Being Arrested While White and Middle-Aged

So, I got arrested at a protest a few weeks ago.  The man currently in the White House had just rescinded the executive order President Obama had signed about the Dreamers and tossed the ball to Congress.  This means the protections for the over 800,000 young people brought here as children or teens by undocumented parents has been stripped away.

There was a rally and then we marched and then it became an action where we blocked the intersection of Westnedge and West Michigan at rush hour. With our bodies. And this was hard for me, a white middle aged woman because when I grew up I was raised to be polite and make sure that people had what they needed and not to make a spectacle of myself. Some of the people in the cars were very angry indeed at being blocked from work or home. I could understand this.
I really could. But protesting this was important.
I understood that too. We made sure the ambulance got through, we made sure that the woman who was sick and needed to get to Bronson got through, we did our best and I had to be satisfied with that. But it was hard.

The arrest came when a chain of people that I joined refused the police officers’ polite requests that we move from across West Michigan. I want to stress that the police were very polite. They spoke in non-confrontational voices, they warned us three times, they were very careful when the zip tied our hands. There were eight of us-4 women and 4 men. We are all white: this was a deliberate plan by the organizers of the protest—that white bodies put themselves on the line for people of color.  The police officers, with one exception, were all white. We were taken to the police station by Crosstown Parkway. There was only one holding cell available, so the men were taken in first, then the women. The officers came in and out, explaining what was going on, giving us timetables of how long we would be waiting. It was all very civilized. Within an hour and a half (my estimate) our mug shots had been taken, we had signed paperwork promising we would appear at court and we were exiting the jail through the front door to the applause of our fellow protesters.

An hour later I was in Harding’s finishing the errands I had started before going to the rally. As I wandered, a little disoriented, in the store I wondered if my experience would have been the same if I had been a person of color. Had white privilege padded the sharp corner of contact with the police? Would I have been treated differently if I were a person of color?  We were released without having to post bail, without even having our fingerprints taken. We were charged with a civil offense, impeding traffic.  Would that have happened if my skin was darker? I have no answer to that. It’s just a question I had and still have.

–Cary Betz-Williams

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