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Black Woman Accused of Breaking in Her Own Home

On Wednesday, The Washington Post, published the account of a Black woman who had been accused of breaking into a California home.  Fay Wells, penned her horrifying encounter with 19 police officers and one seemingly frightened neighbor of hers as she was accused of breaking into her own home.

After locking herself out one day in early September, Wells called a locksmith to help her regain access into her home. What started as a day at a soccer game and a forgotten key ended with Wells on her front lawn starring down the barrel of a loaded officer’s gun.

“The trauma of that night lingers. I can’t un-see the guns, the dog, the officers forcing their way into my apartment, the small army waiting for me outside.”

Wells is a Dartmouth graduate with an MBA who had moved into the apartment complex a few months prior. She’s the vice president of a strategy company in California and has never been in trouble with the law.

The day of the incident, she had left her home for a soccer game and realized she locked herself out, she decided to deal with it later and left to enjoy the game. When she returned she called a locksmith and had the locks to her home changed.

Soon after she made it inside Wells was greeted by the sounds of barking dogs and police officers with guns ordering her out of her home.

“I had no idea what was happening, but I saw how it would end: I would be dead in the stairwell outside my apartment, because something about me — a 5-foot-7, 125-pound black woman — frightened this man with a gun. I sat down, trying to look even less threatening, trying to de-escalate. I again asked what was going on. […] I told the officers I didn’t want them in my apartment. I said they had no right to be there. They entered anyway.”

Santa Monica police had dispatched 19 police officers to her home, after a neighbor called police and reported that a Hispanic woman was breaking into the apartment.

After they restrained her on her front lawn in front of all the neighbors and searched her home, the officers began to understand that Wells lived there and released her.

Officers then questioned why she wouldn’t just say she lived there when she came out of the apartment.

READ: White Woman Recorded on Brooklyn Bus Calling Black People “Inferior”

When Wells demanded the information of the 19 officers who had manhandled and pointed guns at her, a number of them began to simply ignore her and talk to her neighbors instead. She approached her neighbor who called the officers on her and introduced herself.

Wells tried to reasonably ask the neighbor if he understood the gravity of his actions but his excuse was that he had never seen her in the neighborhood before and then questioned if she knew her own next door neighbor. She stated that she did and the neighbor replied, “I’m an attorney, so you can go f— yourself.”

Since the incident Wells has been working on getting answers and consequences for the actions of the officers. She is currently in pursuit of a civil suit, but has faced some road blocks in the form of the blue wall protecting the officers identities and covering up the events of that night.

Wells’s story is a scary reminder of the harsh realities of being a Black person in a White person’s world.

“It didn’t matter that I went to Duke, that I have an MBA from Dartmouth, that I’m a vice president of strategy at a multinational corporation. It didn’t matter that I’ve never had so much as a speeding ticket. It didn’t matter that I calmly, continually asked them what was happening. It also didn’t matter that I didn’t match the description of the person they were looking for — my neighbor described me as Hispanic when he called 911. What mattered was that I was a woman of color trying to get into her apartment — in an almost entirely white apartment complex in a mostly white city — and a white man who lived in another building called the cops because he’d never seen me before.”

This could have been any of us, in the comfort of our own homes simply because of the color of our skin.

Photo: Kevin Monk/Washington Post

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  • CDRwayneljohnsonjagcnavyret

    Subject: Fay Wells and the Santa Monica Police

    I empathize, sort of, with Ms. Fay Wells regarding her experience with the Santa Monica police.

    In 1997, I lived in New Orleans. At the time, I was 44 years old, 5 feet, 10 inches tall, 176 pounds, a college and law school graduate, and a commander in the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAGC). I and all my neighbors had lived there for at least seven years and knew each
    other. I was not in uniform at the time the following took place:

    One Sunday afternoon, I was working on my car in my driveway when two police cars pulled up with their lights flashing. Four police officers ran up to me, hands on their holsters, and loudly told me to step away from the car and keep my hands away from my pockets. They ordered me to explain what I was doing here, and when I told them that I lived here and to slowly produce my driver’s license to prove it. I was then told that a neighbor had reported that a suspicious, decrepit van had driven up and down the street a few times before parking a block away. The neighbor had seen two teenage boys get out and enter my house. This was on a street with individual homes.

    I knew nothing about any of that and did not recognize the van down the street. So the five of us had my teenage daughter come to the door where she confirmed that two boys from her high school had stopped by to see her. The police had the two boys come outside and questioned them on the sidewalk. Up until the very end, the police exhibited a belligerent attitude. On a positive note, the two boys never visited my daughter again, as they were as decrepit as their van.

    There are some major relevant differences between my case and Well’s case. EVERYONE mentioned above was white, including me. It is unclear if all the cops in Wells’ case were white. Guns were not drawn on me but the cop’s hands were on them. Although I was miffed at the time, the more I thought about it the more I was glad that the neighbor called the police and that the police acted the way they did based on the limited information they had. In the Wells’ case a neighbor had seen what looked like one or two people breaking into an apartment from a good distance, very likely after it was dark. They actually were breaking in to Ms. Wells’ apartment, albeit legally. I do have a dumb question, why did Ms. Wells not seek the assistance of the apartment complex manager instead of calling a locksmith?

    Yes, the police could have been more polite to me, but what if I was a criminal in action? What if the two boys were just waiting for me to come inside to attack me? Yes, the police embarrassed me — several of my neighbors gathered across the street to watch including the caller — but the police were just
    trying to make sure I was who I said I was.

    Thus unlike Wells, I trust that the responsible members of our community will not consider what happened to her, to me, or to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. to be abuses. I hope all police officers continue to demonstrate such instincts. Not doing so would make it more likely they will be killed in the line of duty. Also neighbors should call the police when they see something suspicious even if they do not have all of the facts.

    As to how Wells should handle the perceived indignity that she suffered at the hands of the 19 police officers I suggest she do what I should have done in 1997 Write the police a thank-you letter and a like one to the local newspaper. Unlike me she has all of their names.

    Commander Wayne L. Johnson, JAGC, Navy (Ret.), Alexanrdria, VA