I drive east to an appointment along Route 3 talking hands free with my mom making drawn out plans to attend a friend’s memorial on Monday. There are lots of details about time and place and dinner before or after. While I continue to talk I notice big police activity on the westbound shoulder. I’m staring at two black and white Suburbans in line with red and blue lights flashing. There sitting on the curb between the SUVs and an old beat up blue Toyota is a black woman with hands behind her back in handcuffs. Sobbing. Sobbing. Sobbing . Uniformed men form a circle around her. A third flashing car arrives, then a fourth. 6 or 8 men surround the woman now while she endures flooding tears with hands bound back. I continue east for half a mile until curiosity and concern trigger a U-turn. “What offense could a woman driving a shabby old car have committed to provoke handcuffs?” I ask my mom, talking to the air in the car as I drive. “Maybe she just killed someone, or stole the car…” she says more to discourage me than out of believing those reasons are actually real; she knows I’m thinking something different. I confirm her concerns as I say “or maybe they’ll take her to jail and she’ll be dead in 3 days.” And then “you know there is almost no way I’d ever end up in handcuffs on the side of the road.”
Now I’m slowly passing the scene for the 2nd time. The officers are peering into the rear window of the car as I turn the corner just past the action into a neighborhood of neat brick colonial homes. I make another U-turning and I return to the corner, creeping along to get a closer look. I stop the car and look left at the activity. An officer whose tight-fitting uniform stretches across his belly notices me watching while two others each take one of the woman’s arms to help her stand. One officer turns her around and removes the handcuffs. She rests her arms across her chest as two of the uniforms talk towards her while two more continue the rear window peering. Still more mill around and I am surprised that one township has so many officers.
I think the woman is safe now. I pull across the divided road to turn left heading east on my way again. My schedule is tight today and I have to hurry to stay on it. Half an hour or so later though I am heading back, retracing steps, approaching the scene anxious as I get close to see the flashing lights gone. They are gone, but standing alone on the side of the busy road is the woman with her phone flashing high in the air as her arm is raised above her head. I’m not sure if she’s talking or acting out frustration and I notice her stuff is in an eight-foot long line on the grass between the sidewalk and curb. The contents of her car seem to have been emptied there. I wonder if they had stood by while she removed each item before they took her car away, or if they helped her arrange everything in that neat line. I pull past and then turn back into the brick house neighborhood, one more time to U-turn and return to the corner.
This time I park. I’m wondering if it’s safe to offer the woman a ride; do I know for sure she is not dangerous? I get out and walk across the street and as I approach the woman stands alongside a hedge and she stares a stern look at me from behind dyed red plaits.
“I saw the police here before “ I say, “I wanted to see if you are OK.”
She responds, speaking in a Caribbean accent “Yes Ma’am, thank you, I’m waiting for a ride.”
“Someone’s coming to get you?”
“Yes Ma’am, thank you, someone’s coming.”
“I was worried about you” I say without thinking.
“Thank you Ma’am” she replies, as I turn to walk back to my car.
I wish she hadn’t called me Ma’am.