Actor Cajardo Lindsey on Ferguson, the law and his own dramatic story
"Playing Ogun, Cajardo Lindsey towers over the evening, terrifying in his anger, heartbreaking in his grief, and sometimes -- like the play itself -- wonderfully and unexpectedly funny." Westword review of The Brothers Size at Curious Theatre, for which Lindsey received a 2014 Best of Denver award.
Denver theatergoers know Cajardo Lindsey as an actor of intelligence, range and emotional truth. He is also a respected attorney, who began his career in the Denver District Attorney's Office and now works at the Kaudy Law Firm in Englewood. And it was while he was on his way to work yesterday that an encounter with police left Lindsey shaken, sad and angry. It also brought up bitter memories, which he wrote about on his Facebook page.
Here's his account:
The Cops just stopped me as I was walking across the street going back to the office. I was told that I fit the description of a shoplifter at Walmart, Black and bald headed with a green shirt. Immediately I say "don't do this, don't even go there." Cop replied, "can I see your driver's license." I say "Man, I'm telling you, I'm a former prosecutor, don't do this." He says, "Where were you a prosecutor?" "Denver." He says, "Where are you coming from?" I say, "The gym." He says, "You work in that building?" I say "Yes." "Are you an attorney?" I say "Yes." "Can I see your bar card?" I show him my card. He apologizes and says "I'm not profiling you, you just fit the description. Have a nice day." He calls off the other approaching officers. I walk away, get to my office, sit and cry. Not because I'm sad, or hurt, but because I'm pissed! I cry because I remember when this happened when I was 17 years old. I cry because I remember when this happened when I was 20. I cry because I remember when I was young and ignorant and I pled guilty to a crime that I didn't commit because police could give a damn about what I had to say regarding what happened, but took other interested parties' words over me, my presence, not my words, but my presence! This is the reason I became an attorney in the first place. So that I could look that cop in the eyes and say, "don't do this, don't even go there. DO NOT GO THERE!
Although he hasn't been following the news from Ferguson, Missouri closely, Lindsey says he's very aware of events there, as well as other incidents, including the recent death of Eric Garner, choked to death by police in Staten Island. He grew up in Cincinnati and remembers the unrest during the 1990s that culminated in three days of rioting in 2001 after police shot an unarmed black teenager.
"I fear for my children," he says. He has two teenage sons, aged thirteen and fourteen. Until recently, he says, "I didn't think it had stopped, but I guess in a weird way I thought that that was behind me. I've worked in law enforcement. I am an attorney. I don't know the specific motive of this guy. I told him who I was and what I did. I felt he ignored all this information until I told him I was an attorney -- and then I had to give him my card.
"I didn't know why he was stopping at first," Lindsey continues. "When he sped up, I thought he was going past me to answer a call. I thought if I'm doing nothing and I get stopped, what about my children?
"I have a criminal history because of something I didn't do," he says. "I was twenty, in Cincinnati, and I had agreed to help a friend who lived in Northern Ohio. His girlfriend was in Cincinnati and he wanted to take her out but couldn't get there. He asked me to take her out. She and a friend wanted to go dancing in northern Kentucky, right across the river, and I took them to this place they wanted to go called Roscoe's. When we walked in, there was no one who was black in there, but they were playing great dance music so we danced for a couple of hours straight. I went to the bathroom and when I came back the women were gone. I finally found them outside -- I'm a junior in college at this time -- and I said, 'Why did you guys leave me?' They said, 'We didn't leave you. We were kicked out. They accused us of stealing drinks.' 'They accused you of going behind the bar?' 'No, taking people's drinks.'"
Lindsey went into the club, found the manager, and the two of them went outside. "I said, 'Can we see the people who accused my friends?' and he immediately swung and hit me in the back of the head and said, 'Get the fuck away from my club.' I raised my hands to defend myself. Six white bouncers stormed me, ripped my clothes off except for my pants, maced me, stomped me, then handcuffed me and called the police. I began to tell them what happened and the officer said, 'Shut up.' She went to the bar manager who had assaulted me. The manager said I had come into his club and swung at him. That was not true. The cop put me in a police car, left me for 45 minutes, then took me to the police station. I found I was being charged with felony assault. They said I broke one of the guy's teeth. This was while I was defending myself, mind you. I didn't have an attorney. I had a sports agent I asked to come help me out. First court date, they told me that if I didn't plead guilty to a misdemeanor assault I could go to prison and would lose my scholarship. So I pled guilty, unaware of the repercussions: that I would have to explain that plea when I wanted to go to law school, to the DA's office, when I wanted to take the bar.
"It pissed me off so much I decided to go to law school so I could know my rights," he says. "I graduated from Indiana University Law School."
Lindsey came to Denver in 1997, then took the bar 2002. "First job I got was as a prosecutor," he remembers. "Now I had control and power to do things the right way, according to my upbringing and my sensibilities."
"What happened to me is small compared to what's happening in America -- but it brought all that back up for me," he says. "There was a flood of thoughts and emotions yesterday. I never feared for myself; I felt the longer it went on, the worse for the officer. I felt more equipped than ever before to take care of myself in that situation. I was fearless. I don't know this particular officer's intentions. I just know what he said. And I kept going, Don't do this. Don't go there. I'm telling you I'm an attorney. This is where I work. And finally, he got it."
Cajardo Lindsey in The Brothers Size.
Lindsey will return to the Curious Theatre Company stage this season with In the Red and Brown Water in March and a reprise of The Brothers Size in July. Both plays are part of Tarell Alvin McCraney's acclaimed Brother/Sister sequence. "I feel like I'm a storyteller for those types of stories," Lindsey says.
And for his own.
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