By Teka Lark (July 16, 2015)
July 14, 2015 Sandra Bland was found hanging in a cell in Waller County Jail in East Texas after being arrested after a traffic stop on her way to start a new job. On July 16, 2015 the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Blue Line Train celebrated its 25th anniversary of service. My great-great aunt was burned alive in her home in East Texas after she and her sister shot two white men who had raped her. Her sister, my great-great grandmother, disguised as a white woman escaped to Los Angeles with her new husband posing as her driver. They settled in a part of Los Angeles now known as South L.A.
In 1913 W.E.B. DuBois wrote in the magazine Crisis, “Los Angeles is wonderful. Nowhere in the U.S. is the Negro so well and beautifully housed…. Out here in this matchless Southern California there would seem to be no limit to your opportunity, your possibilities.”
The Blue Line train was built in 1995 in South Central. South Central is a part of Los Angeles that at the time was largely African-American. It was built in my community. It was the first train in the new era of public transit possibilities.
The Blue Line is the most deadly train in the United States. I took that train to my job in Watts as a kindergarten teacher for five years.
The Blue Line is patrolled by the L.A. Sheriff.
While riding the Blue Line on a weekday in the early aughts I was asked for my ticket by the L.A. Sheriff —for a fourth time in one trip.
I just about lost it. I had been asked for my ticket at the San Pedro stop. I had been asked for my ticket at the Florence stop. I had been asked for my ticket at the 103rd stop and now in some kind of sick sense of irony I was being asked for my ticket for a fourth time at the stop named after Civil Rights’ icon Rosa Parks, located on the border of Watts and Compton and a little less than two miles from the start of the 1965 Watts Riots.
When the L.A. Sheriff asks for your ticket you have to be quick. It puts you in a panic mode, because if you don’t get out your ticket quickly enough, they drag you off the train. If you get dragged off the train, you’re late for work and being late for work quickly gets people who take public transit fired and in L.A. that’s one month away from skidrow.
Los Angeles has the largest homeless population in the US and though Los Angeles’ African-American population is only 9%, we make up 50% of the homeless.
I asked the L.A. Sheriff why was he asking for my ticket. I then asked if Metro wanted to bust people for fare evasion why were they doing it at 6 a.m. when people are on their way to work, only two Black people in L.A. have a job, so why during rush hour when working people use it and why did they only do it excessively on the Blue Line?
I didn’t wait for his answers, because I already knew the answers. I got on my phone and said, “I am busy. I’m not getting out my ticket for a fourth time.”
Then this little old Black lady started apologizing for me and explained to the cop that I was a good person and I was going to get my ticket out.
I felt like I had been transported to the Antebellum south and this woman was trying to stop “massa” from beating me.
I’d seen Roots a few times. I am sort of programmed to attempt to not get my foot cut off in front of an audience. If you run away and you don’t get away the lesson to the masses is:
If you run away, you’re going to get caught, your foot is going to get cut off and your name will be Toby.
I got my ticket out, because I could tell this lady was very concerned about my well-being, even though she didn’t know me or maybe she did…After I got my ticket out the cop told me that I needed to learn respect. I looked up and was about to curse the cop out, but before my tongue touched my teeth the the older lady grabbed my arm and stunned me into silence —kind of like a grandmother in church when you’ve been playing too damn much.
After the cop exited the train she asked, “Did you go to college?” and I responded, “Yes ma’am.”
That was a popular question to me by older Black people on the Blue Line.
They thought that was a big deal. 100 years after the Negro had found the paradise that is Los Angeles and a piece of paper was still a very impressive big deal.
She explained that was real nice that I had gone to college and she could tell that I was smart, but that I needed to calm down. She went on to explain that I could do more outside than in jail owing to something that no one was going to care about.
I had been calm the first 102 times the L.A. Sheriff had asked for my ticket. I had also been calm the 20 times the LAPD had accused me of prostitution on my way to work as a kindergarten teacher. I have been calm for years, but I didn’t tell her that. She was older and who was I to take away her dreams. The dream that many Black L.A. second migration and one generation removed from the cotton fields of Alabama, Texas and Louisiana had, that even if you’re Black, in the US, if you just try hard and smile —it’s all going to work out.
It had to work out, we’re in Los Angeles. We’re not in the south anymore. We are in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is where all your dreams come true.
So I just shook my head yes and smiled.
Then she said, “You’re not a little white girl, no one is going to care if the cops rough you up and take you to jail. I’ll care, but no one else will.”
I should be happy, at least I’m not in East Texas like Sandra Bland or Cleveland, Ohio like Tanisha Anderson or New York like Shantel Davis or Malibu like Mitrice Richardson….