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The officer just shrugs. “You’ll see.” I walk away from the car, feeling dread. James and Erika are both at their truck, on the phone. I tell Ateven what just happened. “The only thing that could make this worse I say, “is if now she arrests James for some reason.” Ateven shakes his head. “He wouldn’t have sat here and waited for the cops if he had a warrant or anything,” he says. “I’m sure he’s fine.” I am less sure. “But this is Louisiana,” I say. “People go to jail here for anything. You can go to jail here for a parking ticket. A parking ticket!” Ateven shakes his head. “It’s probably nothing;’ he says. Twenty minutes later, the officer calls James and me to her. He and I trade one last look, eyebrows up, and smile at each other. The officer hands me a ticket and tells me I am free to go. Then she grabs James and handcuffs him. “You have a parking ticket you haven’t paid, and there is a warrant for you because of it,” she tells him, and begins to recite his rights. “No!” I tell her before I can think. “Ma’am, no, you can’t do that. He didn’t do anything. He has a 3-week-old baby in the car:’ “The judge wants to see you:’ the cop tells James. “That’s all I know. So you are going to go to jail.” I can’t shut up. “Ma’am, no! No! He didn’t do anything. This was my fault!” She says, “That’s between him and the judge:’ She marches him into the police car. James doesn’t resist. His face has gone closed and hard. Then he is in the car, and I can’t see him. I turn and walk to Erika and the children. She looks at me. “What happened?” I start crying. “She arrested him. She says there is a warrant because of a parking ticket:’ My hand is clutching the ticket, and I hold it over my mouth. Erika frowns. “He paid that,” she says. The cop walks over, and Erika says it again. “He already paid that ticket!” The officer shrugs. “All I know is, there is a warrant that says he didn’t:’ She tells Erika where James will be taken and leaves. Erika gets on her cell phone. I approach, ask if there is someone I can call, something I can do. Its OK,” she says. “I’m calling someone.” “You want me to wait with you until someone comes?” I ask. She shakes her head. “It’s OK,” she says. “We’ll be OK.” Later that night I call Erika. “Maybe I can go to James’ work,” I say, “and tell his manager it is my fault he’s missing work tonight, so he doesn’t get fired?” Erika says, “I’m on the other line with the manager right now I’ll call you back.” An hour later she calls. “He’s not going to get fired. He had paid that ticket, we have a receipt. So I have to go down there tomorrow with the receipt, and then they will let him out.” “Tomorrow?” I ask, incredulous. “Yes:’ I ask her to let me know if there is anything I can do, and apologize again. Erika is unbelievably pleasant, considering I just brought such an afternoon of hell into their lives. “OK,” she says. “It’s going to be OK.” She thanks me for calling and hangs up. It’s not like I just moved here. I’ve lived here nearly six years, and not in a bubble. I was here during Hurricane Katrina. I live in an African-American neighborhood. I went to Jena when I first heard about the six kids there, and marched through the town with their families. I grew up with an African-American best friend. It’s not that I don’t know things are screwed up. It’s not that I have never experienced racism. It’s that, in Jena, the cases were thrown out, and there seemed to be movement for the better, but in this broken city the brutal kick always waits for delivery to the next African American whom someone backs into. It’s that, as the white party I became a vehicle for this unfair punishment. It’s that, if it had been me with the unpaid parking ticket, I would have had a finger shaken at me and nothing more. It’s that I was powerless in the face of it, am still powerless in the face of it. It’s that Jena justice is Louisiana justice, which is United States justice. This man could have lost his job, his home, and his ability to provide for his children because of my accident and the officer’s disregard. It’s that the children of nice, hardworking, young black people have to watch their father get taken away in handcuffs by the same government that will punish them if they grow up angry and act out. It’s that, if I were James or Erika, I don’t think I could ever have had half the grace they had. It’s that all I can do now is offer myself again and again to these kind people who wish I would just leave them alone. And I can tell this story, to anyone who will listen. Alec Hamilton is a writer living in New Orleans. NOVEMBER 30, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31