I walked the Safeway on SW 10th and Jefferson on Monday to buy some pepitas and salsa verde for the enchiladas I was making. I walked by the doors on the corner and saw a man being held down by a Safeway security guard. People were gathered around outside, whispering to one another. I overheard something about a knife.
I went in through the doors on the other side of the store, grabbed a basket, and grocery shopped over the yells of the two men on the ground. I gathered that the man being held down by the security guard had be caught shoplifting.
The cops showed up. I made my way over to the scene. I think there were about five, and they were pinning the man to the ground. They stayed very calm as they handcuffed him, and did their job as well as they could. The man was yelling that he thought they were breaking his arm. The man next to me was filming. “They don’t even have a fucking medic?” he said.
A Safeway employee asked me to leave. “I think I’ll just stay here,” I said.
“We don’t want to draw a crowd,” she said.
“Really, I’ll stay out of the way. Just want to keep an eye on things.” She was flustered and walked away.
But maybe she was right and I should have walked away. Was my watching any help?
And at what point should I have interceded? He was screaming that they were breaking his arm.
Trying to figure out how to bear witness without gawking.
Trying to figure out how to stand in spaces where I’m not supposed to, and make people feel a holy discomfort. To let people know they are being watched, that they will be held accountable.
Trying to see people the people who we push off to the sides of our cities, where the streets bleed out into freeways.
But maybe I’m up on my high horse. Maybe I’m full of shit.
How heartbreaking is it that five adult men pinning down a person who needs food, a person experiencing a mental health crisis is seen as normal. We can’t see how violent that is because the man being pinned down stole something. He did something wrong, (or something that seems wrong, or violates a norm). The police though, they followed their code of conduct.
How heartbreaking is it that a man was pinned down by five other men after taking food, taking something he has a right to, and we consider that a lucky outcome.
He started spitting and they covered his face in a mesh bag. He was wheeled out on a stretcher.
I don’t know what to do, but I want to tell his story and hold him in the light. I hope you’ll hold him in the light too.
What do you do when you witness a person who’s part of a vulnerable population in an altercation with the police? Please let me know best practices. ❤