Memoirs Of 900 Seconds: Dear Lakewood – Was This ‘A Lot’?

Lakewood Lakewood – city that I love! I like to think that everyone is as impassioned as I am about civil rights.  Community Relations and Community Policing are big issues for me as I am a member of Lakewood Community Relations Advisory Commission (although this submission is not at all connected with that position), and we are working closely with the Mayor’s office as well as City Hall to address issues surrounding the above topics. I could deliver my victorious bio about being a survivor of the most heinous stalking and abuse- coming out the other side with a master’s degree and three scholarship-receiving college students. I could talk about the awards I received from Cleveland READS as well as Cleveland City Council for literacy efforts with minority children as well as older homeless men. I could talk about my family’s pet spider ‘Charlotte’ who pretty much owns the living room window where she resides in safety. I could talk about the children I raised in this city who were members of the National Honor Society, captains of the flag corps, and members of symphonic orchestra and my super clean apartment filled with the most delicious art– but this sort of banter is contrary to the idea of civil rights. Civil rights mandates that I be treated with the same quality of warm humanity without regard for socioeconomics, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, you know the rest. I do not feel that my civil rights were supported in a recent incident with Lakewood Police Department. Please let me explain.

I work third-shift in Warrensville. This is a state job, and I cannot be late. Every evening, I leave home at approximately 9 p.m. I stop and get coffee at the local Speedway (where my daughter works when home from school on breaks) and playfully ‘rib’ the staff (we all call them by name) about the availability of the Columbian blend. Like many, I have a SMART key and my car will not move without the key present. Instead the screen will flash the message: “Key is not detected”. So I’m in Speedway and Nina Simone is still playing in my vehicle. The vehicle is on, but the car won’t move without me in it. I was in the gas station for no longer than 2 minutes. When I came out, there were officers, and lights, and flood lamp thingies. I was immediately compelled to notify the officers that they need to please move because I cannot be late for work when I found out to my horror and surprise that this whole spectacle was for me! Here’s how the conversation went:

Police: We got a call from a citizen for loud music complaint. We don’t feel that your music was too loud, but we do have A ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY for unattended running vehicles.

Me: Watching the clock and thinking that they will run my plates and see that I am a law-abiding citizen. ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY?? - why, that seems awfully ‘charged’. Surely, they see the BGSU Mom bumper sticker….

Police: We get calls all the time about PEOPLE LIKE YOU who leave their cars running and someone steals their car. We won’t even pursue these calls if you left your car running.

Me: (still thinking) but Nina Simone mandates four cops and two cars? Is loud music coded something like outdoor basketball?

I sat quietly while the police investigated my scenario. Fifteen minutes (900 seconds) fell like an hour and a half – and I was sweating being late for work. Two cars with strobes ablaze, four officers, flood light thingies all in the well-lit parking lot at Speedway. I was sure that the situation would de-escalate once the police had an understanding of the scene; but the lights, the cops, the cars, and flood lamp thingies were present for all 900 seconds. I am listening to the police officer on my left then glanced over to my right and noticed a young officer standing up on top of (very, very close to) my passenger side with an intimidating stance. His legs were shoulder distance apart, his arm were crossed, with an extremely stern look on his face. It was as if he was blocking my ultimate escape on the passenger side. Here’s how that conversation went:

Me: (to the officer on my left) “Excuse me, this officer on my right is unnecessary. Now, I’m uncomfortable. This all feels like ‘a lot’ and this feels excessive.”

Police: “Oh, he’s auxillary. So, he can’t arrest you until I give him the OK.”

Me: ARREST?!?! Where did that come from?! “This is too much….this is a lot!”

At this point I was riled up hard-working-middle-aged-mama-style (albeit middle-aged on the younger, fresher, cooler side). This was not my first incident with LPD. Sadly, in every instance I felt ‘Bullied’. In every instance I felt that the drama was misplaced. I felt that I would not be in this predicament if I were a Caucasian woman. I felt like the police officer did not care if I was late to work. I felt that the messages conveyed were…excessive. I began to rant about everyone ‘I know…'. The strobes were still blaring, the flood-light thingies still on. People milling about curiously wondering what I could have done. I thought about [Attorney General] Sessions and excessive policing and how all that is going to fall under local authority and that this is not a good indication of things to come.

Let me make one thing clear, I love Lakewood (on any other day). I am very proud of Lakewood. I have friends in Shaker, Chagrin Falls, and Cleveland Heights who claim a very similar positive climate, but I always remind them that Lakewood boasts Big Diversity. Yes, we are a community working hard to make it work, but we generally have a kind-spirited and tolerant approach on expressing pro-social values. That these values are not based on religion, sexual orientation, race, etc.; but, they do support a healthy community. HERE is where the rich help the poor and the poor help the rich. In this place, young and old hold each other in dear regard. We are fearless, and the American dream is accessible – in THIS lovely place.

I am currently trying to wrap my mind around this recent incident. I am holding strong to all the warm thoughts surrounding pluralism and how to make the dream work – but I feel that two cars, four officers and flood-light thingies because well, Nina Simone carries…competes with the fruition of that dream. Should we reconsider the policies Lakewood? Policies shape lives. I am curious about your thoughts. What do you think?

Bernadette Elston

I am writing this article as a citizen of Lakewood. 

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Volume 13, Issue 21, Posted 5:02 PM, 11.08.2017