My late husband and I built a house in the N. Georgia Mountains. We would soon learn red-neck law. Rumors were that the sheriff was paid off by the drug dealers who dropped canisters of drugs from planes in fields, and if a canister broke open and a few cows died…..oh, well….. The local restaurant menu offered local statistics including the fact that there were no blacks in the county.
Another sub-group the red-necks discriminated against were the Atlanta folk migrating to the county for fresh air, the scenery and less crowding. Just as some Texans hate the blasted thinking, weird Austin-ites, people in this Georgia county hated everything about people from Atlanta. Local thieves broke into Atlanta migrant homes on a regular basis. Although law enforcement knew who the thieves were, they chose to ignore the thefts. Atlanta folk were fair game. The thieves eventually made the mistake of breaking into the home of local, retired teachers and were arrested immediately.
I decided to stay alone in the mountain home during the week with my German shepherd and rifle to save our home from damage or theft. We continued to work on the finishing details of our home on weekends.
With a shopping list for lumber, nails and other building items, one Monday morning I left home in my pick-up truck, the dog riding shotgun beside me. We had worked hard all weekend and I was exhausted. Apparently, I fell asleep. All of a sudden I felt a steep decline into a deep ditch on the left side of the road. Weeds whizzed by my window.
Brakes applied. A sudden stop. The dog who had been thrown against the dash was peeved. I tried my door and it opened enough that I could squeeze through. The dog refused to exit with the woman who was responsible for his discomfort. I feared copperheads and had not worn boots. I climbed the steep embankment and would realize later that my concern should have been for all the chigger bites.
While building our home we had used some day labor from the minimum security prison. In the approaching truck on the lonely country road were one of the prisoners we had hired, a second prisoner and a pig in the truck bed that was going to the processing plant run by a local Baptist minister. I climbed into that truck with two prisoners and a pig.
The self-proclaimed Baptist minister, as found in little Baptist Churches on every corner in Georgia, was kind. I called my husband and a tow truck to pull me out of the ditch.
The tow truck broke two chains trying to pull my truck out of the ditch. The top of the truck was even with the road surface and wedged into the red clay. At last the truck was free, but a tire was flat.
Then a Barney Fife character arrived. He flashed the lights on his patrol car and strutted towards me, an Atlanta woman despised by all good red-necks. The prisoners and Baptist minister left me alone with the deputy. After getting my ID and my story of the accident, he told me I had broken the law by moving the vehicle. I could be put in jail and furthermore would not be able to collect insurance on the accident. He spent a great deal of time berating me for my failures.
After he left, I sat on my tailgate and had a good cry. I had escaped death in the accident, ridden with prisoners and a pig and was going to jail. The total lack of empathy for me, my health and my helplessness in that moment was lost on the deputy who had all the power.
I did not go to jail. I did collect my insurance for the accident.
I have thought about my helplessness after my accident as I witnessed abuse by the police against our black citizens, a 75-year old man pushed to the ground and left bleeding, and media deliberately pelted by rubber bullets and tear gassed.
My story does not compare to that of systemic racism and death by bad policemen. At the same time, I have seen firsthand what is happening in our court systems today and the arrogance of policing.
I hope we will not do away with good public servants who police our streets, but will reduce their numbers in favor of more community advocates working with people in trouble. Laws probably need updating. More importantly hearts and heads need changing.