I am Shamine Bridgeforth, a Black, fourteen-year-old honor student at McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia, where I also live. I feel like I was a victim of police harrassment.
On Friday, October 11, 1996, I accompanied my three friends, Leslie Bigby, Rionda Behling, and Maurice Pollock, to McDonald's in Powder Springs after attending a school football game. They were hungry but I wasn't.
We went in and had a seat, casually speaking to other friends from school that also came from the game (McDonald's is a popular gathering place for school kids after football games to keep out of trouble). We were minding our own business and conducting ourselves accordingly, when a Powder Springs police officer, Officer Jeff Hogan, which I later found out was a security guard for McDonald's (though he was off duty, he was still dressed in his Powder Springs police officer's uniform) approached us and said, "If you aren't eating, LEAVE!" My friends were about to purchase something, so we didn't leave.
Officer Hogan came again a second time and told us we needed to leave. So, while Maurice and I waited at our table, Rionda and Leslie got in line, Leslie offering to buy Rionda and me some chicken nuggets so we could eat, in the hopes that Officer Hogan would leave us alone. I feel I was forced to eat there just to remain with my friends.
Officer Hogan approached us a third time, directly looking at me, and said, "I have given you all three warnings, now you need to leave." At this point I felt that I was being harrassed and my rights were being violated so, I simply explained to him that my friends were in line purchasing food, that I couldn't drive, and I rode with them and they were my only ride home. I also explained that these were the friends I told my parents I would be with and that they (my parents) expected me to return with them. He responded by saying, "That's your problem!" I then told him I didn't think he could make me leave for that reason (waiting for my friends who were in line). So, he left and I thought that was the end of it.
Officer Hogan returned again, and this time my friends and I were eating. We were doing what he requested us to do but, to no avail. He stopped me from eating and told me to come with him. He wanted me to give him information to fill out a juvenile complaint form. I asked him what the complaint was against me and he would not tell me. He wanted me to supply him with information about myself but wouldn't give me a reason why, so I refused.
At this point, he told me that if I didn't cooperate I was going with him. He then grabbed my arm and I snatched away from him. He then placed me in handcuffs. I thought he was supposed to read me my rights or at least tell me what I was being arrested for. Instead, he gave me two options: (1) go to jail or (2) walk to the other side and fill out this complaint at his car. I told him, "I would walk to your car but not through McDonald's. I don't want my friends to see me in handcuffs. I would rather go to jail for my pride and my rights." Officer Hogan then took me to the Powder Springs jail and I was placed in a holding cell. I later found I was charged with disorderly conduct.
While at the jail, along with being questioned on the information in the juvenile complaint filed by Officer Hogan, I was also questioned on things like, "Do you smoke?", and "Do you have a cigarette lighter in your purse?". I was also told that if my parents could not be contacted, that I would be transferred to YDC (the Youth Detention Center). I will remember this incident for the rest of my life.
I feel this happened because I spoke up. Since when in America is freedom of speech "disorderly conduct" and against the law? Isn't the right to free speech written in The Constitution we read about in school?
As I stated before, I am a Black, fourteen-year-old, tenth grade honor student at McEachern High School, expecting to graduate a year early. I have good grades in school, I don't drink or smoke and I don't do drugs. I am very respectful to my parents at home, my teachers at school, and all adults I encounter in my every day life. I thought I was supposed to be a happy, vibrant, and innocent teenager enjoying my youth. I thought McDonald's was a place for kids to have fun. Isn't that the McDonald's concept? Kids? But I don't feel that way anymore. I did nothing wrong, so why did this happen to me? I didn't hurt anyone or disturb anyone. Now I don't feel welcome at that McDonald's in Powder Springs. In fact, I don't feel welcome in this country.