It’s easy to accept.

But how about when the person saying “I love you” has also deeply hurt you, ignored you, dismissed you, or even unintentionally failed to consider you? What does it mean when someone says “I love you” and you know there’s an unspoken “but I can’t attend your wedding, because I don’t believe in that... I love you but I would rather you express your love or affection behind closed doors because it makes me uncomfortable… “

So this is the part where I should launch into an attack on anyone opposed to marriage equality, or anyone in favor of bathroom assignments that discriminate against the transgender community, and excoriate all the politicians who are saying “We love you Orlando” while refusing to vote on gun control, right?


I’ve been down that road before. I’ve crafted arguments that rail against conservatives believing that my pen will “surely show them.” I still believe there’s a place for passionate political opinions, even within my faith! I strongly believe Jesus is the prototype of a social justice activist. But if I’m rallying against folks for failing to show that “love does”, all while failing to embody love in my approach, doesn’t that me a hypocrite?

Probably one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn is: Just because you are right, doesn’t mean you are loving.”

Jesus doesn’t call us to “Win as many arguments as you can so that you can win souls for me.”
He says:
“In everything, treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” Matthew 7:12
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39
“Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you were doing it for me.” Matthew 25:40

Here’s the other thing about “winning” arguments…. It rarely converts anyone; more often than not, you just end up with an injured friendship, on someone’s “blocked” list, and now they’ve decided that not only do they disagree with you; they think you’re a jerk.

So today, I commit to the challenging version of “I love you” which isn’t “I love you but…” It is “I love you even if…”
I love you even if we disagree.
I love you even if I think giving more people guns is ridiculous.
I love you even if you don’t always call when you should.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t hold people accountable; it doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to engage in a spirited debate. It does mean you have to consider the goal. Are you trying to win? Is your approach loving? Have you considered that you can likely do a better job of swaying someone by the way you live YOUR life? Loving by doing isn’t just right; it’s effective! Most opponents to marriage equality aren’t softened by a long-winded Facebook comment. They get to know a cousin whose partner of 20 years provides a model of love.

With an election this year, I don’t know how successful I’ll be at this, “Love does” approach, but I’ll try. Will you join me?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

I Choose Chipotle (I'm With Her)

Way back when, during the era of Bush II, I was a college student, hungry for cheap, filling food that didn't induce the deep feelings of shame and guilt I got from scarfing down McDonald's fries. A good friend recommended "this Mexican spot with really good burritos where you get to pick the toppings"... a selling point he knew would work for me as I am pickier than an 8 year old with a nostril full of boogers. And that was how I met Chipotle. Ah... the golden age of Chipotle. It was bright, inviting, and my palette was too immature and uncultured to know that I wasn't eating authentic Mexican food. "Barbacoa" sounded exotic and the price was almost too good for a student eking it out on a scholarship and part time waitressing job to believe. Plus... it tasted amazing. Before I knew it, I was following up late night study sessions with two burritos. Yes, I said it... two burritos. Like I said... this was the golden age. 

Taqueria Habanero - Washington, DC, United States. From clockwise:   Shrimp... 11a Chicken... 1p Beef Tongue... 3p Canitas w/pineapple... 6p Al pastor... 9p

Then I got older, a little more worldly, tried other things, and I realized... Chipotle is not as perfect as I initially thought. There are lots of other options - many that are much more authentic, with more exciting ingredients. I discovered new, revolutionary options like food trucks and Groupon and Chipotle got a backseat.

I still visited Chipotle when I needed something tried and true; I just didn't get the same high I used to get. 

And then, years after our first dalliance, Chipotle dropped the ball. It started out as a little trickle - a few restaurants were making people sick. And then it became a full blown outbreak and by the time it was over, hundreds of folks were affected. It was bad. Real bad. I avoided Chipotle long after the "all clear" was given. I just didn't trust Chipotle. 

Fast forward to 2016. My office hosted a Cinco de Mayo party, catered by... you guessed it Chipotle. It was hard to push the virus to the back of my mind, but I realized I had two (free) choices: Either the cup of noodles stash in the cafeteria or the free trays of warm tortillas, flavored chicken, and various salsas. Technically, I could have taken a third option and gone out and purchased food elsewhere, but the two major choices in front of me were Cup of Noodles or slightly untrustworthy, but steaming and familiar Chipotle. What should I do?

I chose Chipotle.

And that's why #ImWithHer.

In case the analogy hasn't hit you yet... 

The first time I really heard Hillary speak in person was in 2004 at the Women's Right March in Washington, DC. You may not believe this, but in 2004, 2004 YA'LL!, when Hillary stepped up to the podium, the crowds of women chanted "Hillary for President! Hilary for President!" By then, she'd been an advocate for progressive causes, she was a well-liked Senator, women's rights advocate, and had persevered in spite of her husband's horrific scandal in a way that even 20 year old me knew was admirable.

But by the time 07 rolled around, I had been introduced to other potential candidates, namely Senator Barack Obama. Sure, Hillary was a good choice, but Barack was a better choice. He did more than get the job done, he did it well, and with an engaging smile. Hillary became the fallback (or ahh the Secretary of State) -  just like Chipotle. And then she dropped the ball, a few times to be honest. She bungled through the Benghazi ordeal (although all things considered, she can't be blamed for someone else's terrorism), she used her personal email instead of her work email (I've done this one too), and along the way, she's said a few things that really just... weren't her best work (e.g. the super predator controversy). But let's keep it real. When all is said and done, you can still count on Hillary to get it done.

Hillary is not charismatic. Hillary is not warm. Hillary is not friendly. But Hillary is...

Experienced. A proven public servant. Smart. The diplomat we need. And she agrees with Senator Sanders on just about everything. I don't need to read you her resume; you know it. 

There's too much at stake for us to choose the Drumpf of Noodles over Hillary this go-round (or worse... throw a temper tantrum and vote for no one or a candidate whose math doesn't add up.)

For the sake of our country's future, we should have steak (I'm looking at you Elizabeth Warren), but if I can't afford that, I'll at least take the Chipotle steak bowl. 

And now I'm hungry. 

P.S. Sanders fanatics ruin my appetite. If you stand with Bernie on the issues, then you're with her too, whether you know it or not. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

That Time I Got Handcuffed In Front of My Office

I was really hesitant to share this story, because it includes a lot of personal details, and also... it was just an embarrassing incident that I would rather pretend never happened. But that is selfish and it makes the incident about me, and ignores that this is a symptom of a bigger problem. Transparency is an important step in recognizing patterns, trends and finding solutions.

So, below is the letter (with some edits) that I wrote to Officer K. Munoz, Badge #17713 of the California Highway Patrol. Upfront, I want to acknowledge that I made a mistake by not paying my parking tickets on time. Don't do that, folks.

Thank you all for reading and allowing me to share. 


On March 23rd, for the first time in my 30 years, I was handcuffed by you, for reasons I’m still unclear on.
If you look closely, you can see me in my oversized
City Year uniform

Before I explain the purpose of this letter, I'd like to provide some background. In 2007, when I
graduated from college, I moved to Los Angeles to be a teacher in Watts as part of an Americorps program called City Year. From August 2007 to June 2008, in exchange for my voluntary service I received a complimentary Tap Pass which allowed me to ride LA Metro at no cost.

After my year of service, in June 2008, I moved back to DC to teach at a summer program and I ended up staying until August 2012 when I returned to Los Angeles for graduate school at USC. While in graduate school, I worked part time as a courier, delivering meals and items to busy LA centers, and in the process, I racked up six parking tickets - tickets I was unable to pay at the time. To make a long story short, I ended up building up a $1400 bill in car registration fees as well as escalated parking tickets which had in many cases quadrupled in cost.

As a graduate student in Los Angeles, I couldn't really afford that but I scrounged up the money and wrote a check. Days later, I was in an accident with an uninsured driver and was forced to pay a sizable fee to get my car fixed, causing my check to bounce. It wasn't until recently when I gained full time employment that I was in a position to comfortably pay that fee. I mailed a money order to Sacramento even though I knew it would take 6-8 weeks for them to process. It was a risk to allow for that gap and it was absolutely a mistake not to go to the DMV instead. I take full responsibility for that. My failure to pay everything in a timely manner led me to our encounter, but how you chose to address this issue is the reason for this letter. 

When you pulled me over directly in front of my place of employment, I wasn't sure what to expect. Several people in my family are police officers and my cousin is in the South Carolina Highway Patrol. They are all decent, kind people and have never given me any reason to doubt the professional nature of the work that you all do.  Many people I know have shared less than favorable experiences with police officers, but I assumed those officers were just a few bad apples and that most officers treat people with dignity, and respect. I still believe that.

Photo of me at USC, not with parking tickets,
 but with a voting application
Nevertheless, I do not believe that respectful is a good way to characterize my experience with you. I am not a lawyer, so I don't know if what you did was illegal, but it certainly wasn't in line with the "protect and serve" mantra I am familiar with.

Without providing any reasons, you told me to step out of my car so that you could talk to me by your vehicle. I politely asked you why I needed to leave my vehicle. I had never been asked that before, I hadn't committed any crime that I was aware of, and I was also directly in front of my office watching my coworkers walk in, growing more and more humiliated by the moment. You yelled, barked and at various points told me "Because I said so!... You're interrupting my investigation... This is my jurisdiction now!... Get. Out. Of. The. Car!... You are getting on my last nerve. Stop asking me questions! Just stop talking!"

Then, you opened my car door, and out of the blue, told me there was a warrant for my arrest and made me stand outside of my vehicle, all while yelling at me, explaining nothing. When I asked why, you refused to tell me. Finally you revealed that my car was being towed and you would not even allow me to sit down to write down the towing information. Then you handcuffed me, still not explaining what the alleged warrant was about until later. You told me that in August 2008, I had been ticketed for fare evasion on LA Metro. This is impossible as I was no longer living in Los Angeles - I was 3000 miles away in our nation's capital. Moreover, when I did live in LA, I had a tap pass. This made no sense. You were hostile, unnecessarily loud, careless (You actually said "I don't care!" when I mentioned that I was being polite and I was unsure of why you were yelling at me.)

Eventually, you said "I'll do you a favor and I won't book you if you just sign these tickets here and agree to appear in court to clear up this train fare evasion." At this point, I was a crying, sniffling mess and I couldn't even talk. I just signed it so that I could get away from you. I'll be honest, you scared me. I had no idea what you were going to do. It is a scary thing when someone is repeatedly asking you to do things without justification and they have a gun and you do not.

As I mentioned, I am not a lawyer, but I am a human being. I know what it is like to be treated with respect and what it is like to be treated unfairly. I also know that the latter is not good policing. It creates distrust and fear in the community, which isn't good for anyone. I still believe in the general goodness of peace officers, highway patrol and police officers. But from now on, when people share their bad experiences with the police, I will be unable to say "I can't relate."

Also, this bad experience didn't end with our actual interaction. The following day, I went to the address you provided to get a release form for my vehicle from the Highway Patrol. They told me that their office doesn't handle that, so I spent an additional hour going to the correct office.

Then, after perusing the two court dates you provided, I realized you had scheduled them for the exact same date and time - one in Compton and one in Culver City. I don't know if the experience that you provided for me was unique, but it is obviously impossible for me to be at two places at the same time. You set me up for failure and a possible opportunity to miss a court date and cause a future arrest. Thankfully, the kind CHP officers on Bristol Highway explained to me how to change one of the court dates.

I sincerely hope that the way you spoke to me and treated me was an anomaly. I hope it is not often that you handcuff people with expired registrations. I hope it is not often that you yell at citizens for asking simple questions well within their legal right. But if it is often, I hope that you change course.  When we all treat each other well, everyone benefits. It makes the community safer for both you and me. In the interest of transparency, I will be sharing my experience (and this letter) with others.

All the best Officer K Muñoz,

Crystal Marie

P.S. The silver lining here is that my colleagues had a good laugh discussing how the new employee who doesn’t even drink alcohol managed to get handcuffed directly in front of the office. I am grateful that this experience didn’t end differently -with the image of a woman of color in handcuffs perpetuating a pervasive stereotype in our society. Others have not been as fortunate as I was.