Recent events have many people, including myself, thinking deeply about the impact of systemic racism and the toxic relationship between law enforcement and Black people. In fact, I reached out to an old friend to confirm that I recollect the events in this story accurately and haven’t let the past 33 years alter my account.
I grew up in Albuquerque during the 1970s and 80s, and one summer day, two friends and I decided to go for a hike in a national park that was about 10 minutes away from my house.
We parked and began our descent down into the canyon. When we got down to the bottom we sat down to rest on several large boulders. As we rested, I picked up a small dirt rock and used it, like chalk, to write “I (heart) Rudy” on the rock I sat on. Apparently, during that 15 minutes of my life, I loved Rudy. The next thing I clearly remember is hearing a muffled loud voice from the top of the canyon, from a megaphone, possibly, directing us to freeze and put our hands in the air. When I looked to the top of the small canyon, two officers stood with their weapons drawn and pointed at us. They instructed us to come up the trail to where they were. I distinctly remember, as I walked up the trail, being convinced they were going to shoot us. The given directives of “freeze” and “come up here” seemed quite contradictory. They waited patiently at the top, with their guns drawn and pointed at us the entire time we made our ascent. I was 14 years old.
They immediately handcuffed and “arrested” all of us. I use that term loosely because they didn’t tell us what we had done wrong. We did not have drugs or alcohol; the park was open and we had no idea what had gone wrong. My handcuffs were tight. I told the officer they were cutting into my wrists. The officer told me that I shouldn’t get myself arrested if I didn’t like handcuffs. He never loosened the cuffs, and I had marks on my arms for weeks to follow. As I cried during the entire ride to the juvenile detention center, my friend tried to assure me everything was going to be OK. The officer told him to shut up.
When we arrived I was placed in a cell with two girls who looked close to my age but did not speak any English. I sat in that cell for several hours. No one came to check on me or the other girls, and no one told us what was happening. It was late at night before I was released to my mother. I later learned that it was hours before she was notified and she had started to panic about where I was. As I was released, I remember feeling very sorry for the two girls still there – waiting.
Ultimately, we were accused of defacing a national monument, which is a federal crime. Though, when I went there only days after this incident, my small markings had been washed away by rain. I took pictures, because even in 1987, at 14 years of age, I knew this was unjust.
I tell this story not to suggest that my life has been severely impacted by this negative interaction with law enforcement, but to share the moment when I, a young biracial Black girl, lost trust in law enforcement. A recent Marist Poll indicates 65% of Black people do not trust police to treat Black and white people equally – while most white people do. I don’t know how we would have been treated if we were white, but I know I am not alone in a having a pivotal moment with law enforcement that created a permanent, fundamental shift.