There is a mentally unstable woman roaming the halls of the local Marriott hotel. She is not a guest of the hotel and is walking around with no shoes on in the early morning. The police arrive and the find the woman. They bring her to the lobby and gently talk to her. There were originally two officers, but one has left because they do not deem this woman to be that much of a threat. It seems that the police have called relatives of the woman and the relatives are on the way to pick her up from the hotel. While they are waiting, the officer patiently instructs the woman to stay in one area. The woman decides she wants food and drink from the café, ignores the directions and goes to the café counter…he follows her. She then prepares to order beverages freely, she even tells the officer to pay for it. He does not. I sip my tea.
She begins interacting with the few guests who are up early for breakfast. The officer politely tells her to stop bothering guests. She finally decides she is ready to sit down. The officer carries her beverage to the table as he follows behind her. I’m getting pissed. Over the next few minutes, she continues to disobey orders politely made by the officer and he continues to have the utmost patience with her.
Ultimately her nephew comes to pick her up, he and the officer talk, she gets in the car and drive off.
The whole time I watched this show of restraint from Officer Nick Klein of the Carrollton, GA Police Department, I imagined how different this would have been if the woman looked like me. If this was a brown or black woman, would Officer Klein have had the patience he showed with this woman today? Every time he said something patiently or carried a beverage, or carried her belongings I got more and more upset.
As I looked around at the staff of the Marriott who were also witnessing this, all African American women at the time, we exchanged looks. The looks said, “Can you believe this?” “If this was one of us….”
Once the officer walked out of the building, one of the staff members took the words out of my mouth. “If she looked like you or me, she would have been cuffed and in the back of the police car.”
She then explained to me that the woman had checked out of the hotel two days prior and had been hanging around the hotel. The woman followed a hotel guest to her room, asked if she could come in, when the guest declined the woman because to curse at her. That was the action that warranted a police call.
Understand, my dad has been in law enforcement for more than 40 years. I have only known him to wear a uniform, carry a badge and gun while protecting and serving. I say that to say, I do not hate police officers, I can’t.
Nonetheless. This whole scenario did not sit well with me.
After getting some of the back story from the hotel staff and others in the lobby, I felt compelled to talk to the officer. I needed to know why he was so patient with her? I needed him to know how it made me feel, as a black woman, to know that things would not have gone down that way if it were me. In my mind, he needed to know what the scenario looked like and how it affected many of the people in the hotel.
I waited until he was done with his business and said “Officer! Can I speak with you for a second.” He stopped in his tracks and said “Yes, what’s up?”
As I slowly walked over, making sure there was nothing threatening about me, I formulated my line of questions for Officer Klein. I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to say and exactly how I wanted it to come across. His actions were unexplainable, unfair and hurt others and me.
Me: I have questions
Klein: Ok, what are your questions…
Me: Maybe it is because I am emotional right now, or maybe because I know the history in America, but I don’t understand how or why you were so patient with that woman. [Rambling] My dad is a cop, I appreciate officers and what you are challenged to do, but I just don’t get it, and I just need to know
Klein: (Patiently) Would you like a little more back-story on what you witnessed?
Me: Yes…I guess
Klein: (summary) The woman had an issue last night with the police, he had sort of an idea of what he was dealing with upon arrival.
Me: (in my mind) ohhhhh well that’s all the more reason she should have been in cuffs….sounds like a second offense to me! (in my mind)
Klein: The reality is, I have special training that allows me to identify when a person has mental issues versus drug or alcohol abuse. It allows me to determine when an individual is more of a danger to him or herself, versus the public. In this case, it was very clear, this was a mental issue.
Me: That’s all good, but if she were ME, I would have been in the back of your truck!
**It was in that moment when I realized, I was angry about the wrong thing. Stop and think, I was literally mad at a man for showing a person patience. My anger was highly misdirected. In that moment, I realized I was actually mad that ALL police officers did not show the patience that Officer Klein did. The solution was not for Officer Klein to throw that woman in jail, the solution was for all officers to adapt to the style of Officer Klein and treat ALL people, especially when there is an apparent mental illness, with patience.
Back to the conversation
Klein: I can tell you 100% if that woman was black or brown and in the same predicament, the story would have ended the same way. Our department has been trained to recognize mental issues and how to handle them.
That whole scenario was so eye opening to me regarding the way we look at the world. After reflecting on the issue, I was disappointed in the fact that, it would have made me feel better to see the officer use a taser and handcuffs on that woman. I wanted equality. But I think the equality should come in the form of all officers behaving like Officer Klein versus Officer Klein acting like many of the officers we see in social media and on the television.
I think in many ways we need to change our perception and look at what is right before looking at what is fair, then make what is fair the right course of action.