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Even Cops (occasionally) Suck

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[sorry to post on 'People Suck' so often lately, but the incessant whining seems to help. Also, although I am bitching about one particular instance, this is in NO FUCKING WAY an attack on law enforcement, I love what they do, but occasionally even police can suck.]

It's 2:45am. I'm on my way home from my weekly RPG session, and I've had by all accounts a great fucking night. I'm two miles from home, the road is empty, and I'm singing along to Brittany Spears and getting all American Idol with my bad self...something that my dignity only allows me to do when I'm alone.

A dead, bloated, enormous dog in my lane forces me to swerve. My undercarriage is too short to drive over something that large without dragging it along like those old folktales about the Wendigo, who pulled unwary travelers along the ice, grinding them away from the feet up until only a long bloody streak remained.

Ten second later: Red Blue Red Blue Red Blue Red Blue Red Blue

FFFFFFUUUU- Wait...what? I wasn't speeding! My tags are up to date! What the hell?

"Ma'am, do you know why I pulled you over?" Now, San Antonio cops are generally a tolerant crowd, they're accustomed to seeing all kinds of weird shit, but the way he's staring at my head is making me nervous, self-conscious, and despite that I'm well-groomed, bright-eyed, and speaking clearly, I can already tell he's decided by appearance alone that I must be doing something wrong.

"No? I mean, I was trying not to hit that roadkill back there, but I was driving like an old lady, and my car is legal, and I don't think any of the lights are out...so...I have no idea."

"I didn't see anything in the road," the cop remarks, but I can see the big, ugly lump a ways back, illuminated by a street light. I don't want to contradict the police officer, but at the same time, I can totally see it, with one leg sticking up away from an inflated looking body. While I'm trying to decide whether or not to point it out, he asks for my ID and insurance card, and his flashlight, which he's been tactfully pointing a few inches to the right of my face (instead of in my eyes) flickers into the backseat, taking pause on something he sees.

"So ma'am, how much have you had to drink this evening?" What strikes me is that he doesn't ask -if- I've been drinking, just -how much- I've had...so he's decided I'm drunk. Fine.

"I haven't been drinking this evening at all." Declarative, but I'm trying not to answer too quickly.

"Would you mind stepping out of the car for me?" I hate his tone, friendly, but he really believes that I'm drunk, without giving me a chance to prove otherwise. He wants me to live down to his expectations.

Damit, I was afraid of this. I always hate this part. The wind is blowing, the sign over his shoulder reads 38 degrees, and my jacket is too damned thin for this. As I climb out of the car, I feel myself hesitating to say the same words I say every single time I get out of a car, only because it always makes things more complicated, but I feel like I have to fucking say it. Maybe he won't ask about it...

"Not at all." I've had to do this many times, and you have to do it smoothly to avoid looking really suspicious. As I open the door, I pull the keys from the ignition, pop the door lock, and step out of the car, closing it behind me. The officer seems surprised...maybe piqued? Damn it.

"You don't have to-" he begins to say.

"I'd prefer it this way. I know that if I get out of this car and leave the door open, you can treat that as consent to search my vehicle. I do not consent to a search. Please don't be offended, but I have the same right to privacy as you do." I've had to say this many times in the last few years, but despite having nothing to hide, this is not Soviet-fucking-Russia, and if I don't exercise my rights, I'm afraid I may lose them.

So suddenly the officer is less friendly...he's not hostile or anything, but it's clear that his buddy-buddy act isn't really going to get him far with me. We go through two different field sobriety tests: I stand on one foot in the freezing wind, then prove that I can touch my nose with my eyes closed. He's disappointed, and he doesn't want to let me go now.

Since I'm not drunk, and I'm not belligerent, the next step is to run my license and insurance to see if everything is in order, to verify whether or not I have outstanding warrants, to verify the car belongs to me. I'm left to lean against my locked car, wishing that the wind wasn't so cold, wishing I'd put on the wool peacoat that I left hanging in the alcove. I can see it hanging there in memory, soft and clean, smelling like clove cigarettes and perfume...a little too big now, easy to hide in. It's a warm fantasy.

I don't want to show weakness as I stand there, waiting...and waiting...and waiting. Eventually I can't help it, my arms fold across my body, I fight to light a cigarette in my cupped hands, and I start trembling. It's so fucking cold, and unlike the freezing morning hours in a deer-stand, my senses aren't occupied, so time seems to dilate, the minutes becoming long and numb and freezing.

My cigarette is gone. How long has it been? Ten minutes?

What, is he jacking off in there? I'm not cute like that.

Eventually the door opens and he steps out, immediately zipping up his jacket in the wind, shivering. He walks toward me and stops a few feet away, as though he's trying to decide what to say, and there's a long, unpleasant silence between us. It occurs to me that we are quickly passing out of the realm of usual conversations with a police officer, and I'm becoming very uncomfortable.

"I've run your ID and tags, and everything -looks- fine." He says, but he's not handing back my cards. His tone is cynical, aggravated, and it feels like I'm being challenged to defend myself, to say something that he can creatively interpret as belligerent. The intention is clear, he's telling me, 'Give me a reason to arrest you.'

I don't want to be here anymore, standing in the cold. I don't want to stay here and wait for him to find some other reason to keep me from going home. I've been on the side of the road for twenty five minutes, my toes and fingers are going numb, and my husband's ringtone has sounded through the car window twice since stepping out...he's wondering where I am. I should have been home fifteen minutes ago.

In the United States, when you are in a situation like this, when it is unclear whether or not you can get back into your car and drive away, there is a magic phrase you can utter. Remember this question, because like some arcane utterance, the police officer must answer you with either a yes or a no:

"Officer, am I being detained?"

My hand is out, waiting for my cards. I can't drive off without them, but I don't want to be here anymore. Like many police officers confronted with this question, he looks surprised, as though at some point in training he was told about it, but he has to remember the protocol surrounding it before he answers, looking at my expectant hand.

"No ma'am." He hands the ID and folded insurance card back to me. I'm already unlocking my car door, sitting down, trying to force my numb fingers to find the seat belt. Once the officer tells you 'No', you are free to leave the scene without saying another word. This is generally the safest thing to do.

"Goodnight Officer." I say, and close the door. I pull away from the curb, and he follows me as far as my street, then slips away after someone else. I'm cold to the core, I'm shivering even in the heater, but at least now I don't feel like a criminal, scurrying away.

I know that the way I look asks for this kind of treatment, (facial piercings, big blue mohawk, etc) but it surprises me, each and every time. I have great faith in law enforcement, without their intervention I would not be alive, and I have trust in what they do, yet this happens to me with a surprising frequency. Sadder still is that when I exercise my right to privacy, not consenting to vehicle searches, not providing my ID when it is demanded for no good reason, this doesn't make me look like an informed citizen...all it seems to do is make me look like a criminal.

I've even had a police officer say to me, "if you don't have anything to hide, what are you so worried about?" Although the others haven't outright said it, there is always this sense of, 'only criminals have something to hide.' There is a fundamental flaw in that logic so wide and deep that words can't begin to fill it...and it is happening more often now than it ever has before.

That chills me deeply, even more than standing in the cold.

That is all. People suck.

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Many people suck, clearly including that douchebag of a cop.

But, more mportantly, knowing you too get all American Idol with Brittney in the car, only heightens my suspicions that we are in fact half siblings, sadly separated. And our reunion could be a thing of terror to behold.

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I've had a lot of experiences similar to the one you're describing. It has resulted in me feeling like a criminal every time police is around. On some abstract level I want the police around to feel protected, but when they actually are, I feel so threatened by them.

A few years ago, the police issued what in my country is called a "visitation zone" in my neighborhood because of some political protests which were going on every day for about 10 months. Previously, visitation zones were issued during states of emergency (war or disaster), which this clearly wasn't. It gives the police the right to search everyone in the zone without the usual "reasonable suspicion", to register you and to withold you in detention for 24 hrs. without actually arresting you (which would require them to give a valid reason or charge).

So during these 10 months, I was searched and registrered many, many times. You are required to give them your full name and birth date. That's all. But they always ask for a sequrity number, because it gives them acess to extra information. After being harrassed several times, I refused to give them my security number, which resulted in me being searched (on the street), being questioned about my proffession, my family, whether or not my parents knew I was out (I was 25 at the time!), being threated ("if you don't give me your security number, I'm going to take you back to the station"), and actually being hauled into a police van, taken to the suburbs and dropped off on the street without a charge or some kind of piece of paper explaining what was going on. A friend of mine was beaten up pretty badly during one of these rides.

When I'm on the street and see some kind of situation involving police, I usually grab my phone (with camera) tightly, getting ready to film it if the police are getting off track.

Your point about excersizing your rights resulting in being subject of suspicion and criminalized is so true.

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I've been an Auxiliary cop and I can safely say that some cops are pigs in every sense of the word. (You don't know the real guys until you work in the station house with them.)

But you did the right thing all the way through this whole encounter. I think it was rude and mean of him to leave you out in the cold all that time without a warm coat. I would be tempted to go to police headquarters in your city and lodge a protest. But then, I can't help my bad 60s self. They shouldn't be allowed to treat people that way, no matter what you have done to your hair or body. It's just none of their biz.

At the very least, I would go see the person who is their community liaison and tell him/her about the stop. You had a legitimate reason to swerve, he was ignoring the dead dog, and he really had no reason to stop you.

I wish I lived there. I would put on my grandmotherly print dress and orthopedic shoes, and march down there to protest on your behalf. he he They never know what to do with grandmas.


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I totally don't have anything to add except what a DOUCHEBAG. I've known of cops who even beat people up for no reason. People who are laying down with their hands behind their heads clearly not resisting arrect, and then some cop beats the crap out of them. Sadly, my best friend is dating a cop who did the exact same thing about 5 years ago. He made the person he beat quadraplegic.

I don't understand the propensity for violence, even though that doesn't really apply to your situation because it didn't get violent. Nevertheless, it sounds like profiling to me on the part of the cop.

Edited to say he may have been profiling because of your mohawk and piercings. Which was stupid of him to think, that just because somebody looks a certain way that they must be some sort of criminal element

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What an asshole he was. I am so sorry your went through that. I am sure it was pure profiling based on your appearence. He would not have treated someone who looks middle aged and middle class that way. I am sure.


TG had a terrible, terrible experience in Conroe Texas. This is Klan territory I have been told. He was traveling, sleeping in his ancient 4 runner which is 20 years old, and run down. He parked late at night and was walking across an alley to a Taco Bell. Two police cars swarmed in and pinned him up against a wall. It was the 2008 presidential election season and TG was wearing his Barack Obama tee shirt. They detain him, they interrogate him, they search him - both the truck and his person. This inspired terror in him because of his biological, transgender physiology. (think Boys Don't Cry with Hillary Swank) Officer Bubba kept spitting tobacco at my husband's feet, landing on sandaled feet. TG ask him to stop spitting on him. It went down hill from there......

When Officer Bubba Fife asked him hat he was doing (this was during the last presendential election season) he said "I am registering Democtats." Which he had been doing that day at a Walmart parking lot. TG loves to register people to vote. This totally set off Officer Bubba. They cuffed him and tossed him in the back of a patrol car. Then they spent over half an hour tossing his truck searching for drugs, or what? Obama campaign materials? Voter Registration Forms? Eventually they called the Police Chief down to decide his fate. At this point TG is terrified that if he goes into a jail in Conroe Texas he will be in serious danger physically, danger of rape or assault.

HIs car was filled with clothing, McDonalds wrappers. Then the Chief of Police shows up at 1 am and questions TG. The Chief of Police asks him about his Obama tee shirt. He tells him that he was registering Democrats. He takes TG out of the police car, he apologizes, then he said Mr. TG, you are not in Portland or Seattle, you need to get back to Houston. You are in Texas now. If you have to sleep in your car tonight I want you to sleep in this parking lot near a government office. We won't bother you there. This location is outside of this officer's jurisdiction. TG left the site and checked in to a hotel down the road, out of town. He left that town. He didn't tell me about this until he returned from his trip visiting his two boys.

We won't be visiting Conroe Texas at any point in our lives.

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I once went to court for a guy who was arrested for loitering because he was black by a rent-a-cop who was a real cop, when they guy still had coffee in his cup, outside a starbucks. i was sitting right there, the cop just felt the guy was taking "too long'.

He took him back to teh police station in handcuffs and arrested him.

both myself, the guy, and the cop came to court. The charges were dismissed based on my evidence (I marched over to the police station and gave the guy my phone number and told him i would be a witness of the discrimination).

The cop was PISSED. But the judge was impressed, and the guy was very, very grateful that I did that. i was being a 'concerned citizen" heh.

I'm really glad I did it though, it was a total, complete waste of everyone's time and abuse of power. The cop glared at me the whole time but i was an innocent looking little white girl who was standing up for the "loitering douchbag.'

who was actually a really nice guy.


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i was PISSED, man. it was kind of a fun experience, actually, "sticking it to the man," heh. olga's comment made me think of the story. This was a few years ago now....


It was great that you did that, that you volunteered to go to court. so many people are just total wimps and fearful of testifying.

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