It happened on June 2, 2019, a lazy Sunday morning, at around 11 a.m. I’d opened the back door of my home to let my dog, Daisy, out and that’s when I heard it. There, amongst the birds’ morning song, was the voice of a woman filled with fear and anger. Most of her words were unintelligible, but amid her shouts I could make out a sentence or two.
“Get the fuck off me!” She screamed. “Get away from me! No!”
I’d heard a similar commotion coming from the same residence around 5 a.m. that same morning, but because it seemed to die down as quickly as it started, I didn’t call 911. This time, whatever was happening back there was not stopping. In fact, it was escalating. There was the sound of glass breaking, doors slamming and two voices that seemed to be getting more and more hysterical.
I pulled Daisy into the house and sat quietly in my bedroom for a moment, listening intently. I could now only hear the woman’s voice, but there were pauses, as if someone was responding to her. The dispute was not ending. In fact, it seemed to be getting worse. I could no longer make out words, just heightening anger in the voices.
I decided to call the police.
The 911 operator asked me for my name, location and the nature of the emergency. I told him that I was concerned about a neighbor on the street behind me and that I could hear yelling and what appeared to be some sort of fight. The operator asked for my address so he could pull up a map and determine the exact location of the altercation.
He typed. I paced.
My 18-year-old son Zion, who had emerged from his room and was now aware of the situation, was following me around our home listening to my half of the call with the 911 operator. In an attempt to gain some privacy so that I could concentrate on the phone call, I briefly stepped out onto our front porch and neglected to lock the front door when I came back in.
The dispatcher asked me more questions and entered my responses into the system. He verified that the location of the altercation was on the street behind me and not on my street. I confirmed this. As our conversation continued, he overheard the woman yelling in the background and asked if either one of us was outside.
I clarified that I was in my own house and, as far as I could tell, she was in hers. The fight was that loud. Hearing this, the operator seemed to become more concerned and and double checked that I was reporting something that I could hear directly behind my house. Again, I confirmed that he was correct. He assured me police officers were en route and the call ended.
Several minutes later, I received a call from a police officer. He asked for me specifically and rattled off my address. I confirmed my identity and address, quickly adding, “But the emergency is not at my house. It’s at the house behind me.” Clearly irritated, he answered, “I know that. I want to know if there is a gate code.”
I shared my personal gate code with the officer and he told me they were on the way and hung up. Satisfied that the police would check into whatever was going on back there, I stepped into my downstairs bathroom.
So, there I was, pants around my ankles playing Candy Crush, when I heard a loud BANG, followed by shouts of, “POLICE! POLICE!”
I immediately realized the banging and the shouting were too loud to be coming from outside.
The police were inside my house.
I heard Daisy, who isn’t exactly the most people-friendly dog, snarling and bolting, full-speed, toward the front door. I knew she would not hesitate to attack.
I’ve never pulled up my pants so fast in my life. I burst out of the bathroom. There, in my doorway, stood two police officers with their guns out of their holsters and ready to fire.
Time seemed to slow down, but my mind felt like it was moving at hyper speed.
If the dog gets any closer, they’ll shoot.
If they start shooting, they won’t stop.
Other officers will arrive on the scene and begin shooting, too.
Zion is running in this direction. I can hear his footsteps upstairs. He’s probably coming to restrain the dog.
Zion is Black… and tall… and he’ll run down the stairs toward the front door… toward me… and the officers… and their loaded guns.
Black men running toward officers is perceived as a threat.
The officers are already on edge.
Once they see my son running toward them, they’re gonna shoot.
They’re gonna shoot my baby!
Please God, no!
One of the officers, rightfully afraid of Daisy, took one step back and aimed his weapon at her, which made my dog pause just long enough for me to catch her. I grabbed her collar and placed myself between her and the guns… and, essentially, in between the guns and my son, who had not yet come down from the second floor.
There I was, crouched in front of two police officers in my own home, begging them not to shoot. How many African Americans have had to face this scenario? How many have not survived it?
Still crouching, I held up my hand ― the universal sign for stop ― and yelled over and over, “She bites! Stop! Wrong house! Wrong house! Stop! It’s the house behind me!”
I intentionally used short concise sentences over and over to communicate and deescalate the situation as quickly as possible.
Slowly walking backwards, with one hand still raised, I dragged my now furious dog to my bedroom and closed the door. When I turned back around, the officers were returning their guns to their holsters. My son was standing on our enclosed staircase, shielded from the officers’ view.
When he stepped out onto the floor, one officer subconsciously placed her hand back on her weapon.
I don’t know if she noticed, but I most certainly did.
The officers asked me to clarify ― again ― where the dispute was and when I stepped out to my driveway to show them, I was met with a half-dozen police vehicles which had converged in front of my home in a perfect “V” formation. My neighbors were standing on the lawn, gawking in disbelief. I pointed at the house in question and the officers rushed off.
I stepped to the side of my house and disintegrated into tears. I tried to call my wife, but my hands were trembling with such force that I could not hold the phone steady.
The female officer, who’d reflexively reached for her gun when she saw my son, came back to my home a few minutes later. I quickly tried to pull myself together. Looking back, I think I didn’t want her to know how upset I was, in the same way you don’t want a bully to know how much they got to you. Still, I had to wipe away a tear and she noticed.
She offered me a half-hearted “sorry” and curtly asked for my ID.
She took my information and that was that. I’m not exactly sure what happened at my neighbor’s home, but I was told that everything was “OK.” Somehow, I don’t think that was the case — at the other house or mine.
A week later, the shock of literally staring down the barrel of a gun in my own living room had worn off and anxiety set in. I came home early from work a few days later and when I opened the door, I found my son and Daisy staring wide-eyed at me ― both of them trying to register who was coming through the door. I stood still and stared back at my son, wordlessly understanding his fear, giving him the time he needed to process that it was just me and that he was safe.
And then he answered the question that I hadn’t asked ― at least not out loud: “I’m okay, Mom. I’m okay.”
I decided to file a complaint with the police department, but it took two weeks to finally find the right office. One week alone was spent getting transferred to and from different departments and leaving messages in voiceless voicemails.
I received no responses. No returned phone calls. There was no surprise, no concern in the voices or actions of the receptionists and operators who heard my story and took my messages.
“How is it that I was still able to assess the situation, protect the officers from my dog, protect my dog from the officers, keep my son safe, and deescalate everything while staring down two guns using just my words and a little black girl magic?”
I finally spoke to a lieutenant who oversees the section of the police department that was involved in the incident. It turns out the wrongful invasion that took place in my own home was never even reported to the sergeant present during the event, let alone documented in the report.
Surprised? Yeah, me neither.
At one point in the conversation, the lieutenant suspiciously asked me, “What do you want?” which I interpreted to mean, “Yeah, we made a mistake, but you won’t get any money from this if that’s what you’re thinking.”
Money? I thought to myself. You think I spent a week tracking you down to demand money? Your officers could have killed me, my son and my dog and that’s all you think I want? Money?
I wanted to say, You know what I really want, lieutenant?
I want the police to protect and defend my life and my son’s life. How is it that I, caught off guard and violated in my own home, was still able to quickly assess the situation, protect the officers from my dog, protect my dog from the officers, keep my son safe, and deescalate everything while staring down two guns using just my words and, admittedly, a little black girl magic?
Do you see how that works, lieutenant? Want to know what else I want?
I want accountability. And I do not want you to throw the two constables involved in the incident under the bus for good PR. That is literally a cop-out. How about, instead, you acknowledge that the six-week training they and other officers received from your department was apparently so subpar that it resulted in my family being placed in grave danger? How about a thorough examination of that training program and making the changes that obviously need to be made to ensure that this doesn’t ever happen again?
What do I want?
I want you to be different than the generations of cops that have come before you. I want you to have enough fortitude to uphold the law even when you and your officers break it. I want you to report and correct crimes committed by your officers. I want you and all of the officers who report to you to honor the badge you so proudly wear by exercising the utmost care and self-control when handling a firearm. I want you and your officers to be an example of what to do instead of what not to do.
That is what I want.
I want what I deserve ― what we, as parents, as African Americans, as immigrants, as members of the LGBTQIA community and as citizens deserve ― which is infinitely more valuable than any monetary compensation or even an apology could offer.
I want change ― and I want it now.
Too many “mistakes” have been made. Too many innocent people have been killed. Too many police departments have looked the other way and refused to take accountability for what their officers have done and who they have done it to. Too many mothers have had to grieve the loss of a child at the hands of a police officer. Too many fathers have been murdered during “routine stops.” There has been too much news coverage of police brutality, too many articles written, too many documentaries released for anyone to claim ignorance on how race and socioeconomic status factor into these deaths. These crimes.
This has gone too far. Enough.
But I didn’t say that to the lieutenant. I couldn’t find the words. I was too angry. Too hurt. But I have them now.
It’s been over six weeks since I submitted my official complaint. So far, the only response I’ve received is from the sergeant in charge of the investigation, who happens to also be the sergeant on the scene that day, which certainly seems like a conflict of interest to me. He has assured me he is investigating the matter and will follow up with me.
I don’t know what will happen now or if I’ll actually hear anything. I don’t know what I’ll be told when all is said and done, but I do know that unless it involves more training and accountability for the police department, it won’t be enough.
A representative from the Harris County Constables Office declined to comment on Lynnette Bradford’s complaint, citing the fact that there is an active investigation into the incident.
Lynnette Bradford is a blogger, freelance writer and speaker based in Houston, Texas. Her blog, Living Out Loud with Lynnette Bradford, explores a wide array of topics including inclusivity, faith and food. Find her online at LynnetteBradford.com or connect with her on Twitter at @out_loud_life.