Police Encounters #2: Voiceless
At the age of 29 I worked as a clinician for the Westside Community Mental Health Assertive Community Treatment Program, serving 100 of the top 400 San Francisco men and women suffering from extreme forms of mental health impairment. I had already graduated with my Masters in Counseling, with specializations in Marriage and Family Therapy and School Counseling, and I was working on my doctorate at the University of San Francisco. Additionally I was preaching twice a week at my home Uptown church of Christ congregation and the other two weeks preached somewhere in the Bay Area or California.On one particular bright sunny day, one of our Black male clients was having a psychotic episode and we received word that he physically assaulted and battered the church custodian behind the clinic and was headed our way. Our clinic was located at the corner of 888 Turk street, cross street Golf.
One of our co-workers was pregnant and we did not want to risk any inappropriate contact. We contacted the police for a potential 51/50, and once the client arrived I casually took him outside and we just talked as if nothing was going on. My client was African American and we were approximately the same age. We stood on the corner – leaned up against the clinic side-wall, engaged in small talk. I knew the police and paramedics would be arriving soon to assess him, but I did not want my client agitated. For his protection and safety I did not tell him the police were in route for him, fearing the situation would result in a foot chase. I knew a chase could be a bad or even fatal situation. My ultimate goal was to make this a smooth transition so my client would be safe, no longer clinically presenting as a danger to himself or others.
As we stood outside the officer approached the scene in his patrol car. There was one white officer – no partner. Now that the officer had arrived, I still did not want to vocally announce, “Here he is officer.” Again, out of my fear and for his safety I did not want my client to run. My client was externally calm (practically presenting with a flat affect), but still struggling through psychosis and internal anxiety. In this moment my psyche put me on the same team as the officer; my assumption was that we had the same goal, the safety of my client.
Just before the officer exited his vehicle, I strategically made direct eye contact with him and in non-verbal subtle fashion — I motioned my head twice in the direction of my client, attempting to inform him that my client was the one.
The tall white officer exited his vehicle and swiftly started moving towards me. In absolute disbelief I started slowly backing away as he moved closer and closer, asking for my name and ID. Now I did not want to run and be tackled by the officer. Rapidly and in real-time I was trying to find the balance between self-advocacy, self-protection, respect, and compliance. Although the officer asked for my ID, I was hesitant to reach for my wallet, but I did. Within seconds I was cuffed and tossed in the back of the car. My client never moved from the wall, and was now watching me behind the glass of the backseat squad car.
I continually told the officer, “It’s not me, why am I in the back of the car handcuffed.” Although speaking, in that moment I was voiceless, my voice meant nothing. I went to work that morning, just to find myself in the back of a police car cuffed tightly 90 minutes later. It was not until my white co-worker and clinical supervisor came outside screaming at the officer, “Why is he in the car?” that he opened the door, released the cuffs, and eventually returned my wallet. Aside from him asking for my name and ID, I do not recall him saying one word, and clearly no apology.
I was so humiliated and upset, I ended up in tears of frustration. My voice and self-advocacy meant nothing. My co-worker and friend Keidra tried to calm me and eventually I just got in my car and drove home.
Stay tuned, Police Encounters #3-5 occurred shortly after this incident.