“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” — John Lennon
I had naturally assumed my next piece would cover the final vote in the Senate on impeachment. I’ll get to that in due time. Last night I had a run in with local law enforcement that was equal parts scary, eye opening, and absolutely enraging. I delayed writing this so that I could collect my thoughts and come off as dispassionately as I possibly could. It will be difficult.
Our daughter went out with a friend to go skating at a local roller skating rink. I went out at nine to go pick her up. It had already been a long day as the three of us (her mother, her, and I) drove early in the morning to participate in a 5K on the beach. Yes, we are that stupid. So, her mother and I spent most of the afternoon resting.
As I walked in, the officer on duty asked me if I had seen anyone bending down and hiding behind cars and looking inside of them. I said I hadn’t and walked inside. At this point I made the only mistake I’ll own up to. I walked through an open door to go collect my child and go home. I was tired and wanted to go home. Apparently, I bypassed the front ticket counter. I was only going to be there for maybe five minutes anyway.
The same officer approached me at the back of the facility as I was trying to find my daughter. He asked me why I was hiding behind cars and looking inside of them. I obviously wasn’t. I was just there to pick up my daughter. He then grabbed me by the arm and forcibly walked me out of the premises. We walked by my daughter and her friend on the way out. We confirmed that I was there for her.
He proceeded to take my license to ostensibly look me up to get my extensive criminal record (I have none). After he confirmed that I was not a criminal and that I was there to pick up my daughter he escorted both of us to my car. Then, he pulled me around to give me a field sobriety test. I failed a rapid eye test and one of those gymnastic challenges where you are supposed to walk heel/toe on a line in 35 degree weather and a 20 MPH wind.
He refused to return my license until my wife drove the 20 minutes in the cold to come pick up my daughter. I offered to take a breathilizer and he could not accommodate that. I explained to him that I am diabetic and don’t drink (I may have an occasional beer but never more than one and I hadn’t had anything yesterday). He finally relented and let me drive home when my wife also explained to him that I normally have horrible balance. I’ve had horrible balance going back to my childhood days.
Reflecting on the night, you always try to reflect on what you could have done differently. I obviously could have gone to the ticket counter to explain to them that I was there to pick up my child. Maybe things would have happened differently. However, I can’t help but think I wasn’t the one that escalated the situation.
The officer could have asked me to walk with him outside to answer his questions. He could have simply asked me to leave and wait for my daughter to come out. There was no reason for him to put his hands on me. There was no reason to forcibly walk me out in front of my child, her friend, and numerous other witnesses. I had no committed a crime at this point. The only evidence he had was that someone said that someone was outside looking in vehicles.
It’s easy to imagine this situation turning out much worse than it was. I was wearing sweatpants and a hoodie because it was cold and we had worn those clothes to go to our race earlier. I didn’t exactly look like a captain of industry at that point. What if I had resisted when he grabbed me by the arm? What if I had raised my voice to him when he accused me of stealing? What if I didn’t look like how I look?
I come away from this situation with a lot of realizations that I knew academically and anecdotally but that I had never experienced first hand. It is so easy to have a situation go sideways through no real fault of your own. The expression goes that when you are a hammer you see every problem like a nail. The police are trained to use violent/forceful means to get things done. I understand it on some level, but a situation that could have been resolved in five minutes took over an hour.
A stone cold sober self managed to fail a field sobriety test. I had not had any medication in over eight hours or any alcohol that day. Imagine how easy it would be for others to find themselves in the same situation. Imagine how easy it would be for others to find themselves in a worse situation. I’m as easy going a guy as there is. It takes a lot to make me angry and while I was certainly annoyed and probably sounded annoyed, I was not angry.
Still, the end result was that my daughter, her friend, and countless others thought I had done something wrong. They either thought I was some pervert, or the guy trying to steal stuff out people’s cars. Maybe there was someone doing that. In wasting his time on me, the officer lost the opportunity to catch the guy in addition to embarassing me and my child uselessly.
I have always been in favor of police reform, but now I see the definite need for it. One can only imagine the extremely negative events that can happen when cops come in like their Rambo into any situation no matter what it calls for. I can definitely now empathize with people that have their lives ruined forever because of how police mishandle a situation and overreact when they don’t have to.
I’m not necessarily smart enough to know whether defunding the police is the answer or if they could be trained to handle situations differently. I do think we have to be more careful about who we give the honor of being a police officer. I would say the same thing about who we make a teacher. Once someone becomes a cop or a teacher it is increasingly difficult to move on from them because of the protections that unions and teacher associations have fought long and hard for. Most if not all of those gains are well-deserved.
I didn’t get this particular officer’s name and badge number because I want to leave well enough alone. I also don’t want him fired or even officially reprimanded necessarily. What I want is for him to understand that there was an easier way to ascertain who I was and why I was there. I want him to understand that his actions could have led to a horrible event that could have endangered my life, the lives of everyone there, and his own had I not reacted the way I did.
If a normal person had grabbed me by the arm without warning I don’t know that I would have reacted the same way. There are numerous people I know that wouldn’t have even if it was an officer. What is equally painful is realizing how many people face this kind of treatment on a regular basis. How many people live in fear of interactions like that or worse? How many people would have found themselves in jail following a sequence of events similar to mine? Like I said before, it is something I always understood academically, but until you experience it you really can’t know completely.