Fuck (With) The Police
I have spend a lot of time thinking about the recent gathering of White Supremacists in Charlottesville. As a straight white male there’s upsetting moments where if I am being honest with myself I can actually relate to these assholes. Recently was asked to contribute to a photo book only to find out later that they decided to “focus on female voices” or when I try and have a conversation about racism only to be told to not voice my opinion because I am not a person of color. For a flickering moment I get upset and then I realize that I should shut the fuck up because my entire life has been filled with privilege and every perceived slight against me is just a tiny balancing of the scales that I have been on the winning side of my entire life. These nazi fucks protesting are scared because they want to hold on to that leg up in life. They don’t see the white supremacy all around them even when they can walk down the street heavily armed without police in riot gear beating the shit out of them.
Personally I cannot wait until white people are a minority. I want to live in a an actual democracy where all voices are heard and considered equally. I want to live in a world where women and of people of color have a place at the table in every aspect of life. But the reality is I benefit from this injustice every day.
So in order to “check my privilege” I want to tell you a few quick stories about interactions I’ve had with police that I have a feeling would have ended a lot differently if my skin was a different color.
Two years ago I was in Austin, Texas for the South By Southwest music festival. I was crossing a street and apparently I wasn’t paying enough attention because I was almost hit by cop car that had a green light. The cop rolled down his window and told me stop and come over to his car, but I sort of calculated that if he didn’t want to get out of his car he wasn’t going to chase me down over jaywalking so I pretended not to hear him. I calculated wrong.
The cop got out of his car and yelled again but I just kept going. Suddenly he started sprinting after me screaming at me to stop and I finally did about halfway down the block. I could see in his eyes that he was furious. He started yelling at me about jaywalking and demanded my identification.
When I gave him my ID he looked at it and said in the most sarcastic way “From New York, huh?” He was Texas State Police and it was very clear he was sick of having to work a music festival and deal with hipsters from New York and LA all day.
I knew I was already getting a ticket but I figured he wouldn’t do much else to me so I decided to lean into my white privilege and replied “Yeah, I’m from New York. It’s the jaywalking capital of the world. See that ID? That’s my license to jaywalk.”
He looked at me, then down at my ID and back up at me again and just said “Yeah, I used to live in Queens. You gotta get around.” He handed me back my ID and just told me to be careful crossing the street and walked back to his car. I was speechless.
The next day I walked by the same intersection and a homeless guy stopped me, not to ask for change, but to ask me what the hell I did to make the cop chase after me like that. I told him the story and he couldn’t believe it and that’s when he told me another story, one about some people in Austin who had the shit beat out of them by cops for jaywalking. To no one’s surprise they were people of color.
Back in 2007 and 2008 I was constantly putting up stickers promoting my website Driven By Boredom. I never put them on private property or anywhere there weren’t stickers already, but otherwise I was relentless. I figured the NYPD had better shit to do than to harass people for putting up stickers and mostly I was right. Countless times cops drove past me when I was putting up stickers and never stopped. The one time I got stopped for it the cop looked at my ID and rolled his eyes at me when he saw I was from Williamsburg and told me to go back to Brooklyn and put my stickers up there. I continued to be pretty bold about my stickering until one day when I accidentally went a little too far.
I was standing outside a bar on the Lower East Side talking to some friends when I spotted a light post just down the block. I realized I could stand on the base of the light post and get a sticker up higher than normal which means it’s much less likely to get taken off. I walked over, jumped up and put the sticker on the pole and as soon as I stepped down I realized I was right next to a cop car with two cops inside.
The cop who was driving already had his window down and was so pissed that I had done that shit right in front of him and he was actually going to have to do some work. He asked me “What the hell are you doing?” and I told him “Um, I am just taking this sticker off this light post.” as I jumped back up and pulled down off sticker. He just said “Jesus christ” and shook his head. He ran my license and when it came back clean he wrote me a warning. But right before he let me go he had one more thing to say…
It was primary season before the 2008 election and I had been campaigning for Obama. He looked at my Obama ’08 button that I was wearing on my jacket and said with absolute disgust “Obama huh? Well, at least it’s not that cunt Hillary!” and with that he let me go…
I once got pulled over for drunk driving even though I wasn’t drinking and I still managed to fail a sobriety test.
It was summer vacation from my first or second year of college. I was back home on the Virginia side of the DC suburbs. I was at a house party with a bunch of friends until the cops broke it up. I didn’t drink so I was always the designated driver back then and I was driving a couple of my friends home when I got pulled over.
When the cop came over to my car he seemed less than pleased. Apparently I had been speeding, driving in the shoulder lane and I had run a stop sign. My underage friends in the car were clearly drunk and the car smelled of alcohol. The cop asked me where we were coming from. I said “It’s funny you ask because we just left a party that was broken up by the cops!”
He asked me how many drinks I had had and made me get out of the car. I told him I was sober but he was not buying it. He asked me to “repeat after me” and he touched his thumb to his pointer, middle finger, ring finger and pinky “one, two, three, four” and then his thumb to his pinky, ring finger, middle finger and back to his pointer “four, three, two, one”.
I touched my fingers like he asked and he said “No! Like this!” and he repeated himself again. I touched my fingers again only this time slower and more deliberately making a whole production of it. I didn’t understand what the problem was. Apparently because I didn’t actually count out loud I had failed the sobriety test. Whoops.
That’s when he got out the breathalyzer. He said “I want you to take this, and when you fail it, you are going to park your car and all three of you are going to walk your asses home, okay?” I thought that was pretty nice of him but I assured him I was going to pass it.
When the breathalyzer came back negative the cop was in absolute shock. He looked at me and just shook his head and said “Get the hell out of here!” and just let me go and once again I was saved by the color of my skin and by a cops desire not to do any paperwork.
I have way too many stories like this. Once I argued with a cop about which specific law I broke. Once I tried to give a cop a donut while he was kicking me out of somewhere for trespassing. Once a cop turned on his siren and got on his microphone to tell me “Dolphins suck” when I was wearing a Miami Dolphins jersey. I turned around and gave him the middle finger and he just started laughing. And one time I even got arrested and the cop intentionally wrote down the wrong violation code because I was “polite” to him. I ended up getting the case thrown out on that technicality. It was insane.
Look, being a cop is a hard fucking job and the last thing they need is privileged assholes like me messing with them for no reason. But the fact is that I have never once considered that a cop might beat the shit out of me over it. When I get pulled over I worry about getting getting a speeding ticket and not getting shot. This is the kinda privilege that everyone should have and I hope to one day live in a world where we can all fuck with the police a little bit without risking our lives in the process.