This post was inspired by Burna Boy’s Freedom, recent events, and many memories; some of which I’m going to share with you today. The bold italic lines are his lyrics.
* * *
Problem, problem, problems. Could somebody show me a way that I can solve them? They calling police and they’re saying that I rubbed ’em.
“Go back in!” it came from behind. Surrounded by police vans and officers, his heart beat faster. His heart-beat increasing, he knew he didn’t really have anything to worry about. He was a citizen. But what about the other guys back inside the bar? He feared for some of his friends.. some weren’t legal residents. And all of a sudden, he feared for his own safety too.
“Fool, go back in! We’re about to do a search.”
“Officer, you can search me right here. I’m on my way home.”
“F*** it!” it came. Within a split-second the officer had forcefully twisted Boogey’s left arm and pushed him against the wall.
They calling for back-up, bringing their whole squad in.
A command to his other colleagues, a crack, a beating to his head. Unconsciousness, followed by dizziness. A broken arm.
Now they screaming “Get on the floor”, they got me crawling.
Looking around, he struggled to take in all the movements, the shouting, the beatings. 12 hours at the police station, followed by a 3-hour operation and an entire week in the hospital. It doesn’t matter much that you’re Austrian on paper.. not when your skin is this dark.
* * *
“Don’t let that bastard move!” He shouldn’t move and he shouldn’t breath. “Not until we find out what’s happening here anyway.” Pushing him to the floor, one of the officers held Mr.Henry’s head to the ground; the officer’s knee securing Mr. Henry’s arms- behind his back. There was no getting away.
Then they slap me cuffs on my wrist, I’m getting brawling.
Like an animal, chained. Like a lamb, led to the slaughter. Like a prisoner, at the mercy of merciless guards. He was pressed to the bare ground; right outside church, right during service. Someone had called the police. Passers-by shook their heads in stunned amazement. Others were shouting, “Leave him! Oh, won’t you just leave him? He’s done absolutely nothing wrong!”
I can explain, officer! But they will not let me. Anything I say will be used against me..
There was a logical explanation why his 4-year old daughter and Mr. Henry had stood outside: she had been screaming and shouting, thus disrupting the service. He had thought it best to take her into the warm summer sun and allow her time to calm down. Oh. how wrong he had been, for an old lady right had seen him; had heard the child crying. She was irritated! “Officer! Hurry, hurry! There is a black man beating up his baby right outside my flat!” she had reported.
So it’s best I that surrender gently.
The daughter stood by calmly at first, then crying even louder, she started rushing towards her father confused. He was the one crying out loud now. “Don’t let those officers touch my child!” it came. My father rushed to grab her. Many others stood by watching. What could one do?
Leaving the hospital with swollen eyes and a broken rib a day later, he returned home to receive a fine of €350. “Disorderly conduct, violence against the police”. One officer had taken a scratch to his face. No one cared to know why or how.
And they won’t provide a lawyer to defend me.
* * *
What was Ghani going to say? What could he possibly say? There wasn’t much to say, when he did not understand what was going on around him. The sardonic laughter, the calls, the threats.
“Drogen?” He said confused, using his arms and entire body to underline his confusion.
Having exited the underground station to meet one of his friends, he was stopped by three officers who had been looking out for him. Well, that it, for any victim, really.
I ain’t got saved by the law..
“Anwalt?” Bringing out a small bag of cocaine and some handcuffs, the officers told him he was being arrested for possession of drugs. Collecting his ID-cards and confirming his legal status, they said the judge would settle the case. The case was an obvious one; he had no right to a lawyer.
Fear was written all over him.
“Drogen?” He had carried no drugs on him.
My uncle came running, shouting. “I saw you take out the drugs from your own pocket! Officer! I saw you take out the drugs from your own pocket!” Alerting passers-by and calling for attention, there was going to be a scene. “This officer took out drugs from his own pocket and wants to pin them on my friend! Help! Help!”
When I go to court, I’m holding my Bible. Problems, problems, problems.. Could somebody show me a way that I can solve them?
Drawing closer, people came to see what was happening. Everyone could do with a bit of excitement. But then again, Blacks and drugs..
All over the news like Osama Bin Laden.
The officers laughed. “Oh, calm down. Nothing wrong with some harmless fun!” they said. Nervousness clearly written on their faces. Time to get away. Perhaps we’ll catch one some other day..
Judgement shall reach them..
* * *
Freedom. They don’t wana set me free, and my PO don’t wana let me be. Got me feeling like he obsessed with me.
Dada had spent quite a few months behind bars. The process had been going on for too long a time. But why, when the police had failed to come up with solid evidence against him?
So I get locked up.
Some other illegal immigrants were willing to testify against him. Why not, when they were offered permission to stay- legally? It was an offer too tasty to refuse. And so, when he had walked into the court room, assured by his lawyer that there was no reason to hold him any longer, and glad he spoke with so much confidence, the new witnesses came as a great shock. Two of his friends among. “Yes, we worked for him.”
And I tell them I ain’t going back to jail. I ain’t gona spend my whole life in a cell.
So he thought.. year after year. Even after those same friends returned to confess they had been bribed into giving a false testimony in exchange for liberty. Having been tormented, they said, they’d rather be deported than know an innocent person was to spend ten years behind bars.
Tryin-a spend my life doing well. Tell me, what I gotta do to prove to you?
“Sorry. Case closed. We are collecting neither evidence nor any more witness testimonies. A bit late now. The cause would not be re-opened or tried.” And so he spent.. ten years.
* * *
When people ask me about growing up in Vienna, I put those memories aside. I refuse to remember the evil that has befallen family and friends, relatives and acquaintances; and I smile at the clean streets, the good education-system, superb health-care, and Vienna’s beautiful architecture.
I defend racism in the light of “Rome wasn’t built in a day“. Slowly but surely, we too will get there. One day..
I laugh at newspaper articles announcing the “first black bus driver” or the documentary on David Alaba, the best and highest paid Austrian footballer in history, a “black man”! Adding, that it seemed as though not all Nigerians were drug dealers after-all. And Lydia, another Nigerian who had won “Austria’s Next Top Model” too proved that not all Nigerian women were prostitutes.
I remember the day my sister and I were attacked by an Austrian who followed us both on the train and the tram, shouting and threatening “Go back to where you come from!” It wasn’t until much later that the tram-driver and other passengers told him to “Get out of here, immediately” You’re bringing shame on all of us. Leave these two girls alone. Can’t you even tell by their accent? They were obviously born and bred here! Get out!” that the old man left us; making sure enough of his spittle would rest on our faces before exiting.
My emotions are stirred as a remember an evening just two weeks ago, when I was stopped by the police, asked what I was doing walking around at 6.30pm; told to identify myself; and finally congratulated for having been born in Austria. I should consider myself lucky.
And then, I picture life back in London where the colour of your skin doesn’t seem to matter. Black lawyers, black doctors, black architects, black bankers. Black people in both low and high places.
I sigh and pray for a day all this too will be said of and seen in Vienna. I pray for a day when being controlled and asked your ID because you are black is no longer the norm. A time when not every black guy is accused of loving his white babe “for palli”. Yes, a time when- just like in so many other places around the world- you are being judged for who you are, and not the colour of your skin.
Often, being black in a place such as this does feel like living life in a cell. Constricted and restricted by a system that simply will not let you be free..
Freedom is a must.