In the latest instance that police reform is sorely needed in this country, cops in Alabama said they arrested a Black woman simply because she was “burning incense” and “doing loud chanting” during a Christmas parade held in public last week.
Kimberly Griggs suggested she had simply caught the holy spirit at the event, but local cops claim she was scaring people with her decidedly nonviolent behavior at the annual holiday gathering in Headland, a small town in southeast Alabama with an estimated population of fewer than 5,000 people.
“Going around burning incense, doing loud chanting,” Headland Police Chief Mark Jones told local news outlet WDHN. “Then they went around and put the incense in people’s faces. Patrons on the square were trying to enjoy the activities going on and she was harassing them by burning the incense in their faces.”
Jones said Griggs was disturbing the peace. However, WDHN failed to record any comments from parade attendees claiming they were harassed.
Jones said without any proof that Griggs was “harassing other people and making others feel unsafe.” Again, no one else made that same claim in the tiny town where surely other residents took notice of the arrest and everything that led up to it.
On the surface, it appeared to be a random judgment call by the police to arrest as a first resort even though no actual law, statute or local ordinance appears to have been violated at all. Instead, it appeared as of law enforcement didn’t know how else to react to what Jones described as an anomaly.
“Been here going on 18 years, and it’s the first time we have ever dealt with anything like that,” Jones said, unwittingly admitting that he and his officers believe that burning incense and chanting in public — an action that does not seem to be illegal anywhere in the U.S. — deserves to be punished with an arrest.
What is likely closer to the truth is that Jones is unfamiliar with incense — sticks that emit fragrance when burned typically for purposes having to do with religion, therapy and meditation. The smoke from incense can waft into other people’s faces, which may have been the root of Jones’ “harassing” theory he pinned on Griggs. The chanting, of course, should be chalked up to freedom of speech. Taken together, a simple resolution could have been for officers to ask her to move away from people.
Instead, they decided an arrest was the better use of law enforcement resources and taxpayers’ money.
The local cops are probably not familiar with traditions in Black households, either, considering that Headland’s Black or African American population lies at just under 28 percent. Chances are also likely that Headland police panicked and drew an unjustified, possibly racist parallel between the deadly Christmas parade incident in Waukesha, Wisconsin, involving a Black suspect late last month.
For what it’s worth, Griggs disputed Jones’ characterization of her actions.
“The public wasn’t in danger. If I wanted to attack you I would have attacked you,” Griggs told WDHN. “I spoke to no one, but walked around talking to myself.”
Griggs did suggest she might have been a bit too animated for police but maintains she didn’t deserve to be arrested.
“I was arrested by what you call it: disorderly conduct, I call it the holy spirit,” Griggs said. “I can’t say I did this because it was out of my control. When the holy ghost comes into you, you can not control that. That was natural.”
Luckily, Griggs was released after posting bail of about $500. Lest we forget that Black women like Sandra Bland were arrested stemming from similarly nonviolent violations but never made it out of jail alive.
There has been no shortage of opinion pieces in the past few years detailing how Black women are the most disrespected people in America. This incident in Headland certainly lends an outsized amount of credence to that suspicion.