This happened to me.
I was riding a train. The doors opened. Four police officers – two white guys, two Latino guys, one of whom had a gold shield – all in plainclothes – stood before me. The gold shield said, “Step off the train, please, sir.”
“Did I do something wrong, officer?” I asked.
“Step off the train please.”
“Did I do something wrong, officer?” I asked, again.
“Step off the train, please, sir.”
I stepped off the train.
“Are you aware that you walked through two cars while the train was in motion?”
[My thought: “Um, yes. That was me.”] “Yes, sir.” [My thought: “Fuck, I just pled guilty. Should’ve fucking lawyered up.”]
“Please have a seat, sir,” the detective said, motioning to a nearby bench. “May we see some ID?”
There ensued a comical conversation about whether I’d ever been in trouble with the law before. (I thought he’d asked, “Have you ever walked between train cars before?” to which I replied, “Of course! I’ve lived here all my life.”) Misunderstanding clarified, the cops commenced using their phones to (attempt to) ascertain whether I had any outstanding warrants. Apparently, the warrant check system was down. Or not reach-able by any of their phones. “Only the best equipment for the NYPD,” one said to another, wryly.
I might well have had sixteen outstanding warrants. They asked me. I said, “No.”
They took me at my word. (I don’t have any outstanding warrants.) Would they have taken me at my word if I were a little more melanin-rich? If I were wearing a turban? A galabya? I doubt it.
Another listened to his earpiece, and said to the others, “Brooklyn-bound F train.”
“Manhattan-bound,” I [helpfully, thought I] corrected.
“No,” he said. “What’s on the radio….”
“Oh, sorry,” I said.
There wasn’t an ounce of warmth, or playfulness, from these dudes. They were very serious. All business. I was in trouble.
They wrote up a summons. Seventy-five dollars.
The detective lectured me. Twice. On the perils of walking between train cars.
As I sat, I pondered the state of my country. The fear I have of the suspensions of civil liberties our president is chomping at the bit to impose. I had lunch the other day with a (new) friend, a Jew, a gay Jew, who both fears the impending rounding-up of the Jews and is rooting for a draconian suspension of civil liberties to “protect us” from “terrorists.”
What I want?
A draconian crackdown on driving. Drunk driving. Any kind of driving. If we got rid of it, imagine how many lives we’d save? If we’d prevented every fucking terrorist attack in the US over the last twenty years, we’d save what, 5,000 lives?
Not to trivialize those lives, but….
Anyway. I sat there. I thought about these four guys, guys who chose to be cops, to protect and to serve, and instead, found themselves issuing a $75 summons for a crime (a “violation,” actually) called “unsafe riding.”
I thought about how, just days ago, in London, people were being mowed down and stabbed.
I thought about how, in my city, right then, surely, within a mile of where we were, a woman was being beaten by her husband, a gay man was being harassed, a child was being beaten.
Never mind the tens of thousands of people the fucking insane embarrassment of a president would have us believe are lying in wait, plotting, plotting, plotting.
As I sat there, politely awaiting my summons, I thought, “How lucky I am, a white, upper-middle-class man, to be having the fifth involuntary encounter interaction of my life with the cops.”
First, age 12, for lighting fires. Guilty as charged.
Second, age 19, speeding. Guilty as charged.
Third, age 21, speeding. Sort of guilty. Mostly guilty for having out-of-state plates in a state where that matters.
Fourth, age 39, really speeding (60 in a 35). Guilty AF. (But, honestly, the 35 should be 50.)
Fifth, unsafe riding.
How fucking lucky am I? Seriously.
But Jesus Christ, what’s ahead of us….