An elderly Black woman was arrested over a $77 unpaid trash bill—and the chief of police has the caucasity to defend it.
According to reporting from CBS News-42, as Martha Louis Menefield was handcuffed and put into a patrol car, one of the arresting officers told her not to cry. “He kind of whispered it to me: ‘Don’t cry,’” she said.
When the two officers initially approached Menefield, she told WIAT she thought they were joking when they said they were there to arrest her. She swore she’d paid the $77.80 bill.
RELATED STORY: ‘He is not well,’ says yet another of Herschel Walker’s exes
But the officers weren’t joking, and they placed the elderly woman in handcuffs as she quietly began to cry.
“How would you feel if they came and arrested your grandmama?” she asked the officer. WIAT reports the officer did not respond to her question.
“I’m just happy my grandkids weren’t here to see that,” Menefield said, her voice shaking. “That would have upset them. I was so ashamed. And it’s been bothering me.”
Valley Police Chief Mike Reynolds defended his officers and released a statement on Facebook regarding Menefield’s arrest.
Reynolds wrote in part that the city had issued a citation for payment for the trash bill for three months in a row, attempted to reach Menefield by phone, and left a note on her door. When the elderly woman failed to respond and did not arrive in court about the case, a warrant for “Failure to Pay-Trash” was issued.
He adds that “Ms. Menefield was treated respectfully” by the officers and was finally released on bond.
Menefield, who’s lived in her house for the last 30 years, told WIAT she never received any notice to appear in court. She added that because of issues with her plumbing, she currently does not have running water.
“I was upset because I didn’t know why they would come and arrest me,” she said.
Neketti Tucker, Menefield’s only daughter, told WIAT that not paying a trash bill should not constitute an arrest.
“This isn’t a criminal act,” Tucker said. “This is civil, if anything.”
Tucker additionally told WIAT that several people have attempted to pay her mother’s bill, and the police staff has not allowed them to.
Of course, the issue of disproportionate numbers of Black Americans in the U.S. justice system has been long reported on. The issue is intimately connected to the language of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery “except as a punishment for crime.” Using the legal system to entrench Black communities in what is essentially state-sanctioned slavery dates back to Reconstruction and was baked into the nation’s legal system during the Jim Crow era.
A report from The Sentencing Project found that Black Americans are jailed in state prisons at nearly five times the rate of white Americans.
“Truly meaningful reforms to the criminal justice system cannot be accomplished without acknowledgment of its racist underpinnings,” Dr. Ashley Nellis, a senior research analyst for The Sentencing Project, wrote in the report.
“While chronic racial and ethnic disparity in imprisonment has been a known feature of the prison system for many decades, there has been little adjustment to policy or practices – inside or outside the justice system – to address these patterns directly,” Nellis added.
As for Menefield, she’s at home but reckoning with her ordeal. “I was in a little cage-like thing at the police station,” Menefield told CBS42. “And I said, ‘Y’all put me in this cage? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
Daily Kos is the largest progressive organization online, but we don't have billionaire backers. We rely on readers like YOU. Chip in $5 to help us keep fighting for progressive values.