Once upon a time, way back when I was in High School, I got detention for not identifying the person who, unbeknownst to me, had thrown a spitball at the teacher. I was one of those kids who kept a low profile and never challenged authority. I truly don’t know if I would have ‘squealed’ on my classmate if I had known who it was, or not. I do know that I would have preferred to stay out of it. I still remember the sense of injustice I felt, however, since I had no option. I had no idea who had thrown it.
I felt that sense of injustice again, recently. Not just for myself but for all the people treated similarly to this latest event, an injustice suffered by many on a daily basis, whereas I, living a privileged life, have not previously experienced it.
Dave and I had just flown from Trinidad & Tobago to Nashville, Tennessee. We then took the city bus from the airport into the Main Bus Station, downtown where we planned to buy SIM cards for our phones so that we would have communication and Internet access. After the purchase, we planned to continue on by bus to our AirBnB. We had 2 suitcases, 2 back packs, a computer bag, and another personal bag for a total of 6 items weighing about 150 lbs total.
I made use of the waiting room at the bus terminal downtown, while Dave went to the nearest MobilePCS store to get the new SIM cards. After some 10 minutes or so, a security guard informed me that I needed to leave! I explained that I was waiting for my partner who was getting SIM cards since we had only just arrived in the country. Irrelevant. Waiting in the waiting room was only permissible for a few minutes until the next bus arrived. When I showed her my bus pass for the day, she agreed to allow a few more minutes, but reiterated that no one was supposed to stay longer than absolutely necessary to catch a bus.
Dave’s errand took longer than I expected and he was gone an hour or more. The security guard reappeared with a colleague who turned out to be her boss. He was more insistent and told me flat out that I had to leave. This made no sense to me and I have to admit that I challenged him. What was the problem? Isn’t this a public facility? How would I reconnect with my partner? What did he intend to do if I stayed? ‘The Boss’ said he would have the police escort me off the premises if I failed to leave peacefully. That reconnecting with my partner was my problem. He said the buses were public transportation but that it was a private company and I had already been there an hour which was way too long. I needed to go outside to the sidewalk. I was totally flabbergasted.
Luckily, I had some thin rope with me, so I tied bags to each suitcase, put a backpack on my back, and actually managed to get my 150 lbs of luggage out to the sidewalk. I was worried that my partner would come into the station aboard a bus and not find me at the waiting room and, of course, would not know to look for me outside. I was there for a few minutes when a police officer showed up and told me that I was still behaving unacceptably. That the side walk was also off limits! I thought maybe he meant the bus shelter and stepped outside and asked if that spot was okay. No! Well, where? The entire sidewalk was off limits. I was having a hard time understanding his demands. I think he indicated that if I was constantly moving and not obstructing other people, I might be okay. (Although I’m sure I would be far more ‘obstructive’ on the move with all my stuff.) If I went across the street where there was less traffic, he MIGHT not bother to arrest me even though I would still be illegal! Again, there was absolutely no suggestion for how to deal with the situation of needing to connect with my partner who had the phones and the address of our AirBnB. I am old enough to remember when police officers were there to help rather than harass.
I went across the street. Dave returned on foot and I was able to get his attention.
(Dave: I was carrying both phones. If I had returned and Robn was not there, I have no idea how I would have found her. File a Police Missing Person’s report? The bus station covers the whole block. It was just luck that I approached from the side that Robn could see and that she saw me entering, and could yell loud enough for me to hear her. Due to the bus schedules, I returned as fast as was possible.)
We figured out what bus to take which happened to be leaving in a few minutes. So we went to the bay to catch the bus. The cop shows up and tells us that we could not be there for 24 hours – he had already ‘thrown me out!’ Nothing had been said before about a 24 hours prohibition. This all felt like totally unjustified harassment for a completely unknown reason. At some point I mentioned my mystification of what was going on, and he said that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” not that he ever cited anything beyond the usual catchall ‘obstruction.’
So, we were being told that we could not catch the bus to our AirBnB. Dave looked on the phone app and it said there was a bus stop for the bus we needed, a few blocks away. We had to lug our luggage to that bus stop and hope that we did not miss the bus, as it was due any minute, and they ran once an hour.
Eventually, we managed to get to our lodgings. Everyone else in Nashville was friendly and helpful, including the bus drivers, but some people seemed to think that the behavior was acceptable because they were ‘having problems there with other people’.
I think this was/is unjustified and inexcusable. I am fully aware of this trend to criminalize the poor for their poverty and I find it abhorrent. It appears that anyone using a city bus qualifies for harassment. There were other people at the waiting room who were being treated similarly who were not being the least bit disrupted in any way. So much for the land of the free! I fear for society if their answer to any problem is this kind of marginalization. I’m guessing that there are mentally ill and addicted people who cause financial losses to businesses and make people uncomfortable, but I consider them the victims rather than those who are inconvenienced. We need to find a better solution.
I fear that people will think that I am objecting to this happening to me as opposed to others. Rather, I am objecting to it happening to anyone. My first person account merely gives me proof that this is the new (unacceptable) norm.
In almost two circumnavigations and visiting many countries, I have never experienced such treatment.