I’ve said before that I’ve never been arrested (knock on wood) and that is true. I have never been taken to jail, read my rights and put in a cell awaiting trial. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t had my fair share of run-ins with the law. I talked about one of them not too long ago. By and large, they’ve been good experiences though.
In daytime Las Vegas, on December 31, 1999, I was walking down the street with an open container of alcohol, a feat which is illegal practically everywhere. There were two cops standing by the sidewalk and I asked them if that was okay to do that, because I was raised with manners. I was in their city so I wanted to verify the house rules. One of them said to the other, better call back to the station for a cell. Then he said to me, I’m sorry, ma’am, we’re going to have to arrest you now, and reached behind him for handcuffs. Then they both started laughing hysterically. They said, yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to walk around with alcohol provided you don’t go throwing it over anyone’s head and lighting a match. Have a great time in Vegas! Ok then, smartasses. I was just trying to be polite.
In Los Angeles, all of my friends, including some who had flown in from Boston, went to see Black Flag. It was their first show in a long time. We were all really excited. I put my mohawk up and we all walked to the train station. We had already gotten pretty drunk at my friend’s house beforehand. One of us had a backpack with provisions. There were at least a dozen of us walking to the train station in North Hollywood, trying to covertly carry open containers of alcohol. A squad car drove by and shined their spotlight on us. Out the car window, they told us to ditch the open containers. Everyone did, except for me. I’m so used to being poor that losing a newly opened beer seemed like a waste. The spotlight shined on me. From the loudspeaker came the demand, PUT THE BEER DOWN. I sheepishly did. They watched us walk away. I looked back later and they were throwing our alcohol in the trash bin nearby. I pouted. They could have easily busted us for open containers and public drunkenness, ruining our night, but they didn’t. Instead, they went over and cleaned up our mess. To this day, if you say “put the beer down” to anyone who was there that night, it will elicit a chuckle, and I’ll just roll my eyes at my stupidity.
In Detroit, when I was about twenty years old, which happens to be under the legal drinking age, I was intoxicated and driving. I tried to light a cigarette and dropped it. Instead of pulling over, I tried to reach for it and swerved. Oops. Fortunately there was no traffic besides the cops who pulled me over. It was clear that I was mildly drunk and underage. Instead of arresting me and ruining my life, they told me that about a half a mile down the road, there is a diner. We will escort you to said diner. You are to walk in, order a cup of coffee and sit there for at least one hour. If you get in the car before then, the owner of the diner will call us and we will arrest you. I sat in that diner until the sun came up. They gave me a second chance and I never did that again.
A long time ago, I lived in a house in southwest Detroit. If you’re not familiar with Detroit, the southwest is one of the most dangerous areas in an already dangerous city. It definitely was when I live there. I lived in a duplex and had moved in just a month or two before. We lived on the second floor and some young hipster couple was slumming on the first floor. They didn’t talk to any of the neighbors besides us, because we were white, too. They had nice cars, a huge television and lots of nice stuff to steal, which is exactly what happened. One night, I came home from work to find their door open and all the lights on. I called the cops and ran upstairs to see what was missing in my house. Not a damn thing was out of place. It looked like no one had been up there. The cops came and thought it was odd that the second floor hadn’t been touched, but then they talked to the neighbors and found out about the first floor couple. The first floor couple moved out a day or two later. Our neighborhood was a community and that couple was shunning it. We took over both floors of the house after they left and never had any more trouble.
One night, those same cops who came after the break in were involved in a search for an armed and dangerous criminal. They had ghetto birds (police helicopters) out and almost every squad car for miles. The whole sky was lit up with searchlights and flashing lights. I let my dog out. She took off to fence-line, started barking and then was quiet. The bird’s searchlight flashed into my yard and I saw my dog suspended three feet off the ground by her teeth attached to someone’s calf. Police cars rolled up the alley and asked to come into my yard. It took some doing to get her jaw unclenched. The cops patted her head and she wagged her tail, still bloody about the mouth. My dog got lots of treats and the undying respect from the police for catching a man who had allegedly murdered three people in a drug fight a few blocks away. He was armed and could have easily shot my dog if there had been enough time. Fortunately, there wasn’t. Every time the cops drove by after that, they threw a dog treat into my yard.
When I was in my early twenties, I was in an abusive relationship. The cops in Cambridge, Boston and Detroit were nothing but genuinely nice and helpful. They came to my house and made me feel safe. Even though they could not arrest my abuser since the arrest warrant for trying to kill me was in another city (all of ten miles away), they said they could hold him overnight for public drunkenness, because he was very much drunk. They even called me the next morning to let me know when they were releasing him so that I was prepared when he showed up at the house.
Throughout the arduous months-long process of trying to get justice for what he did to me, the cops were incredibly helpful. They gave me advice. They told me honestly what could and could not be done in that situation. I guess they had lots of experience. One of them suggested that I call the Post Office and get a federal arrest warrant for mail fraud. I spent hours on the phone in Boston talking to a Detroit police detective. I went back to Detroit and made a special point of dropping into his precinct to shake his hand.
So, while a lot of people have negative experiences with the police, I can honestly say that I don’t. I’ve dealt with them on both sides of the law, and the cops I’ve had interactions with have been entirely human. By that I mean they have good days and bad days like the rest of us. They have a sense of humor, empathy and a lot of experience. Being a police officer is a tough job. It’s not something everyone can do. It takes a special kind of person to want to do it. Police officers are constantly in danger, encountering the unknown. They’re not paid nearly enough. They have earned my respect.