Cardi B declared at a Los Angeles concert on Saturday, “I ain’t going to jail, I got a daughter!”
She proceeded to win big at the BET Awards there on Sunday. She then boarded a plane to New York, the time of her arraignment on a felony assault charge having been moved from the morning to 2 p.m. and then to 3 p.m. to accommodate the transcontinental demands of her schedule.
At an hour newly appointed just for her, she strode into the ceremonial courtroom, the biggest in the building. She wore a black, pink-lapeled pantsuit such as might have changed the outcome of the last presidential election had Hillary Clinton sported one. Her open-toed high heels went click, click, click on a floor worn smooth over the years by the scuffling of the bedraggled as she followed a court officer’s direction for her and one of her two co-defendants to sit over to the left, away from the press. The other co-defendant had not yet appeared.
“All rise!” a court officer called out.
Cardi B rose along with everybody else in the courtroom as a black-robed figure entered and assumed the bench. He was not just any judge but Chief Judge Joseph Zayas.
“Part 11 is now in session,” the officer said. “Calling first on the calendar, Indictment 874 of 2019.”
The officer then said, “Step up, Please.”
The click, click, click was just as measured as Cardi B complied. She stood at the defense with her hands behind her back, her two-inch nails painted a pink that matched her lapels.
“State your name for the record, please,” the clerk said.
Almost any other defendant would have just stood there and responded, maybe with a slightly raised voice. Cardi B leaned down toward the microphone, as she would have upon receiving an award.
“Me?” she asked.
“Yes,” the court clerk said.
“Belcalis Almanzar,” she replied.
She sounded exactly like Cardi B even as she gave her legal name. The voice was the very same as was heard on the stage in Los Angeles on Saturday and in so many other venues where she thrilled her fans. She also sounded exactly like herself, a star not because she adopts a persona and pretends to be somebody else but because she is altogether genuine by whatever name.
Whatever you want to think about her, she is no poseur.
The co-defendant who stepped up with her gave his name as Jeffrey Bush. The other co-defendant, Tawana Jackson-Morel, had still not appeared.
“I hope she shows up,” the judge said.
He was speaking of Jackson-Morel but was apparently referring to Cardi B when he added, “I already adjusted this to 3 o’clock to the convenience of the defendant.”
The judge decided to go ahead with Cardi B’s arraignment on charges of attempted assault in the second degree.
“How does the defendant plead?” the judge asked.
Cardi B again leaned down to the microphone.
“Not guilty, sir, honor,” she said.
The compound honorific signaled that Cardi B had not spent a lot of time in a courtroom. The evenness of that rap star voice indicated that she was not in the least bit nervous.
By then, Jackson-Morel had finally arrived. She also pleaded not guilty, as did Bush.
The prosecution presented to the defendants an 11-page indictment that may never have existed if Cardi B had only been Belcalis Almanzar.
Had she been just a young woman off the streets of the Bronx, she might never have been charged after a fracas in the Angels strip club in College Point, Queens, in August. The incident might have simply been forgotten as just another club fight. There had been three murders outside Angels around that time, so the cops had more serious things to worry about.
But she is Cardi B, and word spread through social media that she had gone to the club seeking to punish a bartender there the for having sex with her husband, Offset. The suggestion is that Cardi B observes Bronx rules. She is said to have a temper.
The bartender, Sarah Wattley, aka Jade, has since denied bedding Offset. She was already cyber-known for a dalliance with the rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine. She has Tekashi’s face tattooed above her left breast and the numeral 69 above the right.
As was recounted across the internet, Jade and her older sister, Rachel Wattley, AKA Baddie G, were tending bar when Cardi B arrived. One of Cardi B’s entourage allegedly assaulted Jade and her sister as Cardi B shouted encouragement. Cardi B is said by some witnesses to have thrown a glass and a hookah pipe at the sisters. How she could have managed that with those fingernails remains a mystery.
The 109th Precinct detective squad put together a case and arrested Cardi B in October on misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and assault. Had she still been just Belcalis Almanzar, she likely would have been assigned a public defender who almost certainly would have urged her to accept the deal offered by the Queens District Attorney’s office: plead guilty to a single misdemeanor and receive a conditional discharge, meaning not a minute in jail.
But being Cardi B she had a lawyer who was ready to fight and earn a hefty fee. She turned down the deal, leaving the detectives to investigate further. The case became more than just a club fight and the result was felony Indictment 874/2019.
“The defendant used social media accounts to communicate and coordinate the date, time, location and target of a planned assault,” it charges. “Tawana Jackson-Motel and Belcalis Almanzar discussed payment of money in exchange for the commission for a planned assault. Jeffrey Bush prepared to video record the assault.”
A planned assault done for money meant there would not likely be another offer of a conditional discharge. The time of arraignment had been changed to suit Cardi B, but she faced at least the possibility she might end up doing time, daughter or no.
She still possessed what had made Belcalis Almanzar into Cardi B even as Cardi B remains Belcalis Almanzar. She stood regally calm as she looked over to where the prosecutor appeared to have turned momentarily frazzled, rifling through papers to pages and consulting his calendar to determine the date of the next hearing in this big case. She tilted her head and gave a little half-smile that said she will remain doubly herself no matter what happens.
As she passed from the courthouse dimness to a waiting black Suburban, her hair proved in the sunlight to have blue tint.