The One where the Eyewitness became the Defendant

Almost five years ago, I moved out of my home country, Ghana, to Algeria in the name of an education. It was probably the first time in my life I was truly aware of the colour of my skin and what it means outside my home. There were so many incidences that you don’t even call them incidences anymore. They’re just part of life.

I remember one sunny Friday afternoon. My friends and I were on our way back (to our various residences) from church. We’d literally hustled to get into the bus because it was the last bus before prayers. There were at least ten of us in the mini bus, laughing at jokes or just talking.

I had found a corner near the door where it was safe and I was somewhat hidden from view. In the middle of our conversation, I see a man act really suspicious and trying to move about in between cramped spaces. He was a bit petit so he kind of blended in. then I noticed him give a phone to an older man sitting by the window. The older man swiftly took out the battery of the phone and hid the all the dismantled parts. I knew something was wrong. I asked everyone to check if they still had their phones on their person. They all said yes. Cool, then. False alarm.

A few moments before we arrived at our stop, one of the guys exclaimed. His phone was missing. Dude! We’re about getting off the bus. The trail is not so hot anymore. I told y’all to check! Liikkkeee!!!

Anyway, I told them that the short man had taken the phone and passed it to the older man. These two men, knowing perfectly well that they had done what they had done, were looking at me like I was crazy. It also didn’t help that at the time we spoke neither French nor Arabic fluently.

We get to our stop and we’re all hesitant to get down. There’s nothing to prove that the phone was with the old man. It obviously was not ringing when we called because it had been turned off and to top it all off, the prime suspect was being a tad aggressive [towards me]. Before I knew what was happening, HE was trying to drag ME to the police station.

I was so confused. Various thoughts running through my head. “What did I do wrong?” “Did I really see it happen?” “It could’ve been his personal phone.” “Wait, if it’s nothing shady, why was he pretending he didn’t know the older man? And how am I the one being dragged?!”

I snatched my hand back from him with some force and demanded he stopped. Then he smirked and said, “I guess you don’t want to go to the police,” and got on the bus. This whole time, the boys in the group are like, they have my back. Let’s go.

I was so confused. What did that man know that I didn’t? And these boys who couldn’t protect me from a man dragging me away were going to protect me at the police station?

Somewhere during this entire though process, the bus started taking off. The owner of the phone had decided to let it go. And I was standing there, shaken. Most importantly, I was surprised I was shaken.

Was it because I was in a foreign place? Or it was the way the man looked determined to take me to the police station though he was culprit? Till today, I haven’t been able to answer these questions.

I have been in a lot of scary situations in my short life. Some of them, I didn’t even realize they were scary till I’d survived.

I know that there’s a possibility that this could happen to anyone of any skin colour. The difference is, if it had been any other group of people on the bus, people might have actually tried to help us instead of staying quiet. I can say this now because I stayed in Algeria long enough to be conversant with that reality.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.   – Desmond Tutu

Over the last few days, platforms all over the world are showing their support toward the #BlackLivesMatter movement. There are people expressing their disappointment in those who aren’t. Yet there are those who are bent on poking holes in every argument supporting this cause in some kind of attempt to invalidate it.

It’s about time we started having these conversations. Not as an occasional thing that happens when black people start protesting. No. It’s time we started working on our hearts. This is not just a black and white or minority people problem, it’s a heart problem. There shouldn’t have to be a fight to be treated like human, with empathy and love. Yet there is.

Why is that?

Dr Nyameba  💜

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