One Sunday night in 1991, I was arrested. We were getting ready for church. (Yes, I am old enough to remember Sunday evening services.) Fortunately, I wasn’t preaching, but I was helping set up the sanctuary. We were worshipping temporarily in an office building while the Cathedral of Hope was under construction. Suddenly, a very animated member came in to tell me that two women, who were members of the church, were being harassed in the parking lot by police officers, and that the squad car was pulled across the driveway so no one could come to church.
I went outside to investigate, and, sure enough, the police were in our parking lot and the male officer was shouting at two of the sweetest women I knew. These were two young lesbians trying to get to church. Apparently, the police thought the sticker on their license plate had expired, though we discovered later that it had not. To this day, I have no idea what the shouting was about. I walked up to the woman officer to ask what the problem was, and she ordered me back inside.
I tried to explain that I was the pastor and that they were on private property blocking our driveway. She became belligerent with me and physically pushed me back toward the building. Now, those who know me might find this difficult to believe, but I stayed calm. I once again tried to explain that, although it looked like an office building, it actually was a church and that these two women were members and we had other folks who were trying to get into the parking lot.
At this point, she yelled at me that if I didn’t get my a*s back inside I would be arrested, whereupon the male officer left the two young women alone and came over to do just that. They cuffed me and put me in the back of the squad car. When a member of the church complained from the sidewalk, one of officers said, “If this was south Dallas [where people of color live] you would understand why we are arresting him.”
When we arrived at the station, the officers opened the trunk of their car and spent 15 minutes trying to figure out what they could charge me with. Of course, I could hear them through the backseat. I posed for a mugshot, was fingerprinted, and spent the next several hours sitting in my blue suit on the floor with dozens of mostly drunk people.
They eventually released me when several hundred lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people showed up along with television cameras. The city council apologized to me in a public meeting, and the officers were reprimanded. This story had a good outcome because, although I am gay, I also am a white man with friends and a bit of influence.
If you have been paying attention to Sandra Bland’s arrest and subsequent death in jail you might be thinking that it can’t happen to you. I wonder, though, if I had been a black woman that night what might have happened to me.
Rev. Michael Piazza