Zero Tolerance Goes Amok

Girl Arrested for Going Barefoot

By Marian Rosenberg

     Flesh-toned paint is peeling off the wall where hundreds of fingernails have scraped. Some have left names, or messages, drawings, or, in a few cases, just plain graffiti as a mark that they, too, were here.

     It is a dirty place. I'm told by the others that it smells funny. But I can't tell. My nose is too stuffed up from crying.

     "Come here, baby, move a little closer to me so we both can keep warm." This is a woman in a black skirt and white top. I think she's here on drug charges, cocaine if I recall correctly.

     They keep the cells at 65 degrees. I'm the only person dressed even vaguely appropriately for the temperature. Most are dressed for summer. I'm dressed for Rosh Hashanah services.

     Two of the nine women in the cell are sleeping on the floor. The rest of us bundle together on the filthy stone bench, as close as possible, and as far as we can get from the air vents. No one is shivering right now. But the mother accused of abusing her four-year old is rocking back and forth gently, muttering quietly to herself. It sounds as if she is saying, "It's going to be over soon, it's going to be over soon, it's going to be over soon." Again and again, to herself. This is her first time, too. L'shana Tova. Have a happy New Year. It is one of the High Holydays of the Jewish religion, and I'm in Central Booking with prostitutes and drug users and drunks.

     There is the woman who got into a knife fight with the mother of the teen who was arguing with her daughter at school. I'm trying really hard. But no matter how hard I try, I can't remember any prayers for anything. I can't remember any of my Hebrew except a silly song about King David. I'm too scared and too hurt. After all, it isn't every day one gets beaten up by a police officer.

     This is supposed to be a happy time of the year. This is supposed to be a time when we forgive others for their sins and thank God for letting us enjoy another year. I hurt and I want my Mommy!

     Every so often, when I start crying, one of the ladies who is there for drugs will hold me. She will calm me while another, I think she's a prostitute, strokes my hair. In less than 24 hours, I have seen human nature at its best and at its worst. Why is it the criminals are nicer to me than the police were?

     I suppose, before I go any farther, I should mention what my crime was. Bare feet . . . I mean disorderly conduct. I wasn't loud. I did my best to be polite. I wasn't loud at all. I didn't start screaming until the rent-a-cop (an off duty police officer) had slammed my face into the floor twice and twisted my shoulder behind me. He was sitting on my back.

     Every time a new person comes into the cell, we tell our stories.

     One woman is here for trying to cash a stolen check. Another is here on a bench warrant. Most assume I'm here for solicitation. I'm dressed so pretty, with my holiday clothing. When I tell my story, the reactions are always the same. Disbelief. Laughter. And then the person looks at my face and sees the tears. And always they are so nice to me. But they can't make me feel safe.

     I had come into the store to buy a pair of shoes. Flip flops. My mother and brother picked me up from the West Baltimore MARC train platform. I was returning from college to attend Holyday services with my family. S Sitting in the car, I discovered I had in my possession one leather sandal. No shoes for synagogue. We went to CVS. I went in and I got the flip flops, $1.99, 75% off. Standing in line, the manager began to harass me for my bare feet. When that didn't work, she went over and yelled at the guard. And then, the guard took it out on me.

     It is so cold here. I pace the cell to keep warm. I am alone now. I have gone to see the Court Commissioner, and now I wait for them to find my property and release me. There is another woman here. She is going through withdrawal symptoms, according to the lady in the black velvet dress who is put in with us after I had been here 45 minutes or so. There is no time here when there is only the fluorescent light and no one to talk with.

     I don't know how long it has been.

     Together we hold her still as she shakes and moans and try to warm her up. I doubt she was conscious enough to notice. We fail to catch the attention of the guard, I hear someone died that way not long ago.

     The scariest moment was when I lay there pinned to the floor, screaming hysterically and people watched. I was the only white person in the store. I didn't know it then but one of the bystanders went outside and found my brother. All I knew was I was alone. All alone in a crowd of people.

     The system is overcrowded and inefficient. The two single cells I saw had between three and six people in them most of the time. The most I saw in any group cell was nine. The biggest that room could have been was 7x10. I paced it. A large section of it was a locked closet of some sort. Maybe seventy square feet for nine people. And though the language we used wasn't always the most educated, I have never seen more grace, graciousness, or politeness as among the nine of us that night.

     Seth, my brother, is my knight in shining armor. Right now he is my hero. I never knew how much he cared for me. "Get your hands the hell off my sister! I want your badge number." They arrested him, too. In their words, he "wilfully and knowingly did cause a public disturbance."

     I have never loved anybody as much as I loved my brother in those moments after he came in the store and when we were in the police transport. In that brief moment, before they cuffed him, too, I was safe. Everything was going to be alright.

Home Comments The Baltimore Press

Layout and Design Copyright © 1999 by Thom LaCosta
All Rights Reserved