On Tuesday morning at 9:30am, I was brutalized by 2 Dutch male police officers, arrested, and thrown into jail – while on my way to work, on the grounds of the International Court of Justice, in front of the French Embassy – and I ended up in the hospital swollen, bruised, and injured.
I am a lawyer working at the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations – but that did not save my black body from racially-motivated police brutality.
On Tuesday morning, I was cycling to work on my usual route. I got to the corner of the Court where cyclers must make a left turn, through oncoming traffic, in order to get to the Court. Since there was oncoming traffic, I was unable to make the turn safely so I decided to get off of my bicycle. I ended up in a spot where I felt unsafe in respect of cars making right turns; therefore, to move myself to safety, I quickly walked my bicycle across the street to get out of the way. When I got to the corner, 2 police officers in a police car stopped me and said something to me in Dutch. I told them that I didn’t understand Dutch, explained that I was walking my bicycle across the street to get out of the way of traffic, and continued walking to the Court. At that point, a Dutch man walking next to me asked why they were harassing me and I said “I don’t know.” Within seconds, the police car quickly made a U-turn, sped around, parked the car directly in front of me, and blocked me from walking further. The cops jumped out of the car, walked aggressively towards me, and told me that I was under arrest. The Dutch man who was walking next to me tried to talk to them to get them to leave me alone but they dismissed him. Then, the 2 police officers asked me for my ID and continued to tell me that I was under arrest. I asked them why I was under arrest, and I told them that I did not travel with my US or UK passports but showed them my ICJ badge ID and explained that I am a lawyer working at the International Court of Justice. I stated that we could call over the Court security and they will provide copies of my passport and documentation. The police officers continued to be aggressive saying that I was under arrest for refusing to provide my ID when requested by a police officer. I continued to try to explain that I work at the Court but they refused to listen to me or acknowledge my ID.
Then, they both slammed me against the police car and began aggressively pulling on and bending my arms in multiple directions behind my back, banging me against the car, beating on my legs, pushing into my back, stepping on me, handcuffing me, and trying to drag me into the car. I was crying and pleading with them not to arrest me. I kept explaining that I am an expat working at the Court, that I did not know that walking across the street was a crime, that I did not do anything wrong, and begged them to speak to the Court security. Both officers kept attacking me anyway. I screamed out for help – screaming “Help me! Someone, please help me! I work at the Court! Please get the security at the Court!” Dutch people stood around on the streets, watching and recording the incident on their phones, but no one tried to help me. I continued to beg the police officers to stop and cried out to one of them that he was breaking my arm. But they both continued. And people continued to watch. And no one helped. They continued to drag me, tightened the handcuffs on my wrist so tightly that I was no longer able to move and my wrists began to swell, and they dragged and shoved me into the police car. They slammed the door on the back of my foot and my heel was stuck in the door. One of the police officers jumped into the car, grabbed my arms, pushed his knee into my body, and held me down, pinned to the car seat. I looked up at him in tears, pleading, and asking “why are you doing this to me?” I said “My heel is stuck in the door and I’m handcuffed. I am not a threat to you. Why are you doing this to me? You’re hurting me.” The police officer who was driving told me to “Shut the fuck up!” and his partner continued to pin me down. I started to become extremely light-headed, having blurred vision, and was blacking out. Then, the car stopped and they pulled me out of the car with one shoe on. When we arrived at this alley, I saw a bunch of police officers standing outside. They all grabbed me, pulled me into the precinct, and put me in a holding cell.
I cried the entire car ride, cried as they pulled me to the holding cell, and cried as I waited in the cell. I pleaded with them to explain what I did wrong and why they were doing this to me. But they left me in the cell without any explanation. I asked for a phone call and they refused to give me a phone call. I asked multiple officers, multiple times, for over an hour. They did not give me a phone call. Then, the Chief of Police came in to tell me that the police officers told him that I was kicking and spitting on them, and a host of lies about their conduct and mine. I began to cry because I couldn’t believe that human beings could be so evil but mostly because I knew that no matter how much I told the truth, and pleaded, they would believe the false account of the police officers over mine. I told the Chief that the police officers were lying (I would NEVER spit on a human being) and pleaded with him to believe me. He told me that he wasn’t there but that I had broken the law.
I was left in the cell, without any knowledge of exactly what I was being arrested and charged for, and without a phone call. I kept asking for a phone call but did not get a phone call. After explaining to multiple officers that it would bring alarm to my colleagues if I did not show up to Court, and begging for a phone call for over an hour, I finally got a phone call. I did not know where I was but members of the Court were finally able to find me and arrived at the precinct. I was eventually released. When I was let out of the holding cell, the same two police officers who brutalized me were sent to let me out. They told me to pack up my stuff, which they had ransacked, followed me to the door, staring at and hovering over me to intimidate me, and told me that I have to pay them a ticket fine. I felt so humiliated. And I walked out of that precinct feeling traumatized.
As I sat in the cell, alone and staring at the walls, a deep feeling of hopelessness came over me – one that I had never felt before, even in the darkest and most difficult times of my life. I thought about Sandra Bland.
I thought to myself: I will never know if Sandra Bland took her life in that jail cell but I would understand if she did. Because all I could think of in that moment was I am not going to survive this.
But I did. I remembered the bravery and strength of women and men who endured before me and continue to endure. I prayed and did not give up.
I am grateful that I survived. But, a part of me died yesterday. I cannot put into words the numbness that I have felt in the past 36 hours. This experience took away a part of me that I will never get back. In the past few years, we have all seen incidents of police brutality on television and social media but you never truly understand the degree of physical, psychological, mental, and emotional damage that such an experience does to a human being. It has changed my life in the most devastating way and I know that I will never be the same.
I no longer feel safe in my own existence. I walk around with a perpetual sense of fear for my life and insecurity over my body. I exist being scared of being black, which is not existing at all. I have tortured myself, searching for answers, trying to understand why this happened to me – to no avail. What hurts me most is that I survived 30 years in America – never had an altercation with the police, never been arrested, never even gotten a ticket – and came to The Hague, the “City of Justice,” where I was brutalized by 2 male police officers, as a lawyer working at the International Court of Justice, and on the very grounds of that Court. And what frightened me most was that everyone stood around and watched. That 2 police officers were brazen enough to do this to a woman in broad daylight. That there was no procedure or rule of law, and the police department felt as if it could do whatever it wanted with my person.
I read the following in an article about The Hague police department:
“For although The Hague police department has a reputation of being notoriously violent and racist, its members’ misconduct tends to remain without consequences. Former employees have repeatedly stated that the department’s organizational culture is one of intimidation and discrimination, also among colleagues.
Numerous detainees have testified that they have been abused, bullied and humiliated by The Hague police.”
This was my experience. This has been the experience of many people of color in The Hague. And this will continue to be the experience of people of color in The Hague – unless we speak out.
Although I am still trying to recover, physically and psychologically from the brutality that I endured yesterday, I know that I must find strength and courage within me to fight against racism and police brutality. It is the difference between life and death for people of color and we do not have the privilege of being silent.
We must speak out against these injustices until our very last breath.
I am sharing my experience because, tomorrow, this could happen to a little black girl, and I want her to know that, if this happens to you, which it will happen to you, YOU MUST BE STRONG AND DO NOT GIVE UP.
I am sharing my experience because I want people of color to know that we must continue to fight, not merely for our right to live as dignified human beings and our right to bodily integrity, but so our children can live in a society where they no longer have to feel hopeless and afraid. This is why I became a lawyer.
I may feel weak but not broken enough to give up on my ancestors who made immense sacrifices so that I could be free and the future generations who deserve that same freedom. I am grateful to God that I survived this experience. I am grateful that I did not give up.
And I will continue to share my story and fight for justice.
EDIT: Though I feel no need to justify the veracity of this account or prove that this was racially-motivated, I will say this. A few months ago, a few non-black colleagues of mine were cycling ON THE SIDEWALK and when they were stopped, they explained themselves, were reminded that it is a violation in Holland, were simply given a ticket, and continued on to work. I, on the other hand, ended up being told that I was being arrested for WALKING on a red light, was roughed up, and ended up in jail.
Overgenomen van de Facebook-pagina van Chaka Shakira.