When Her Neighbor Thought She Broke Into Her Home, 19 Cops Responded
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Fay Wells locked herself out of her apartment on September 6. She knew she had done it, but she went to her weekly soccer game anyway and decided to deal with it later. She got home, called the locksmith, and what happened next changed her life. She writes in The Washington Post that she heard a dog outside and a man's voice. There were more than a dozen officers outside her apartment building. Fay Wells, welcome to the program, and thanks for joining us.
FAY WELLS: Thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: You were relaxing at home after you had locked yourself out. What happened next?
WELLS: I looked out of my window, and I saw a man with a gun pointed at me. I took a step back. I wasn't sure what was going on. And then I was ordered outside. I knew the man had a gun. I thought he might be a police officer even thought he hadn't identified himself. So I went outside, and when I went outside, I again said, what's going on? And as I was walking down the stairs with the officers with guns pointed at me, I continually asked what was going on. And they didn't respond. They kept asking me who was in my apartment, and only much later did they start answering my questions.
And it turned out that a white neighbor thought I was breaking in the apartment, and it was a gentleman who actually lives in the building across from me, not in my building.
SHAPIRO: For context, you write in the article that you live in a mostly white neighborhood. You're African-American. The man who saw you with the locksmith getting into your apartment did not know you. And he just jumped to a conclusion, and the police responded in what certainly felt, at the time, to you like a very aggressive way.
WELLS: Absolutely. That is a hundred percent correct. I mean, I'd lived in this apartment building since February. So I'd live there at least seven months. I had seen him before. I - even though he doesn't live in my building, I know the neighbor next to me. I know other neighbors in my building. And because this one guy made an incorrect assessment, police came and responded very aggressively to me.
And again, I was continually trying to ask what was going on when I was inside my apartment. The fact is, the first time that they interacted with me, they had guns drawn, which just felt incredibly aggressive and not like they were trying to assess the situation.
SHAPIRO: This piece you wrote in the Post has gotten a lot of attention. And the police chief put out a statement in which she did not dispute your account but defended the officer's actions. Is there an outcome of this investigation that would satisfy you?
WELLS: Yes. Frankly, I would like an apology. I think that if this is indeed their protocol and the way they do things, then they should really consider revising that. The fact that there was so much escalation and so much aggression directed at me - it's too much. This is why we have so many incidents and so many bad outcomes with people.
And again, I'm lucky to be alive. I'm lucky that I have family and friends that are supportive of me. I'm lucky that I did not end up the way that, you know, some of the other folks in my article mentioned. But I think there is a long way - there's a lot of things that can be done to prevent something like that in the future.
SHAPIRO: You write that this has changed your relationship with police going forward. You see police officers and feel differently than you used to. Tell us more about that.
WELLS: So before this account, you know, I felt reasonably comfortable interacting with the police and asking them for help. I mean, I wrote about it in the article. I've never even had a speeding ticket. I've never really had reason to fear the police. And then after this reaction, it makes me feel very unsafe. It makes me feel that because I'm a woman of color, like, I might be viewed in a different way by the police.
I don't honestly know that if I needed help in another situation that I would feel comfortable asking them. And some people may think that this overreacting, but I do feel like I'm going - might get some blowback from this. I have some concerns about retaliation from the police department. I don't feel comfortable in my apartment anymore. I don't feel comfortable in Santa Monica. And I think that's unfortunate because of what happened with the situation.
SHAPIRO: This is what really struck me about your story. Whether people view it as an inappropriate response by the police, an overreaction by you, whatever it is, here's a police interaction that has kind of forever changed your attitude towards law enforcement going forward. And when you think about the number of different police interactions that happening on any given day and you think about the ripples that these kinds of sour notes can have, it's pretty daunting.
WELLS: It is. It is incredibly daunting. I mean, now I've had this experience with the system that just makes me very uncomfortable. And this is just me. And what about the other people who have many more interactions and much more negative interactions and much more negative outcomes? It's very disheartening, and it's very disconcerting. And you know, I hope that this piece and the conversation around it can generate some change and some dialogue and just more thought about how the police are interacting with people in the community.
SHAPIRO: That's Fay Wells speaking with us from the Los Angeles area. Thanks very much for joining us.
WELLS: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate the time you've spent.
SHAPIRO: Fay Wells is vice president of a strategy company. Her Washington Post piece is titled "My White Neighbor Thought I Was Breaking Into My Own Apartment. Nineteen Cops Showed Up."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.