Four silent weeks have passed since that day you were so horribly victimized by the officers of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, three since we sat down and talked about it. You told me the entire story, how they barged in that Sunday morning and took you away in nothing but a towel, and kept you there at the station naked for four nightmarish hours, in the public waiting area, handcuffed, breasts exposed, having nothing at all on but a small towel over your lap.
You told me how that unknown mother spoke up for you, demanding of the four policemen on duty to allow you to put something on and how they ignored her. By that time, you said, you had gone into shock. You'd put up a struggle in the house when the constable grabbed you by the arm, tearing open that wound you have where the grandmother had burned you with a hot curling iron in a fit of dementia. The policeman said, "Get out. You think you can come in people house and take over." You tried to refuse. You told him you had nowhere to go. You tried to sheild your two terrified daughters from the invasion. And you fought back when the officer forced you out of the house in nothing but a towel. When that happened the whole neighbourhood had gathered to watch. You fought to get back inside, you were being exposed to the neighbourhood. It was beginning to feel like a gang rape. And when you put up that struggle, the officer put the handcuffs on you and hustled you down the street to the patrol car. They told you you were under arrest.
Inside the car, the godawful reality of your situation really hit you and you became panicked, you were screaming, demanding your rights, you were cussing. "You can't take me like this! I have my rights!" You were yelling these words at the two policemen. You were fighting for your life. But they ignored your pleas for some clothing, and your pleas regarding your little daughters who were being left alone. Yes, you carried on, of course you did. By then you were so afraid. When a woman is under attack, her voice is all she has. But all the hours of being naked and shackled at the Grove station eventually silenced your screaming. All you could do by then was attempt to signal your telephone number to your unknown sista-keeper who was outraged for you, but even that became too much and you gave up. With your hands in cuffs behind your back it had become too painful to hold up the towel, and so after several hours it fell. And you fell too, into a darkened numbness, coping. Still, your brave defiance remained to the end. When they finally began talking of getting you some clothes all those hours later, you looked them in the eye and told them, "Take me to the judge just like this."
When I met you the first thing I noticed that your tiny living room was entirely filled up by a writing table, covered in folders, stacks of paper, many of them covered in your words. You said, I don't know why I write, I just have to. I recognized you fully then, a sista-survivor, instinctively drawing empowerment from the sound of your own voice, and your own real and true story. I saw that you had already begun to use your divine feminine powers of creation to take hold of the Bad Thing that happened to you and transform it into your own Emancipation Song. I felt in awe of your courage, you were deeply sad but you told the story of what happened to you in gut-wrenching detail so calmly, so thoroughly. You called them by name and/or by number, the policemen who hurt you: Neilly 2319, and constable 2667 in the red and white uniform. You never faltered, you never once questioned your own credibility, I notice things like that. By the time you were finished telling your story the tears were falling, but you were not broken. "I am not trapped, I am not stuck," you were saying, "I can leave this place." As you spoke I looked at the vicious open wound across your sholder and knew a doctor had never seen to it. It began occurring to me then that this police station horror was part and parcel of your whole life, being a Bahamian woman in these violent days.
Because a Bahamian woman's life is not beautiful. The story of violence is the same for so many of your sisters, as it was for so many of your mothers and grandmothers. Beginning with the rape committed by the father. Then the years of fear and silence while they gather enough words to accuse him. Then the police investigations that result in nothing. Then the mothers protecting the rapists and throwing their daughters out into the streets, where they are homeless, and become pregnant, and pregnant again. Ending up like chattel in some man's shack taking blows and beating their own children... But you sista, you don't beat your daughters, you love and protect them as best you can, you are so strong, you are breaking the cycle even as you are bleeding. You say to me, "I want to tell my story so that this never happens again to anyone else," and as you speak the words I see you are looking directly at your youngest daughter. Because she saw the whole invasion go down, she was screaming too when they threw you out into the yard with no clothes on, she was watching in the window crying as they took her mummy away. She keeps saying to you, "Mummy, what if the police come for you again?" So many of your sisters lose their identities entirely under this kind of lifelong violence, but not you. You are resplendant with a self-awareness that is going to save you and your girls. You are writing. Writing down your story because instinctually you know the power it has to change your own life, and transform this woman-hating community into a place where we are safe, protected, honoured and never brutalized. You know that silence means consent, you are not silent, you are not consenting, you are writing, you are resisting, you will not remain a victim, you are remembering how to get yourself free.
You had the guts to make a formal complaint. The Commissioner of Police himself came to the house to take your statement. I know that wasn't easy to do sista. But you told him how the boyfriend's grandmother in repeated states of violent dementia has called the police for you many times, accusing you of trespassing. You told the commissioner, policemen at the Grove station knew of the old lady's illness, they knew when they dragged you off that Sunday morning that you were not trespassing, that you were the grandson's girlfriend and her caretaker. You told the Commissioner everything, and he promised you to investigate the matter. After that the boyfriend got pissed and will no longer let you come to the phone. I haven't spoken to you in all these weeks. The Crisis Center folks want me to let you know that all you have to do is get to Knowles House at the hospital and they will help you. Hotline volunteers there agreed with me that what happened to you at the police station was akin to rape. They say you and your girls need the special counseling and help that all women victims of violence need and must have. Activist and writer Helen Klonaris agrees that this kind of human rights abuse happened to you because you are a woman. She said in her column: "Yes, Lynn, I do believe that policemen were able to haul a defenseless, unclothed woman out of the house where she was living into a police car and to the station because they were men and she was a woman. Because forty-four years of women having the right to vote has not been enough time for Bahamian women to really challenge religious and cultural and political systems which insist on women’s subordination to male bodies and male gods. If we were collectively challenging these systems, this case would have made front page news and women’s groups in the country would have spoken out against an obvious abuse of power. As it is, no women’s groups have publicly voiced resistance, and no female or male politicians voiced their concerns."
A collective challenge. Sista, she means all-us Free Thinking Women need to call on the Commissioner to tell us the status of the investigation. What of the accused policemen? Are they suspended? When will someone be charged? When will someone be held accountable for the human rights abuses you've survived? When will local newspaper journalists pursue and investigate this kind of story with the same zeal that they go after politicians? When we collectively demand it of them, yes. So in this letter to you I'm calling on every woman in the country to telephone the Commissioner of Police and ask him the status of his investigation into your complaint. His number is 242-325-7601. Perhaps we can also call the Complaints and Discipline Unit at 242-302-8010, or the Corruption Unit at 242-326-0142. We can also call the editors of the local papers and ask them why they do not pursue stories of human rights abuse, ask them why they care so little about what happened to you, why they never pursue stories like the unknown men we saw in that photograph about a year ago, of the two unknown men naked and shackled and beaten bloody on the floor of a prison cell. Why is police brutality a non issue with the local "press?" And, we ask, why is it that not one church leader has had spirit enough to reach out to you, or to speak out for you, or for all the many, many other women who are beaten and battered every day in this castaway place? Where is their Christ-like compassion for the ones who suffer the most? (Lets thank the Sacred Ones for writers like Helen Klonaris and Anthony White who have spoken up for you, and for all of us.)
We thinking women (and men) are also asking why Deputy Prime Minister Cynthia Pratt has maintained her Christie-like silence regarding this matter, appearing in the papers cutting more ribbons at HMS Prison, contratulating herself and her government for building a wall around that hellhole known as one of the world's worst prisons, just days after her officers committed the outrage against you. We are remembering that Pratt was once known for giving a damn about women at risk, and we demand that she speak up for you now. In fact, we call on every single woman member of parliament to break their silences and represent us, to represent you, to demand and create justice for you, to be voices for you. If they are silent, it means they consent to your violation. I call on all Bahamian women (and the men who love us) to let Cynthia Pratt and the other women members know that we will not vote for anyone who remains silent regarding this scandal. Ms. Pratt's number is 242-345-4400. It is our right and our responsibility to let her know that we do not consent to what has happened to you under her watch. And while we have Mother on the phone, lets ask her why it is still incumbent upon women victims of domestic violence to bring the charges against their abusers? Certainly this is the Crown' duty.
I am a Feminist, it matters to me that women are under seige both in the home and in the street, it outrages me that male brutality is so pervasive, and that an apparent act of terrible police brutality could happen in broad daylight on a Sunday morning against you all these weeks ago and not one person has been held accountable, not one official has been made to explain how this could happen and what they are doing about it. I want the worldwide women's movement of today to hear of your story and to join us in demanding justice for you. We call on Feminist organizations worldwide to join us in condemning the Bahamian police force's and the government's lack of action regarding your ordeal. In the meantime we stand with you saying to the patriarchy, We will not be victimized any more!
In hope and solidarity,