How a Two-Minute Interaction with the Police Changed Me Forever
Even standard procedures can have consequences
I was walking home from a Halloween party. I think it was 2002. I knew it was illegal to ride a bicycle after drinking. I was already terrified of cops and not taking any chances.
A cop car pulled up about two car lengths behind me as I walked on the sidewalk, shining the spotlight on me. I looked over my shoulder, but kept walking. The car then followed me at walking pace, about two car-lengths behind me for several blocks, shining the spotlight on me the whole time.
Finally the cop shouted out the window, “Hey guy! Stop!”
I stopped and he got out and walked toward me, then his facial expression changed and he whipped out his gun and pointed it at me. “Put your hands on your head,” he shouted.
I stared down the barrel of his gun to see his trigger finger trembling.
The really terrifying part of this is the fact that my first instinct was not to submit. My first instinct was to fight back, slap the gun away from him and kick it away, then flee. Thank God I did not do that. I do feel that if I had so much as flinched in that moment, I would be dead right now.
I put my hands behind my head, and he shouted, “Drop your backpack on the ground. Lie down on the ground! Face down. Keep your hands behind your head. Now don’t move.” He spoke into his radio, “I got him. This is him.”
“Who are you?” he asked me, his gun still pointed at my head.
“My name’s Kalin,” I stuttered.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m just walking home from a party.”
“Where did you stash the DVD player?”
“What? I don’t have a DVD player.”
“We know you have it. Where the fuck is it?”
“I swear I don’t.”
“I’m not stupid. You’re a fucking thief.” He spoke into his radio. “I’ve got him. This is him.”
He paused to listen to a reply that I could not hear.
“No, this him. I guarantee you this is him. This piece of shit is ours.”
He paused again. “Okay, okay. One moment.”
“Do you have ID?” He asked.
“Is it in your backpack?”
“Yes,” I said. “In the front pocket, the small one.”
Meanwhile, other cop cars were showing up, and another officer was pacing back and forth on the corner of the street, watching me, holding what looked like an Uzi, but was probably some kind of stun-gun designed to look scary.
The officer pulled my license out of my wallet. “Kalin,” he said into his radio. “Are we looking for a Kalin?… No? Are you sure… Kalin Ring-vist? Okay.” He lowered his gun, tossed my wallet and ID onto my backpack, and said to me, “Okay, you can go. You’re not the guy we’re looking for.”
But at first I couldn’t move. I just lay there in the grass next to the sidewalk trembling.
“Go!” the officer shouted.
I got up and confirmed that the officer had now holstered his weapon. I grabbed my wallet and dropped it into the pocket of my backpack. I attempted to grab the zipper to close the pocket but my hands were trembling so badly that I couldn’t get a grip and the harder I tried the more I started to panic and the harder it became.
The officer lunged forward raising his fist like he was going to punch me. “Get the fuck out of here!” he shouted.
So I just grabbed my backpack with its open pocket and walked away as quickly as possible. I got to the end of the block and looked back to see the officer had already taken off.
Then I blacked out.
The next moment I was sitting on my couch at home. Just sitting there, unable to think, knowing I couldn’t fall asleep but having nothing else my brain could focus on.
For the next two days I found myself unable to laugh. Humor suddenly didn’t exist for me anymore. I don’t really understand what happened to my brain but I went through some kind of mental block where I could not escape that moment. It played over and over in my head, nonstop. I started worrying that I had lost all capacity to find things funny, but fortunately, that faded.
A DVD player. That’s what I remember at least. They were willing to kill me over a DVD player, a DVD player that I didn’t even steal. That cop is considered a hero for this. For the rest of my life I will have to live with the fact that my entire life is worth less than a DVD player. I will have to know that everyone who supports the police, sometimes my own friends and family, would rather have seen me with a bullet through my head, brains splattered across the pavement than to live in a world where their DVD player might get stolen.
I think I may have thought about this event nearly every day for the last fifteen years. Some days I can’t get it out of my head. It’s manageable for sure, at least when I’m not around police or people who are being openly supportive of the police, but it’s still always there, lingering in the background, as though a small part of me will forever live in that moment.
I’d had this urge to fight back but I resisted those instincts and did what the officer told me to do. If I did not have the emotional control of someone as logical as myself, I would easily have been dead. I think many of my friends in that exact same situation would have been shot to death simply for not having immediate control over all that sudden adrenaline. Some people say I have mild Asperger’s and if they’re right, I believe it saved my life that night.
Normal people who have not experienced this. just don’t understand what it’s like. They blindly assume that the police are always doing good in our society, and that everyone they hurt… well, we must have had it coming.
And I think most people who have had experiences with cops have some kind of long-term emotional trauma. That’s kind of the whole point. If these experiences weren’t traumatizing, they wouldn’t be very good crime deterrents. It’s just that the trauma is frequently manifested in different ways, such as self-loathing, anger, or actually giving in to this idea that you’re a horrible person who deserves to suffer. You can decide that your whole life really is worth less than whatever it was the cop was willing to shoot you over. Or the trauma could manifest as a blanket hatred of police, government or even all of society. If we really want to make a difference, we need to be open and honest about what happens in our minds after we are arrested or go through an experience with the police so that people can see how counter-productive they are to a peaceful society.