I’m sitting in the back of a police car on my way to Brooklyn Central Booking after spending a night in the 77th precinct in Crown Heights. Cop sitting on the front passenger side, barely turns to me as he sweetly chides, “You know what your problem is, Piper? You think too much.”
I was struck by the familiarity with which he said my name. I frowned and looked at him closely for a moment, trying to place his face. Certain that I didn’t know him, I replied, “Actually, I think the problem is most people don’t think enough.”
The night before I was at a fundraiser held at the prison abolition organization, Critical Resistance, with other artists and activists. It was months before the 2003 Republican National Convention and police presence on Atlantic Avenue near the Critical Resistance offices had recently been ramped up.
Just before midnight, two cops arrived in plain clothes demanding to enter the space. Their entry was blocked as we invoked our rights and told them they could not enter. After the cops pulled one person out onto the street, we began to spill out onto the sidewalk to witness and question the arrest. Next, I remember a chemical agent sprayed into my eyes. Everything went black. Within seconds the entire block was filled with police cars. Next, I remember being on my hands and knees as three officers slammed their fists and batons into my head, neck, and back. A patch of hair was ripped from my head. Above me, I could hear an officer repeat, “Stop resisting. Stop resisting.”
On the night of November 16, 2003, I was arrested along with seven other people of color and countless others were assaulted by police who responded from at least four different precincts.
Eleven years later, on a Monday night in November, the grand jury in Ferguson decided not to indict Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown. Without another thought I joined thousands in the streets of New York marching in protest. Around me people chanted and shouted in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, demanding justice for Mike Brown, and for all of the lives lost to police violence in the recent months.
I walked in silence, the growing pressure on my chest keeping me from making a sound. As we reached 7th Avenue, that tightness expanded and I had to breathe through my mouth in low gasps. My friend Tim, noticing my distress, came up beside me and put his arm around my shoulder. I knew he was the only person at that moment who could understand what I was feeling, what was coming to the surface for me. I whispered to him, “This is the first time I’ve done this since that night.”
I don’t do crowds, I don’t go to demonstrations, I don’t protest. I take action in other ways: I teach, I write, I facilitate, I strategize, I hold space for others to heal. But I can’t be in spaces like this, because I don’t trust myself. I worry that I could become a danger to my community if, like that night, I blackout again. What might happen if I get triggered? I don’t ever want to find out. But this night was different. This night I needed to be there. I needed to stand with my people. I had let the State convince me that I was a menace, that the violence inflicted upon me was my fault had always been my fault. That in choosing to resist injustice, I had brought violence on myself.
I had policed myself long enough.
Read More at For Harriet.