Monday, November 10, 2008
An American police state experience
This weekend I submitted a column to a local newspaper about my experience being assaulted by a police officer in Boston. He conducted an unwarranted search of my person and possessions, completely violating my Fourth Amendment rights. God bless America! There were a few key facts that were unfortunately left out of my narrative, which I wrote from the second-person perspective of the cop. So, here is the raw version of the story in all it's awful glory:
At the corner of Newbury Street and Charlesgate East, you stand in the midst of midday traffic on Saturday sporting your dark blue uniform and fluorescent orange vest. Three college-aged boys walk down Commonwealth and take a turn at the intersection, stopping nearby at a grassy area featuring two concrete patio-like sitting spaces next to a calm creek and a small building that may be an old generator house.
The kids start milling around, chatting amongst themselves. They must be up to no good.
So you start towards them and one of them sees this. As you get near, what appears to be the oldest one, this scruffy punk with a bomber jacket and black hair, steps forward.
"Now get your story together," you say, staring at him, swaggering ahead.
"What's going on?" he says.
"You know what you were doing over here," you bark back.
You grab the kid by the elbow and start pulling him toward the swatch of ground they were standing around. "What's wrong? Are you arresting me?"
Heh-heh. Who does this kid think he is?
The other boys follow.
"You were drinking over here. Admit it!" you yell, scanning the ground for any illicit material.
"No," he says. "I was just having a cigarette. You have no right to detain us like this for no reason."
This pisses you off. You wrench his backpack from his arms.
"You can't look through that," he says. Well then – you wonder why – what could be in it?
Rifling through you find four bananas and four pears; a pair of headphones; "The Complete Stories of Truman Capote," a bunch of papers; and a reporter's notebook. No dice.
"Show me what's in your pockets?" you demand, in a rising tone.
He pulls everything out: keys, a cell phone and a pack of Marlboro Reds.
"Again, if you're not going to arrest me," he says. "I'd like to leave. I have things to do."
This infuriates you. You charge the kid gritting your grimy, jagged teeth, huffing with bulging eyes, locking your mitts on his shoulders and knock him down onto the hard steps of the generator house a foot or so behind him. And then you stomp on his foot for good measure.
"You're assaulting me," the boy says, scrunching his face with anger.
"Ya. I am assaulting you. ... And I have a right to do a field interrogation," you say, reaching for a notepad to write down their identification information.
The boy settles into a stolid stare. Suddenly, he looks up, taking his cell phone from his pocket.
"I'm going to have to call a lawyer," he says. You quickly snatch his phone and furiously look back and forth.
"Oh, wait, what's this," you say, giddily, picking up what appears to be an empty pint of cheap Peppermint Schnapps.
"Are you kidding," the kid says, wincing. "That looks like something a homeless guy left there. C'mon. I'll take a Breathalyzer test. You're just being a bully. You're infringing on our civil liberties."
No. You are doing your job. But there's not much left to do with these schmucks. So you appeal to their respect for protection of property.
"You know, we've had a lot of car break-ins on this street."
You start walking away, still fuming, feeling somewhat defeated. So you turn back, lurching back toward the kids and yell, "If you had a pair you'd fess up! Grow a sack."
At one point, you recall, the outspoken boy says: "I'm going to have to report you to the police."
Chagrined, you say, "I am the police." Your name is Officer Schueller.
* * *
Throughout the night this incident, I tried to empathize with Schueller, to see it in his shoes. Why was he so hostile, and then violent. Were my words crude? It was just a little truth to power.
Conversely, by the end of the ordeal, this cop was coaxing me to confess to a crime I did not commit by means of emasculation. I felt compelled to report him.
"We can assure you that this won't happen again," said Sergeant Michael McCarthy. "We sat down with the officer and he told us his account and it matched yours. We believe you. He shouldn't have conducted himself like that. We hope your next experience with the police is a good one."
Not all officers act this way. I deal with police regularly at work and they have been outstanding gentleman. But this experience offered me a glimpse into what may have been the overly aggressive ethos harbored by police who handled the Celtics championship reveler David Woodman at the time of his arrest and subsequent death. In more general terms, it was my first personal encounter with an overbearing nanny state that won't let people alone with their privacy when they are doing nothing illegal; and it was the first time my Fourth Amendment right was blatantly violated. My hopes are that police would continue to protect and serve while maintaining respect for the community.