02 March 2010

ID Control

So it finally happened.
My police incident. I always joked about it happening,but when it finally did it was the opposite of funny. I've seen minorities in France get stopped before on the street and asked for papers. Mostly Roma(gypsies)Arabs and Black people. I've always wondered if they did something wrong or what,but never thought much about it. With people's preconceived notions of my nationality(insert random nation:Eritrea, Somalia,whatever)I knew it was a possibility,but didn't think it would annoy me so much.
I had time to kill between my train leaving La Roch sur Yon and Bordeaux and hour and some change so I decided to get a bite to eat. I did and then moseyed along to the train station with time to spare to get a cappuccino from the machine.
As I was about to turn the corner to get to the station I see a police car. Nothing unusual there, but then I got the sense that it was going to stop. Instantly I thought, there's no reason for them to stop and talk to me.
But stop to talk to me they did.
They walked toward me and said "Hello,miss can we see your papers?" (en Francais of course)They said more stuff in French that I forgot as I was shocked the situation was happening. Never in my 23 years in the States have I had an encounter with the police other than them visiting my school when I was little. In France,up until this time ,I've been content to notice the cute ones. I knew they wanted to see papers to verify that I had a right to be in France,but it was incredibly demeaning. One of them asked to go through my little green bag and the other proceeded to ask me what I was doing in La Roch sur Yon(as if anyone would purposefully, of their own volition just post up there) Fortunately, I had my passport and tried to explain (suppressing tears) that I was just going to catch my train and that I had a pause and decided to eat something. He then asked me why I was going to Bordeaux (as if it was any of his bloody business) and I said I was going to see friends. They then asked me why I was in France etc.etc. where I lived all of the questions that made it seem as if I had done something wrong. It was humiliating to have to explain myself to them in the middle of a sidewalk, while people passed and probably though "There goes another..." Initially they didn't understand what I meant by "pause"even though I've heard French people use it, I showed them my ticket pointing to the length of time in between and they finally understood. Finally one of them, asked what my nationality was and I started to whimper, "Je suis Americaine, ca c'est ma passporte/I'm American, that's my passport" That the other officer was holding.After the passport holding officer was off his walkie-talkie speaking to their headquarters he handed it back to me.
"Are you okay?" he said painstakingly in English.
"Did I do something wrong?," I asked through tears and heavy breathing.
"Non," they replied quickly.
I instantly think, "Then why the [hell] would you stop me?"
I asked if I could leave and they said yes, but not before telling me that it was okay and "c'est pas grave"/it's not serious, don't cry...
But it was serious and I did cry.
It seriously annoyed me and embarrassed me.(Not that I have a right to not be annoyed)It was insulting to have to justify why I was in France let alone their city. I know it's a prejudice on my part, but I'm not from a developing country come to France to steal jobs or whatever. I just happened to have melanin and be walking.
I called my dad sobbing, perhaps unnecessarily, and explained the situation to him. He was hurt because it's something he wished his children wouldn't have to go through.(When he was younger, in Texas, in the 70s he was stopped on a 10 speed bike and accused of theft)It's not better,but it's expected in The States,especially the South. It's a sad part of the narrative of our country,but one that is being changed.
France, au contraire, is the land of liberte, egalite, and fraternite.
But I wonder how many blanc Francais are bothered by id controls? I sent a text to one of my friends and was annoyed at her response that it wasn't serious. That it happens all the time and had happened to her before. I'm sure it happens to white French people, but I'm certain it happens more to ethnic minorities. I really can't adequately convey my frustration, annoyance or hurt over this situation.
I can better understand the problem France is having with it's young immigrant and minority populations. If you build a state where certain segments of the population are more likely to have negative experiences with the law, don't be surprised when you combine that with low employment and covert discrimination to find cars burned and frustration abounding.
They say a Republican is a Democrat who has just been robbed, perhaps an anarchist is an innocent person who was stopped on the street, but not in my case. I still think the police play a valuable part (obviously) in maintaining law and order. I would just posit,that stopping people with out probable cause could be something they give up for Lent. Or forever.
Link to an article about this topic:
http://www.soros.org/initiatives/justice/focus/equality_citizenship/articles_publications/publications/search_20090630

4 comments:

MOU said...

I'm so sorry this happened. I was sitting here with tears in my eyes as I read it. I have never had this happen to me and I can't imagine how scared you were but I think you were very brave. Je t'envoi un gros bisou et une grand (and comforting hug!).

Gavin said...

This mad me sad. I've never been stopped, but the police here are definitely intimidating. More so that the UK, at any rate. Hope you're okay now!

Viajera said...

Sad to hear about that. I think you did well because that is a very stressful situation. Unfortunate fact of life...

KayB said...

Thanks for your comments, MOU, Gavin and new friend Viajera.
It wasn't as bad as it could have been, it was just an unanticipated reality check that is part of life. Unfortunately, a lot of French minority youth have to get used to incidents like this all the time,I'm fortunate that I don't. But I'm glad I understand a different part of French culture now.