It is my distinct pleasure to share with you an article recently written by civil rights activist and leader, Tara Golden. Tara has spent years working tirelessly for her fellow citizens, cis-, trans, straight, or rainbow. She's recently relocated from Sacramento to Portland; California's loss, but Oregon's gain.
Arrested for crimes most dire:
A concerned citizen faces a law establishment that protects the criminal.
By Tara Golden
“He said, "Shut up, kid. Get in the back of the patrol car."
And that's what we did, sat in the back of the patrol car and drove to the quote Scene of the Crime unquote. I want tell you about the town of Stockbridge, Massachusets, where this happened here, they got three stop signs, two police officers, and one police car, but when we got to the Scene of the Crime there was five police officers and three police cars, being the biggest crime of the last fifty years, and everybody wanted to get in the newspaper story about it. And they was using up all kinds of cop equipment that they had hanging around the police officer's station. They was taking plaster tire tracks, foot prints, dog smelling prints, and they took twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us. Took pictures of the approach, the getaway, the northwest corner the southwest corner and that's not to mention the aerial photography.”
From Alice’s Restaurant By Arlo Guthrie
“I was arrested today.” That is one of those phrases that one simply has to provide a back-story as a necessary follow up. People’s expressions when you utter that phrase are invariably of the eye-brow lifted type that say… aaaand…? Their expressions are bound to be even more demanding of an explanation if they know me – the person uttering that phrase in this circumstance. You see, more often than not it is I who have been DOING the arresting, not the one being arrested. I was once the Coordinator of a street safety team called the Lavender Angels, which was a volunteer team that patrolled the streets in order to prevent crime and make the area we worked in safer. And after that brief stint I went on to be a Guardian Angel, performing the same sort of duties, but with more diligence, backing and vigor. I also carry a level III guard card, and am trained in security, apprehension and the law. So, for me to get arrested… well, that must have a story behind it! It does, and it also has a moral to the story… but let me start with the story.
Not too long ago I had the distinct pleasure to work with an Assembly Woman here in the California Capitol on providing a safety and self-defense course for the women who work in the Capitol, who sometimes leave in the wee hours of the morning during a long session. I met this Assembly Woman after she asked me to testify for a bill that would allow hate crimes to be one of the “special circumstances” considered in the California CCW (concealed weapon) licensing process. I was called to testify for her bill before the assembly because her Chief of Staff was a woman I had been friends for years had been brutally mugged and it was I she called to assist her when the police did not show up. It was my distinct honor to have had the strange series of circumstances in my life that led to my being able to help her, both to testify for this bill and afterwards to help organize this self-defense course.
Anyone who knows Sacramento, and the area that surrounds the Capitol, will understand that it is not necessarily a place that a woman in heels and a business suit wants to spend much time after dark. Especially in this era of drastic cuts to public safety programs. So, when presented with the opportunity to help foster this series of classes for this specific demographic, I jumped at the opportunity… knowing that it was needed.
It took months of planning and hard work to get these classes together, of which the majority of the heavy lifting was managed by the trainers we selected and the amazing women that worked for this assembly woman who sponsored this series of classes. Both the Assembly Woman and I were leaving this area, and this was to be our big last parting gift to the community that we had grown to care about. But eventually the day came.
We gave the women who attended a folder with useful information in it and a kitty-cat key-chain (which we will return to in a moment). And, I am happy to say that the courses were brilliantly done by the trainers who helped us, and everyone seemed to go home empowered and a little safer. Big success, right? At least that’s how it felt immediately after the courses… right up until today’s events.
So I became friends with the lovely ladies in the Assembly Woman’s office. One of them I had been friends with for quite a few years, and the others I was just learning to adore. From the Assembly Woman herself all the way down through her staff, they were all wonderful people I was proud to call my friends.
As I’m getting ready to leave California for opportunities out of state, I decided to stop by and say farewell to my friends in the office. Seemed like a harmless thing to do. How could that turn out badly? Just some laughs, a little light conversation, possibly a hug or two, and off I go…
Aaand then I went to go through the Security gate at the entrance. I took out my laptop, and put my shoulder bag in the gray bin, and that’s when the trouble started.
Instead of my shoulder bag going through the conveyor belt x-ray machine, the Security Officer put it on top of the machine. Hmmm, I thought… that’s odd… oh well. I walked through the scanning archway after removing my rivet-ridden belt and started to gather my things that had passed through the x-ray machine and put myself and my bags back together.
“Sir, you can’t take this into the building.”
“Ummm… excuse me?”
“This (holding up the bright pink kitty key-chain fob) cannot go in the building.”
“Oh (little chuckle) that? That is something from a self-defense course we taught here”
Officer does not smile. “Sir, I do not care, you cannot take this in.” Proceeds to pull my kitty fob off my huge collection of keys dangling from my shoulder-bag’s strap and put it in a little manila envelope. “sign here” he gruffly says pointing to a blank line on the envelope beneath other lines full of signatures.
“Okay” I was still smiling… the girls in the office were gonna love this one! I signed, gathered up the rest of my belongings and took off, leaving my bright pink kitty key-chain fob in the manila envelope, on top of the machine designed to keep bombs and guns out of the Capitol.
I went upstairs and told the women in the office about it, and we all did a mutual eye-roll about it before we went on to other topics. After a short visit I thought I would let the women get back to whatever they were doing. The Chief of Staff, my long-time friend, and one of the other women, said they would go down with me to have a cigarette after I got my kitty back.
So we walked up to the unsmiling man with the manila envelope next to him on the machine… designed to keep dangerous weapons such as guns and bombs out of the Capitol, and I went to retrieve my key-chain. Immediately there was a Highway Patrol officer there to tell me, in harsh terms that this kitty was a felony weapon… as two more officers approached from the front of me…
Alarm bells went off in my head. Seriously? This must be a joke… but the officers were definitely not smiling.
And so I found myself escorted into a small room just behind the entrance. Once there I was motioned towards a lone, hard, wooden chair, and the harranging began. The main officer was livid. His hands were shaking and he was telling me how I was “going to jail for at least ten years,” “there was no one who could help me out of this one…” that sort of thing. And more officers came into the room… and I was surrounded by men in those tight khaki uniforms glaring down at me… the monster that had invaded their turf… this heinous criminal… who dared to bring a pink, plastic kitty into the sacred halls of the Capitol.
Yes… it is funny. Even then, sitting in that seat seeing my freedom drifting away from me, I was thinking how hilarious it really all was. It was almost too much when I started hearing Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” in my head. But laughing right then would not have been a wise decision. No, the blonde Highway Patrol who had collared me and was angrily spouting dire futures for me, would not have appreciated the humor of the moment… And so, Alice’s Restaurant played on in my head and I struggled against both laughing at the absurdity of the moment and the horrible reality of my fate.
And then, after what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes, my savior appeared. My savior this time was a tall, chiseled-face Highway Patrol officer that the rest deferred to, making him some sort of brass level in the Patrol hierarchy. He asked the other officers to step outside with him, leaving me sitting there alone… at Alice’s Restaurant.
And then he came in with the rest of them in tow, including the blonde man who did not cotton to me much at all… and he smiled at me. It was like angels sang at that moment. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, maybe… and Officer “Clint Eastwood could be my stunt double” was going to be my Virgil and lead me out of this nightmare!
And he proceeded to tell me that it had been a misunderstanding, and that we would work this all out in a few minutes.
And then he left the room, leaving behind a sullen blonde officer and an officer in a bike helmet. And they proceeded to print me out the law that covers plastic kitty key-chains which had eye-holes that were made to fit fingers and and sharp little pointy ears that could deliver a mean punch (essentially a really cute pair of plastic “brass knuckles”) and fill out paper-work which is a part of any police transaction… and Mr blondie told me that it “was lucky for me I knew people.”
And so it was that I walked out of the Capitol building, escorted by Highway Patrol officers (whom I had stood in front of when they were threatened by a mob during a particularly raucous Capitol protest) minus my bright pink kitty key ring… but free… and shaken… and underneath that… somewhere deep inside… deeply angry.
And as I walked home, and felt the adrenaline drain out of my body, I got angrier… because I heard the rest of the news. A call had gone out to all the Capitol, all the women who had gone to our Self-Defense class… that they had to turn in all their Kitty-Cat key-chains or face felony charges.
And as I walked I got angrier. I got angrier because of who I am. I am an out transsexual, who has spent hundreds and hundreds of hours volunteering trying to keep the citizens of my city safe both as a Lavender Angel and as a Guardian Angel. And now, I was thrown out of the capitol, after being threatened and nearly being charged with a felony for carrying an item to protect myself. And why did I start doing this volunteer work, this effort to keep my community safe? Because someone like me was violently murdered in my town, and another one of my sisters’ body was unceremoniously dumped not far from my town… because they were like me. I got angry because I was a law abiding citizen… except for carrying pink kitty cat key-fobs, and I was labeled a criminal for trying to protect myself from a world where far too many people would just as soon see me harmed or even killed.
And I got angry because of those hundred plus women that were now turning in their kitty cat key fobs. In a world where nearly 25% of women will, or have already been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives; in a world where criminals carry guns and knives and other implements of violence as a matter of course, and prey upon the weak and vulnerable… where our police forces have been cut to the bone and fight a valiant, although losing, fight against crime in our streets; some law-maker thought it was a good idea to add little plastic kitty key-chains to a long list of self-defense items that are a felony to carry. Now, these women are going to leave work tonight with one less tool they could use if they were ever faced with the horrible demand to protect themselves from criminals which are out to hurt them.
Why do we have these laws banning these items of self-defense? The officer told me that it was so that they do not fall into the hands of criminals… oh, pardon my French, but bullshit! Those criminals carry guns and knives and saps and other weapons that would put a little kitty key-chain to shame. And criminals don’t care about laws… they are criminals after all! It is law abiding citizens these laws seek to punish. These laws simply protect the criminal from those who would defend themselves. These laws assure the criminals that us law-abiding citizens are always going to be defenseless and easy to prey upon. Officer blondie had the gall to say that “the only weapon a woman needs is a good pair of tennis shoes.” And, if she can’t run, if she is cornered or suddenly grabbed from a dark hiding place?… well, sorry for ya sista… but we can’t have you being able to protect yourself… you might actually hurt a violent criminal, and then where would we be?
I’ve known rape victims. I’ve had people I love with those deep wounds behind their eyes and haunting their nightmares, and I wish to God they had had some weapon on them. I wish they had had some implement of destruction on them that could have stopped what happened to them. I wish they had had a way to hurt their attackers… mortally if necessary, if only to have spared them that horrible, evil crime. Or I wish I had been there… to protect them, with a weapon or with my bare hands against the monsters that violated them and stole from them the light in their eyes. I would gladly face a hundred felony charges if I could spare one person from being a victim of that horrible crime.
But we are not concerned with victims in this country… we are more concerned with protecting criminals. We discourage citizens fighting back against crime, and forbid them from arming themselves to protect against being preyed upon, we have people film criminals being arrested… to stop any discomfort they might experience and make sure that their rights are protected to the letter, we have sharp defense attorneys defend them in court pleading that the criminals are the victims and those they prey upon somehow are the true criminals who should be tried, and finally, we have people who plead for lenient sentences and protest their incarceration… because they are not being treated fairly.
But just so my meaning is clear, I was never mad at the Police Officers. Police Officers enforce the laws, they do not write them, or get to choose what laws they enforce. They merely have the unenviable job of trying to keep our country lawful and do their best to protect the citizens of our cities and rural places. They don’t do it for the money, they don’t do it for some sort of high regard… they do it because it needs to be done. They face shrinking budgets and staffs and still do their best to face a public who despises them but still expects them to protect society against crafty, ruthless criminals that are the darkest side of humanity. They face this darkness every day and still find it in them to believe in law and order and our American system. They face injury or death as a part of their jobs, and yet… rarely are they thanked for it. And should ever a person behind the badge snap and give in to the darkness that they face every day… they all are painted with the failings of that one police officer. No, I do not fault those behind the badge, even the blonde cop who played the heavy with such a convincing skill. I look up to those men and women who have the courage to wear the badge, because I know it is something that I do not the strength to contemplate. It’s not the police I am angry with, it is the lawmakers that push these insane bills through our legislative process and also the whole atmosphere in America that sympathizes with the criminal instead of the victim.
How have we come to this? How have we come to the place where we are upside-down in our legal system like this? How have we come to the place where a pink, plastic, kitty cat designed to protect oneself has a higher mandatory sentence than an actual act of violence against an innocent victim? How have we come to a place where we can have a law officer say that women should only carry “good running shoes” as a means to protect herself? How can we make self-defensive weapons illegal when offensive weapons are so prevalent? How can we say to our sisters and daughters and sons and friends and loved ones that the rights of a criminal to prey upon them are more important than their right to defend themselves?
When pink plastic kitty cats create this much of a tempest in a teapot… we find ourselves truly down the rabbit-hole, in a strange world where people are given the right to prey upon others, but people are punished for trying to defend themselves. A strange world indeed.