Miles and His Father’s story written by Christine Rhine
Miles is a pseudonym and Miles is 18 years old. His father is 52 years old
Dad drops us off at this restaurant and we eat some beignets, and about 15 minutes later we’re walking out. There’s an intersection where there’s a bar, and everybody else in our group was like, “We’re just going to walk through.” And I’m like, “I’ll just meet you on the other side.”
I understand. I’m sure the other side is just straight across, so I’m walking along on Bourbon Street, looking for the other students. I don’t see them, so I walk back and I’m waiting. They’re eventually going to walk by. My dad called, but I couldn’t hear him, so I said, “I’m going to walk down a quieter street.”
Then three cops came. I didn’t know they were cops. I didn’t see them. I thought it was strippers because I was watching a cop and a stripper, and I thought: Whoa, I’m pretty sure they can’t grab people.
The cops came up behind me and grabbed my hands and immediately put on handcuffs and somebody grabbed my phone. They did all that immediately. I didn’t think they were real. I tried to push them off. Then I saw they were actually cops and I thought: Whoa, better calm down.
They said they were taking me to jail. They walked me to the precinct, and then they drove me to the jail. They said I assaulted a police officer because I tried to get away at first. I didn’t know they were cops.
I remember seeing my dad walk into the police station. I was just sitting there, really mad. I thought I would get out.
What happened next? I don’t remember. I have to look at the notes we wrote down. I can’t remember.
The prison was dirty and cold. I don’t remember everything.
I think I just want to move on, not talk about it anymore.
Miles’ Father’s Story
I’ve taken Ball State architecture students to New Orleans 17 or 18 times since Hurricane Katrina. My son Miles has come along three times. He is a senior in high school.
On this trip, I dropped the students off at Café du Monde, and I told them to walk through the French Quarter, that I would meet them after I checked into the hotel. I told them, “when you all get to Bourbon Street and St. Peter’s, I want you to cut through a locally famous restaurant/bar establishment, so you can see the courtyard there.” Miles is underage, so I said, “Miles, while the students are passing through the bar, I want you to walk around the corner to the other side and meet them there.”
I’ve thought about that so many times since. What if I’d been more explicit?
Miles walked to the opposite side of the block. He didn’t understand that I meant just one quarter of the way around. He couldn’t find the group, so he walked up and down the street looking. Then the students called me, and the faculty member accompanying the students texted me to say they’d lost Miles. So, I called Miles, and he said, “Oh, I’m right here on the corner of Saint –” and then he yelled.
I wanted to think someone had bumped into him or that he’d dropped the phone. I called back three times, and each time someone answered the phone and hung up. I called my mobile phone provider to see if someone had been using the phone or if the phone could be located. The provider indicated that there had been no outgoing calls and that location services were turned off; thus, they were not able to assist in locating the phone.
I called the police and said, “I think my son was mugged.” They responded by asking if I wanted to file a missing person’s report. They then transferred me to the French Quarter precinct, and they informed me they had my son. I was so happy, and I rushed down there. Upon arriving, I found Miles sitting behind the main desk, in handcuffs, on a bench just staring ahead. I’d never seen him look like that. He looked through me.
I asked, “Why is my son in handcuffs?” And the officer replied, “Your son assaulted a police officer.” I said, “No, that’s not possible.”
Miles is an unusually sweet kid. I’ve never even heard him raise his voice.
The policeman said, “we have reason to believe your son was involved in a drug deal,” and I said, “that’s not possible. We’ve been in New Orleans for 20 minutes. He’s a high school student from Indiana, and we are here with students from Ball State University on a field trip. They just got out of the car a few minutes ago.”
They said they had a description and that Miles had been following undercover officers involved in a drug bust for an extended period of time. I said again, “that’s not possible. We just got here.”
I asked to speak to someone in charge, and while I was talking to him they took Miles away in a van. Miles is 18.He is considered an adult. I asked where they took him, and they gave me an address to the notorious Orleans Parish Prison. I drove for nearly two hours trying to find the jail. They’d given me the wrong address. Finally I found it, and I was there until midnight. They told me there would be a hearing the next day at three o’clock, and there was no way I could see my son before then.
We were delayed in arriving at the municipal court, because the Orleans Parish Prison staff had provided me with an incorrect location for the hearing. When we arrived, Miles had already been seated in the courtroom. His feet and hands had been chained like those of a hardened criminal, and he was chained to someone who was charged with attempted murder. Miles later indicated that it was because they had a shortage of handcuffs. The students all witnessed this mockery of justice. They’d become pretty close to Miles and were deeply affected . . .deeply affected.
During the hearing, I was able to approach the bench, and I explained how we’d just arrived in New Orleans on a field study and college visit. I pleaded to the judge to release Miles and not to allow the New Orleans Criminal Justice system to ruin the life of yet another black male. The judge said this was just to set bail, and then he lectured the students about not partying and getting into trouble. It was awful.
The prosecutor proposed a $25,000 bail. The public defender proposed reducing the bail to $10,000. The judged issued a $2,500 bail; however, upon realizing that Miles was a high school student, he reduced the bail to $1,000, so we paid $100 cash bond. After the hearing, they took Miles back to the prison. It took another 12 hours before they ultimately released him.
While I sat there waiting for hours, I reflected on people like Sandra Bland whose family couldn’t scrape together $500 to get her out. And I’m thinking about all the others in the Orleans Parish Prison, waiting for a trial date because they couldn’t come up with money for bail. I’m thinking about the police officers’ smugness. I thought about the time I had a gun put to my head by a policeman when I was the same age as Miles. I also thought about other run-ins I had with the police. I’ve been pulled over and screamed at by officers on the Fallen Heroes Memorial Bridge — a memorial I had volunteered to design on their behalf. I recalled having my luggage dumped out of the car, having my baby daughter pulled out of her car seat, so they could search for drugs I didn’t have. I was thinking about all the times we came down here to volunteer to help the people of New Orleans rebuild. I was thinking how fortunate I was that Miles wasn’t tased or shot.
And I thought about how this otherwise wonderful field trip was destroyed by ignorance, stupidity, hatred, and racial profiling.
Am I coming back to New Orleans? No time soon. Not New Orleans.
But I tell the students, it could have happened anywhere in these United States. This is not law enforcement. It’s apartheid.
My son wants to forget what happened. I’ve seen that trying to forget doesn’t change anything. I’ve seen that in my own life. I want justice. I want an apology.
Defense attorneys were successful in getting the case against Miles dismissed. The family is now seeking to have the record expunged.
This story originally appeared in Facing Racism in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by R.A.C.E. Muncie in Muncie, Indiana.