No, those aren’t filters or special effects. On August 8, 2019 a woman tried to spit on me. She pulled in front of me and slammed on breaks repeatedly and wouldn’t allow me to pass. She cursed at me. Called me bald headed and ugly. Threatened to whoop my ass. Threatened to follow me to my job. Then, in one last heroic feat of anger, tried to pepper spray me from her moving vehicle. Why, you ask…because she said I cut her off in traffic. Look, I won’t get into a back and forth about whether I did or did not cut her off… Of course I don’t think I did and she (obviously) felt very strongly that I did… What I WILL discuss here are the conflicting and contradictory feelings this “incident” brought to the surface and the burden I carried in deciding between justice and, ummm…just-us?
After that incident occurred, I drove to work and sat in the parking lot shaking. I was fuming….angry…livid! I was stuck somewhere between being proud of myself for not responding in kind and pissed at myself for not cursing her the f*$k out!! Stuck somewhere between proud of my calmness under pressure, and feeling like a straight up pu$$y. Unsure of whether to admire my restraint, or question my lack of passion. My yin and yang weren’t meshing. I called for back-up. I sent the video (yes there was a whole video of these shenanigans) to my “circle”. Within minutes I had a myriad of responses….everything from “you should have whooped her a$$” to “you did the right thing” to “she better be glad I wasn’t there”. It seemed my circle had differing opinions on the proper course of action as well. But, as God often does, He sent back up.
me – hello?
My BFF – Girl, are you okay?!?!?
I sat in the parking lot and rehashed the whole thing with her. At the end she said, you did the right thing. She suggested I call the non-emergency police number and report the incident in case she truly did follow me to work to whoop my a$$. I did. I explained the incident and, at their request, provided the video. What happened next was a lesson in criminal justice that I won’t soon forget.
Time passed and that day was in my rear view. Oh blah dee oh blah da life goes on…and then, a letter. I came home to a letter in my mailbox and a subpoena taped to my door. I was subpoenaed by the Commonwealth of Virginia to testify for the state against (let’s just call her) Spitty. I immediately got a sinking feeling in my stomach — one that would occur again the day I arrived in court.
“Justice should not be contingent upon you having enough money to pay a lawyer who cares.”
I was asked to arrive early to meet with the Prosecutor, which I did. She asked me to provide my side of the story. I did. Then, she pulled out a compact disc (yes….a compact disc…lol), inserted it into her computer, and began playing the video from that day. Seeing it again brought back the same rush of feelings….AGAIN. As the video ended she turned to me rather matter-of-factly and asked “what would you like to see happen?”. My silence and blank stare must have tipped her off that I wasn’t really sure what she was asking of me, so she stated, “she has been charged with simple assault which carries a sentence of up to a year in jail, and a $2,500 fine..based on this video we can push for that sentence or we can pursue other options if you wish. Whatever you decide, I will present to her public defender.” Public defender? Jail time? Trials? Fines? Oh my… At that moment, my eyes began to leak involuntarily… I don’t know why (or maybe I do), but in that moment I was brought to tears. I wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my responsible-looking-for-court sweater and I looked up at the (black like me) prosecutor and I said, ” I don’t want to send her to jail”. We discussed other options (I’ll spare you the details) and came up with an offer to present to her public defender. After some discussion and a counter offer, an agreement was reached.
The final details of Spitty’s “punishment” aren’t important other than to note that it didn’t involve any jail time. In fact, if Spitty does all that was asked of her in the agreement, she could actually avoid this incident being placed in her criminal record. To me, that’s just-us. As I sat in the prosecutor’s office and looked at the mile high stack of cases she would have to try today, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the defendants looked like me. While some (read – not people of color) can take a look at the case and make a decision on how to proceed based solely on the crime that was done to them, I somehow felt that I had a greater responsibility. I asked the prosecutor if Spitty had a prior criminal record. I asked if Spitty was convicted, would it hinder her chances of finding employment in the future. I asked what would happen if she couldn’t pay the fine. To me, these things were important in deciding how to proceed. What if I did proceed with asking for a conviction? What if she lost her job while sitting in jail? What if she couldn’t pay the fine? I personally didn’t want to
be responsible for contribute to putting Spitty into the prison cycle — a cycle that won’t let you go easily once you’re in — not for THIS crime. As I watched Spitty’s public defender arrive 5 minutes before court began, with an even larger stack of manila folders than the prosecutor, I couldn’t help but think about how public defenders often get very little time to prepare for the cases that they defend on any given day. The person who argues for your freedom may have only known of you for 10 minutes before they have to defend you. Justice should not be contingent upon you having enough money to pay a lawyer who cares. Even Spitty deserves better than that. We all do.
Some may say I’m stupid for not pursuing a worse punishment for Spitty. I have indeed heard “I would have sent her azz to jail” a few times today. Some say that she had no regard for me on the day she spit at me and threatened to follow me and whoop my a$$. Perhaps. Maybe my decision was less than smart….who knows….? I suppose time will tell. What I DO know is that on this day I made a choice. I chose to believe that Spitty deserved another chance to get it right. I chose to believe that August 8th was a fluke for her and that she shouldn’t be ‘too harshly’ judged for her behavior on what may have been her worst day. I chose to believe that something else was driving (no pun intended) her treatment of me that day. Had she just lost her dog? Her job? Her man? Maybe her Christmas was cancelled. Maybe her fresh cornrows were too tight. Whatever the reason, I chose to believe that what I experienced was her worst behavior on her worst day, and that she didn’t deserve to be entered into a vicious cycle because of it. I am hoping Spitty received the lesson and will think twice about how she reacts out of anger going forward. Whether she does, or does not, “it’s above me now”… I just know that a woman who looks like me got a second chance today, and to me, that’s just-us.