On the way to an amazing Black and Pink event the other night, my roommate M and I walked through a Black neighborhood. M noticed someone on the ground, not moving.
We walked over, as did a few other people. A Black woman was laying on the ground, moaning, and bleeding from a cut near her eye. M got down on their knees and held the person’s hand, asked a few questions. When M asked a Black man to call 911, he turned out his hands and shook his head. I wasn’t sure if that was because he didn’t have a phone that worked, didn’t feel comfortable calling 911, or something else, but I wanted to be useful and volunteered to call 911 myself. He nodded. I called and gave the info to an operator who said an ambulance was on its way. I asked if there was anything we should do in the mean time, and they said to put pressure on the wound. Someone was already doing that, a Black woman who knew the woman on the ground. Turned out most of the people who stopped knew her–she lived in the same housing project as some of them. People gathered her things so she wouldn’t lose them, talked and joked with her, reassured her, told her not to move her head, told her the ambulance was on its way.
Someone said, “Hey, the cops are right there on the corner! Useless. I’m going to go get them.” I was nervous–would the cops make things worse? But in this situation, maybe they could help–weren’t cops supposed to have some basic medical training? The cops joined our little cluster and asked us, “Is she okay?” I don’t remember quite what we said, but the question frustrated me–she didn’t look okay, but how the hell were we supposed to know?
One of the cops then said to his partner, “Hey, hey, I remember that lady, she just talked to us like five minutes ago, remember? She was out of it! She was confused, thought we were cab drivers. Asked us to put in her in a cab and get her home.”
After the ambulance came and we walked away, I struggled to get a handle on what I was feeling. I was shaken, for sure, and reminded of times when people I loved were bleeding on the ground. I was impressed with my roommate and with the Black women and girls who gathered to help the hurt woman. I was worried for her, and hoping the folks at the hospital would be kind and helpful. I was embarassed, feeling that maybe I should have said or done something more or better. And I wasn’t sure what to make of the interaction with the cops. They weren’t threatening, and unlike M. and me, they knew the neighborhood and they were Black. Still, something didn’t sit right.
They really seemed to think it was bizarre that she should ask them to put her in a cab. Maybe it was bizarre, at least for a poor Black woman, to expect that sort of thing from the police. But if we’re going to have any sort of group of people out on the streets who are supposed to help out with crises, doesn’t that seem like a reasonable request to make of them? I mean, why couldn’t they–cops or not–hail a cab, make sure she got in it okay, make sure the cab driver knew where to take her, and pay the fare if she didn’t have enough? That might have really helped her out, kept her from falling and hitting her head. It certainly seems like what she was asking for.
I want a world where, if we have cops at all, that’s exactly the sort of thing they would do.