In the "Our Family" page of this blog, I compared Jireste and I to Peter Pan and Wendy and said, "And our story is one where Wendy did not return to live with her parents in the civilized world but instead she stayed in a land full of pirate and fairy like characters and truly partnered for the long run with Peter.. with the lost boys by their sides." Well, as far as the pirate characters are concerned, I was mainly referring to the Dominican police who we have frequent run ins with. Today was one.
I was on our bed feeding Maraya and heard our neighbor Kuki (Cookie) calling me urgently. "They arrested your husband. Come!" She yelled. I didn't go running because first, that's not easy to do with a 3 month old and 2 year old, and second, I am somewhat used to this situation..if not with Jireste being the victim, someone else involved in Project Esperanza. Willy was arrested three times this past month. Claudion was arrested once, and Enso once. They are apparently cracking down on illegal immigrants, but I haven't actually seen them following through and sending anyone to Haiti. And Jireste is not illegal. Dominican men are also arrested without reason as well. This is the police's way of apparently keeping down the delinquency and theft. They arrest random men on the streets and then let them go the next morning or later that day. If the person has money then that typically gets them out. So it may just be the police's way to make money, as everyone says they are not paid enough by the government.
Anyway, I grabbed Maraya in one arm and Ilayas in the other and headed outside. There were many neighbors in the street and our little blue car was just a bit up the street. The police truck was parked behind it and the police were surrounding the car. Jireste was outside of the car with Willy, Claudion, and other neighbor friends. They had headed out just minutes before to go play soccer. As I made my way to the car, I saw the police start forcing everyone into the truck. Jireste must've said something in their defense because one officer pushed him and then smacked him/punched him in the head. I yelled, "Oh!" and started walking quicker. When I got close enough so that they could hear me, others were taking hits as they piled into the truck. This same situation has happened twice before and the only thing I know to do is to yell loudly and seriously so that no one retaliates and gets anyone seriously hurt. In the moment, I just see that the police have guns and that they obviously have no sensitivity for the young Haitians. So as I saw Jireste take another hit, I yelled. He looked up and yelled back, "Did you see what they did to me?"
|Jireste & company working on our car in front of our apartment.|
"I saw!" I replied, but was cut off by Willy and Claudion both realizing I had arrived, jumping up, throwing their arms up in the air, and expressing the injustice they were experiencing as well as their frustration that I was just now arriving. I was startled and mad and yelled, "Ki lès k'ap fè frekan ave'm!? Ki lès k'ap fè frekan ave'm!? Chita!!" This sounds kind of stupid when translated from Haitian Creole to English, but it was what flew out of my mouth and it did get them to sit down. It basically means, "Who's getting smart/rude with me!? Sit down!!"
I then began asking the police officers why they were arresting them. They didn't look at me or answer. I then saw them meddling with the car and walked over there to ask what they were doing. I let them know that that was my car and my house was just right there.
One officer said, "This car is under arrest."
"Why?" I asked. No one answered. When things like this happen, it's always a question as to whether the officers know Jireste and I and the group. Do they know that picking on this group of Haitians will lure in a foreigner which to them means money? I think that perhaps this time these officers did not know but just wanted to pick on this car full of Haitians. Because to me, they looked completely surprised that a white woman with two babies in her arms came to the scene saying, "That's my car." As they prepared to take it and told me to go to the police station to retrieve it, I asked, "How? You're taking my car. Look at me," in reference to the two babies, noting that I couldn't go on motorcycle and no public taxis pass through our area. One officer gave me Jireste's cell phone and 50 pesos that was inside the car and they drove the truck and the car away.
I stood there with at least a hundred neighbors lining the street watching and thought to cry. If this had been years back I likely would've cried, but the feeling quickly went away and I knew I just had to go to the police station. When I used to cry, everyone let me know that it wouldn't do any good. The only good perhaps it used to do was that it showed people what it looks like to have a soft heart... but other than that, a soft heart really doesn't get you far here. Maraya did cry though and I calmed her. Ilayas is so used to being around such situations that he wasn't startled at all but excited. He must've thought they were all piling in to go play soccer. He said, "Daddy? Foutbol? Car?" and danced and ran around. I scooped him back up so that we could make it back to the house more quickly. I began walking back to the house, ignoring our next door neighbor who was standing by me and seemingly offering help with his closeness and body motions. The week before when Willy and Claudion had a fight, he threatened to call the police and have all of these Haitians sent back to Haiti. So now as they were carried off, I didn't really want his help.
As I walked back to the house, neighbors said, "Go to the police station, Catalina. Hurry. Do you have the car's papers? Go." One woman said that Jireste had tried to outrun the police and that is why they had arrested them. I asked if she had seen and she didn't answer. Two men, Claude and Pipol, had jumped out of the car and ran to the house to call me so they were not arrested. They said that this was not true. Our house is on a little side road connected to the main road that runs through the community. It starts at one point and ends at another, so where it starts feeds into the main road and where it ends feeds into the main road. They had simply left through one end to go to play soccer, gone down the main road, and then passed a truck full of officers. The officers stared them down, so Jireste simply pulled back in the other entrance rather than passing it and going on their way, and had almost made it to the house. The truck did a U-turn and followed them, approaching them and causing them to stop when they reached them. One neighbor was already in the truck, arrested, for nothing. Then five more were arrested. (Yes, they pack themselves in when they go to play soccer.) Two got away.
One neighbor offered to take Ilayas and Maraya so I could take a motoconcho to the police station. I don't like to leave Maraya and Ilayas at all really. I called Papito, a neighbor and taxi driver who I had gotten quite used to when our car was not working. Taking a private taxi is much more expensive than motoconcho or your own vehicle, but it's necessary sometimes with the two kids. Claude and Pipol also wanted to go, but we planned for them to stay in the car unless we needed testimonies or something.
Papito showed up immediately after I called him. We went on our way. Claude and Pipol kept explaining what had happened to me on the car ride. Papito said what other neighbors had said - that the police are looking for extra money around Christmastime. They don't get paid much. We talked about the solution for such corruption and disorganization. When I mentioned punishing or removing police officers who they knew sought money for themselves rather than following a system where they give a ticket for violations of the law and make people pay the tickets, he said that the city was tired of kicking out police officers. They have kicked out many officers on several occasions and the new ones always just do the same thing. I said then that it starts with the leadership. They need to do better training. He assured me that they do trainings, etc. It always happens. I said that it's important that people understand why it's fair to follow a system and not take certain decisions into their own hands but just to obey some things. If the police officers make justice decisions based on money, then there is no just system. When I try to talk sense like this, most people I think get a little lost and don't follow me all the way through. Papito just kept saying that when the police stop him, he doesn't argue or anything. If he has a little money, he gives it to them and they leave him alone.
We arrived and saw one of the neighbor guys who had been in the truck leaving the police station. We called him over. He said that they had made him clean and then released him, but everyone else was still in there. I went in and was met by an officer who is often in there at the front desk. We had interacted several times before. I told him what had happened and finished by letting him know that they had hit Jireste and others. He listened to what had happened but when I said that they hit them, he looked up and then said, "Well if they hit them then we'll have to keep them until tomorrow to go to court."
I then realized that Papito had followed me in when he said, "No, she didn't say that they hit them, she asked if they hit them."
The officer looked at him, Papito reassured him, I followed Papito's lead, and the officer then said, "We'll let them out at 6."
"And the car?" I asked.
"The car is yours? You have the papers with you?"
"Okay, we'll let the car out at 6 too."
I think he made it so easy because he realized how unjust it was and he must be conscientious and/or responsible. We went back out to the taxi. It was now 5:10 so we wouldn't have to actually wait long. Ilayas continued to run around in excitement and I kept calling to him to make him stay close to me as we were on a sidewalk on the side of the road. Papito and I talked more about how to deal with the police. He said that I shouldn't accuse them or everything will just take longer and cost more money. I nodded and agreed but let him know that I never pay police officers off unless they completely have been abusive confiscating something or forcing money without even going to the police station, etc. This has happened on a few occasions, more so through Jireste as police are more likely to use such abuses with someone they think doesn't have protection. But I let him know that I like for things to go through the proper system because if not, the police will always take decisions into their own hands and that is why there is corruption. He kept telling me that it didn't make a difference, no one was gonna do anything about it, don't try to change things, just get yourself out of this. I reflected on times I had waited outside of the police station for days, discussing with staff, waiting for people to be released. I also told Papito about a time that a landlord unjustly kicked the boys out of a house, having them all thrown into a police truck and arrested in the same manner that had just happened. Two of the officers were the landlord's brothers. We went to court and the judge ruled that they could stay until the deposit ran out. But when we returned to the house, the landlord's family got violent and threatening, so there was no justice. The judge ruled one thing, but had no real power over the police to cause them to enforce it. So I agreed with Papito that... well not that the system couldn't be changed but that everyone sleeping in jail and me spending time and money (that is not available also) in court was not going to do much here. I also remembered my plans of doing an online law school program, (as long as financial aid covers it), and continuing to invite organizations like International Justice Mission to work here on this island. So I decided to focus more on long term goals rather and just get them out of jail.
All things went smoothly. They first let me get the car. Afterwards, Papito highly encouraged that I give the officer who made all of this easy 200 pesos (about $7.50 USD), to thank him. I wasn't comfortable doing this but gave the money to someone else to do it. He required that I go with him though because he didn't want the officer to think that he had taken some of the money. Then we just waited outside for Jireste and the others to be released. When they came walking out of the station in their soccer clothes, Ilayas started jumping up and down and celebrating. Everyone reunited, chit chatted, and we went on our way. I got a kick out of the look on their faces as if they were thinking, "That ended up not being that bad this time after all."
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