“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
― Malcolm X
In Aug. of 2013, I experienced one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. I haven’t had the courage and strength to write about it in its entirety until now. I was reading my regular daily selection of internet news, and I came across the craziest, though, unsurprising article. A woman, Kam Brock, was committed to a mental institution at Harlem Hospital, by the NYPD apparently for telling them that she was followed by Barack Obama on Twitter.
Literally the article title reads, “Women Held in Psych Ward Over Obama Twitter Claim.” Can you believe that? Apparently, the NYPD impounded Kam’s car for iffy claims, and when she went to pick her car up, the police were called, in response to her alleged behavior, leading them to call the paramedics and commit her to a psych ward. Her medical records reveal that doctors kept her in Harlem Hospital for 8 days, where they drugged her, forced her into group therapy and released her without any cause, because she told them that Obama followed her on Twitter.
From the evidence of her frustration with the NYPD for what their apparent illegal impounding of her car, her claim of being followed on Twitter by Obama and her assumed delusions about being employed, doctors were able to diagnose her as bipolar and emotionally disturbed.
Sounds crazy, right?! Outrageous?! Unbelievably wrong?! Inhumane and disgusting, perhaps?! How interesting it must be for me to sit here and read this story, observe people’s horrified reactions and then, reflect on my own very startling similar experience with the NYPD and an NYC psych ward.
My mom has heckled me for months about why I still haven’t gone forward with seeking legal counsel and assistance in suing the NYPD, NYC HHC, Bellevue Hospital, the maintenance man who entered my room while my roommate and I were half-dressed and every single doctor I encountered from the wicked doctor who committed me, to my treatment team, and too many others. She wonders why I haven’t written about what happened to me, since my posting of the video I recorded of that traumatic night.
You see, it’s so much harder for me to speak on this, then I’ll likely ever be able to reveal. I’m beyond a tough cookie, so to speak. I am used to being strong. I am a lion. When trouble and conflict arise, though against it, my senses and strength increase, not recede. So, writing about what happened to me, requires me to admit that there was damage done.
I suppose I convinced myself that once I testified to my experience, I would be giving power to the NYPD and all those who violated my person, family, rights and peace of mind. As result, I remained silent for all of this time and ended up giving up the power I pretended to attain. Until now.
This shit, what the NYPD did to me, or rather, tried to do to me, almost broke me. It was, still is, so freaking crazy. And no one cared. No one believed me. No one wanted to hear my story. So, yet again, like so many other times in my life, I bottled up and shut my mouth. I told myself when I was ready, because I would be ready eventually, I would open my mouth and speak MY truth. God willing, I’d have my day in court, literally and figuratively. Because I was not, will not, and am not going to let them break me.
On the night of Sunday, August 3rd, I had an emotional meltdown. I was a wreck. Crying. Freaking out. Spazzing. I felt so many emotions and I had no idea how to deal with them. My mother, being the sometimes reactionary person she is, called 911. She told the operator that her daughter wanted to hurt herself and she needed help. Why she would do that, I don’t know. Because too many times before, the police had shown my family that they were almost indefinitely our arch nemeses, not protectors or saviors. I told my mother I was fine and to hang up with the operator before providing our address or information. She hangs up the phone.
Nonetheless, the police arrive, within minutes. What seemed liked even seconds. For the first time, since I can remember. Just a week before, I’d suffered a seizure and the police never showed, with the paramedics taking almost 20 minutes to arrive. So, the police arriving within two minutes of an interrupted 911 call was beyond skeptical. It was telling as hell. When they knocked on the door, I greeted them, telling them they could leave because no one needed help in our home.
What happened next changed my life, forever. The police insisted that they could not leave until they were allowed into my house. What you say?! You can’t leave until I let you in? Where they do that at?! What law is this based on?! And where in the world was the Constitution and our 4th amendment rights, when such a law was being created?!
What ensued was essentially a two-hour stand-off between the NYPD and myself, in which my family was entrapped in my mom’s house, harassed by phone to open the door, and ultimately forced to endure the vandalization and destruction of my mother’s apartment. They knocked, banged, yelled, called and harassed us for two and a half hours. They kicked the door. Punched in the peep-hole. Setup officers, superiors, and paramedics on my floor, the floor above and below me. The NYPD eventually, with the assistance of dozens of officers, detectives, superiors, SWAT members, paramedics, and special police forces, broke my mother’s door down.
When the SWAT team came around the hallway wall, with bullet proof shields up, rifles and pistols out, pointed at my mother and I, as we locked arms and sang gospel music, praying to God for His protection, it was like a movie. Legit. I’d never imagined anything like it in my entire life.
Without ever identifying the girl who the woman on the phone originally called 911 for, the SWAT pointed at me, screaming, “That’s her! Get her!” They rushed me. Severing my locked arms from my mother’s hold. Throwing me against the wall. Slamming me on the floor. Handcuffing my hands and feet. The others took care of my mother, wrestling her from getting up to shield me.
Even more stormed the rest of the house. They dragged my brother his six month pregnant girlfriend, and two other others in the back rooms, into the living room. They handcuffed everyone, forcing them to squeeze on the couch. In the mean time, others raided the house. Looking through my mother’s closets, rooms and personal belongings. God knows, what for.
When they seemed to search enough, they came back. They gave each other the head nod that police give to one another. The head nod that means you’re going away with them. Usually in the back of their car. But I knew better. They were putting me in an ambulance. They were going to bring me to Bellevue. I knew it. I told them I knew it. And they said that it wasn’t true. The police said that no one was going to be knocking down anyone’s door. They said no one was going to the hospital. They just needed to see me in person, to make sure I was okay. It was police protocol.
I posted the recorded video of the “incident” before the police knocked down the door, on YouTube. I only got one comment. The person said, “you’re paranoid, as hell, Shaquana.” How crazy that was to me? Here is a video of me arguing with the cops about my family’s constitutional rights to regulate their entry into my mother’s home, where the cops are promising not to abuse my rights. Where the cops are declaring major concern for my personal safety. I am testifying that they did the exact opposite. That the cops did in fact, break my mother’s door down. That they did in fact, take me to a psych ward. Moreover, they used a damn SWAT team and half of the downtown Manhattan police force to do it. And the only person who cares to comment, tells me that I am paranoid.
Does his opinion matter? Yes and no. To me, no, it doesn’t. I not only know what happened, but also have ridiculous amounts of proof and evidence for legal validation. But, to the world, yes his opinion matters. Because it perpetuates the overwhelming opinion of the justice system. I’ve had too many experiences with injustice and trauma from the NYPD and every time, people question my story. Not just everyday joes. Attorneys, justice leagues, and other important platforms and agencies for advocacy against my horrible experience. No one believes me. Or cares enough. Or both. That’s what really killed me. That no one cared to help me seek justice. That’s what truly almost broke me.
Until now. Until Kam Brock. Her story reminded me of how many stories there are that just like mine. I talked to a couple of people who have had the NYPD knock down their doors and take them to the psych ward or police station, with little reason, later releasing them with even less explanation. Kam Brock’s stories of being drugged with Lithium and called delusional, reminded me of the dozen or so people in 20W with me, who were dragged off the streets of NYC illegally, by the NYPD and committed to Bellevue.
It reminded me of how my horrific stay in 20W, opened my eyes to the Medicaid and Veterans’ health insurance scams and NYPD quotas that drive the rationale for illegally committing who knows how many innocent NYC residents daily. It reminded me of my roommate, Prien, who was stabbed so hard with a needle meant to drug her, that she bled through her panties. I tear up now, as I recall the nurses and staff laughing so ruthlessly and viciously at her, as she ran through the halls, screaming and crying in pain.
Kam’s story brought back a lot of stuff I have not dealt with whatsoever. As I sorted through my paperwork, staring at the $8,000+ bill Bellevue has worked so diligently to collect due on, my hands shook. Sometimes, when I’m tossing and turning too much, I have flashbacks to my sleepless five nights 20W. I am immediately brought back to the constant fear of a random, “accidental” staff member slipping into my room, in the middle of the night.
They named me Sequanna Garner, mimicking my referral to Eric Garner’s murder during my previous exchange with the police, labeling it on my medical chart and bracelet. They gave me pork products to eat, allowed male staff in my room at will and lied to my mother and I ever step of the way. They withheld me from going outside on the roof, having toothpaste, soap, or a toothbrush for 48 hours and eventually, from having visits.
My biggest feat was to resist being drugged. I knew that as long as I could resist from being drugged, I could maintain my small, but important amount of power and agency in the situation, i.e. my sanity/ lucidness. My mother and I knew I had a legal right to deny medication. Besides, I had no diagnoses, to justify being medicated. Until my “treatment team” worked so diligently, in the 48 hours of my being there, and 2 hours of them knowing me, to diagnose me with manic-depressive bipolar disorder. I spent the next two days arguing profusely against being medicated, as their entire basis for their diagnoses was laughable at best, and ludicrous as worse. It was literally like I was in the Twilight Zone, 2015 edition.
I remember telling the resident that outside of the hospital, I was told I should be a lawyer because of my fast paced talk and quick-witted vernacular. In 20W, my fast paced talk and quick-witted vernacular, in conjunction with the “claims” of the NYPD, was enough to diagnose me as manic depressive.
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
I was able to survive in there, fully lucid, for four days. The second to last day, they got me. I was fed up. They were stressing my mother out. Giving her a hard time to visit me, feed me, and spend basic visitation time with me, without being interrupted. I decided I wasn’t playing anymore. I was being held illegally. In fact, the name and medical record on file for me was not even mine. Yet, the doctors were using my personal medical records to base their diagnoses of my made up name, on. I wasn’t even the person who they committed. Not according to my medical records and state ID.
It was crazy. During a visit with my mom, when asked about when I was getting out of the hospital, the doctor told us that they’d committed me for 15 days, though I hadn’t received any official notice. During the next visit, when I demanded to be allowed to go home immediately, Dr. Atim said to me, “hey, how does Monday sound? (it was Thursday, and I had been there since Sunday). As if, I was hanging with him for the weekend, as opposed to being illegally locked in a psych ward. I told him I wasn’t going home on Monday. He told me I wasn’t going home that day. I said, “well I bet I won’t be going home Monday.”
In the visiting room, I demanded for my mother to call the police, following the visit, reporting me illegally held in a NYC psych ward. In reaction to my demand, the doctors threatened to suspend all visits, if we went through with the call. I told him to go ahead. They then immediately terminated my current visit, where I yelled to my mother to make sure she called the cops, as she was being forced out the room. They then sent me back to my room.
While I was getting undressed to get in to the shower, my two male doctors came into my room, without announcement, telling me that my behavior in the visiting room was manic and in such, they were forced to drug me. Still though, I knew better. I’d had a seizure before and had taken Ativan. I knew I could handle that way better than the Lithium and Abilify they were trying to drug me with. I also knew, if you denied taking pills, they’d force you to get a needle of Ativan. I refused the pills. I was forced out of the shower, so the nurses could drug me. They then moved me to a single room, for isolation.
They drugged me so much, I was sleep from 3pm until the very next morning. All of the friends I made in 20W, were missing me when I arrived to breakfast, suspecting of what the doctors and nurses did to me the day before. Everyone in the hospital knew damn well I wasn’t suicidal, manic depressive and didn’t belong in 20W whatsoever. Though, I truly must question, what person could belong in 20W?
Nonetheless, I woke up! And I woke up in my right mind! Enough so, that they released me that morning of August 8th, before lunch time. Not before I reminded them that the medicine prescribed to drug me with, was prescribed to the made up patient, named Sequanna Garner, not Shaquana Gardner. They’d see me again. I promised.
So, here I am. Writing only the easiest details to divulge. There is so much more to testify. To bear witness to, out loud. To add to my declaration of my story. I have finally found the courage and strength, through God’s will, to begin writing about this. I am ready to stake a claim on my path towards justice.
I suppose in part, Kam Brock’s story and her courage to take stand inspired me. And in part, an episode of Cold Case inspired me. A young Black man, in 1963, disillusioned with the dream Martin Luther King Jr. promised, fought for the justice of a young Black woman being raped by her White employer. The episode chronicles the homicide detective’s journey toward the truth of who killed the young man.
Finding out he was murdered by the young Black girl’s White employer, the man’s brother and the police officer who locked the young man up for attempting to file the rape report, was no surprise. But, realizing that the case went cold for forty plus years as result of willful silence, was my tipping point toward writing this piece. Though fictional, that story was representative of every cold case of a Black person who was and continues to be brutalized by the police, and then reinforced by the willful silence of witnesses and desolate agency of the victimized.
I needed to get this story out of me. I had to confess what I witnessed and experienced. And the constant fear I enable to torture me daily, in midst of my willful silence on the issue. It is important to acknowledge that today, right now, we’re ignoring the powerfully suffocating systemic abuse, brutalization and murder of Black and Brown bodies by the hands of police in the United States, and the world.
Although, it was my drive for my commitment to fight against police brutality and over-militarization in the Black and Brown communities, I have long since tried to forget the time when the NYPD beat and brutalized my 13-year-old brother, during his first official arrest. I notice that my mother, and many other Black elders, insist on talking about their disgust with the treatment of Black people during slavery through the Civil Rights Movement. I am becoming more and more uncomfortable with the willful ignorance of the continued violence and dehumanization of Black and Brown bodies that continued passed the Civil Rights Movement.
The government’s renewed interest in Black Liberation Army member, Assata Shakur, for a crime “we” all know she didn’t commit, speaks volumes to this ignorance. The decimation of the Black Panther Party, in addition to the lives and freedoms of each of its members, is continually ignored when we speak about police violence and Blackness. The Iran Contra scandal is consistently left out of the conversation. J. Edgar Hoover and the COINTELPRO are consistently not mentioned. Fred Hampton, Mumia Abu Jamal, Hugo Pinel, George Jackson, Angela Davis, Afeni Shakur and too many others are forgotten, every time I read a story about police over- militarization and the prison industrial complex. As if these are not one in the same.
And single-handedly, this is the reason our persecution persists. Because we continue to remain silent. We continue to bare witness and do nothing. We continually live in fear of the reminder of what happened when a slaved dared to rebel. We continue to pretend we don’t know what they did to Marcus, Malcolm, Martin, Huey and too many others. Because we don’t want that to happen to us. To our sons.
Well, here’s a wake up call, folks. It is happening! Right now! To our sons. And to our daughters, too! What happened to Lil’ Bobby Hutton, happened to Martese Johnson, Abner Louima, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, Eric Garner, Kimani Gray, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley. What happened to Assata Shakur, happened to Melissa Alexander, Angela Davis, Lolita Lopez, Aiyana Jones, Tanesha Anderson, Rekia Boyd and too many women who remain forgotten in the conversations on police violence.
It happened to me, in 2013, when the NYPD illegally and unlawfully arrested me, because they were infuriated by my intelligence. It happened when a woman I know, was forced to bare the pain of the loss of her fetus and pregnancy, when police beat her so bad, they induced a miscarriage. It happened my twelve-year-old eyes watched as my sister’s then boyfriend used to be harassed and “legally” searched every time we went outside, just because “they knew his name”.
It happened when I first became the enemy of the NYPD, as I fought vehemently against their attempt to stop and frisk my younger brother, for throwing a fictional “piece of paper” on the sidewalk, well after we’d entered my mother’s NYCHA apartment building elevator. It happened when my brother, at 16 years old, along with other youth, was illegally stripped searched, violated and taunted by correction officers, while being held on Rikers Island.
It is happening to each person being attacked and/ or brutalized at Rikers Island (and every other “correctional facility”) by guards or other inmates, at this very moment. It happens every time government and city agencies like the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and NYC Health & Hospital Corporation (HHC), work hand in hand with police departments, like the NYPD, to systemically trap, detain and murder Black and Brown people.
The skeptical reinforcers of the deadly and brutal status quo must be out-voiced by the victimized. We must stand up. Take back our voices. Screw media! Screw large platforms! We gotta do this the old-fashioned way. Before there were televisions, computers, radios and airwaves, our voices were heard. Our people fought. And justice reigned. We must seek that position again! Through grassroots organizing.
We have got too caught up on the past, as a means to hide from the reality of today. Of right now. Of our present day existence. Of our current entrapment. Imprisonment. Confinement. Persecution. Devastation.
So here is my PSA: Blackness and police violence are two peas in a pod. They go together like, milk and cookies and mac and cheese. What’s one without the other? Blackness without police violence, is freedom and humanness. Police violence without Blackness is obsolete, void, unnecessary.
The NYC top cop, commissioner Bill Bratton, recently said it himself, when he stated, “Many of the worst parts of black history would have been impossible without police, too.”
Here’s where I’m starting in this movement. With myself. I am starting with my own story and testimony. I don’t need to prove to you what happened to Black and Brown people 40 or 50 years ago. Nor do I need to validate the correlation between what happened to us then, and what is happening to us today. All I need to do and all I will do, is testify. I have a story that tells the truth of America’s evils and unfulfilled democratic glory. No proof needed. My tongue and life are evidence enough.
How many of you will stand with me? Black, Brown, Yellow, White, or just simply human? How many of you will take a stand against the powerful fear induced silence that crowds our human existence in this day and age? Who will join the conversation about the truth? Who will testify?
I pray I am just one of many. I pray the fears that drove me to keep quiet all this time, the foolish belief that I am alone in my quest for true and defined justice, is false. I pray people will join me in finding my own voice, as well as building a solid platform for fortifying other voices in the struggle for freedom and liberation.
That is what I designed EverythingShaquana for. That is why I have been able to keep going despite all that has happened to me. To make sure that this didn’t continue to happen forever and ever, as it already has, simply because I didn’t have the courage to say something.
In such, I’ll leave you with the late, great Safiya Bukhari’s words.
“My political convictions… and the struggle for freedom and self determination were as strong as ever- maybe even stronger, because I had just seen firsthand what the state would do to a slave who dared to rebel”