For anyone who wonders why a middle-aged white guy with no criminal record would be so up-in-arms about police brutality, I’ve got a personal story for you.
The year was 2002 in a town in the Florida Keys named Key Colony Beach. It was a sunny Sunday morning when my wife, our two-year-old daughter and I were going to an outdoor Sunday brunch put on by a local charity.
I pulled into a spot in the parking lot where the event was taking place, exited the car and walked around to the other side to get my daughter out of her car seat. As I bent over into the back seat and pulled her out of the car, I felt a powerful hand reach into the back of my shirt collar and pull me, quite forcefully, out of the car, my baby daughter almost falling from my grasp. I whipped around, still holding her, expecting to have to punch whomever was grabbing at me to make him release me when I noticed that it was a cop, with one hand tightly holding my collar and the other on his gun in its holster. To properly set the scene here, remember…A Sunday morning with a 45 year old white man, his wife, their baby and a 4-door family sedan with hundreds of other people around. Not exactly a dark alley with a black teenager and a hoodie. But I digress…
When I saw the look on this guy’s face and the size of him (easily 4 inches taller and 50 lbs heavier than me) I handed my baby to my wife, still practically bent over backward from him pulling on my collar.
As he screamed at me to move back from the car I realized that there was something terribly wrong here and that he was in control for the moment. He dragged me about 20 feet, backward, to the middle of the parking lot, where everyone else came to a halt to see what the commotion was about. He spun me around and screamed at me like a Marine Seargent (more on that later), and accused me of having driven too fast when I came into the parking lot. When I protested that I had done nothing of the kind he put his nose against my nose and yelled “shut up until I tell you to talk”. My wife stood about 20 feet away in disbelief and fear of what was going to happen next. As I stood there, also in disbelief, as hundreds of other people stopped what they were doing to watch me get accosted by the cop, he proceeded to demand my license and registration. I took them both out of my wallet, silent as I realized that this guy was going to explode if I said another word. I gave him what he asked for as another police car came up and stopped behind us. Another cop, apparently a supervisor, stepped out and called him to the car. As I stood there, like a criminal, as my friends and neighbors looked on, he and the supervisor had a conversation that took about 2 minutes. After what seemed like forever, as I wondered if I was about to get arrested for the first time in my life, the supervisor came over to me, gave me my license and registration and told me that I was free to go. What?
I asked the supervisor what I had been stopped for and his response was that the cop felt that I’d pulled into the parking lot too quickly but that all was now Ok and I was free to go!
By this time we were no longer in the mood for brunch, so we got back in the car and left, incredulous at what had just happened. I spent the rest of the day reliving this embarrassing event over and over, trying to figure out what I had done wrong. I was humiliated in front of hundreds of people, many of whom I knew, and this guy was basically saying, “oh, never mind”!
The next day, Monday, I went to see my lawyer to tell him what had happened (yes, contrary to the situation facing many inner city youth, I could afford a lawyer) to ask him what my rights were regarding this bizarre sequence of events. He called me some days later with some interesting news.
It turns out that our Neanderthal friend was an ex-Marine (see reference above. No surprise there) and had a history of violence. He had been brought up on charges of use of excessive force before, apparently having slammed someone’s head on the roof on his patrol car when he wouldn’t answer the officer’s questions. He also had been caught laughing as he kicked a drunk who was laying on the ground outside a local bar for no other reason than he thought it might be fun. I assumed that with this guy’s history as well as the hundreds of witnesses who saw the entire thing that we would easily nail this guy. I told my lawyer to press charges, whatever the cost (note, again, I could afford to say things like that. How many inner-city black kids can do the same?)
About week later my lawyer called me and advised me to drop the entire thing! What!?!
It turns out that this guy had been forgiven his professional indiscretions repeatedly since his union defended every one of these accusations. He had never been suspended, paid any penalty or lost a single day of work as a result of his malfeasance. My lawyer told me quite bluntly that if I sued him, I could expect to be stopped and accosted EVERY TIME I DROVE INTO KEY COLONY BEACH and that his union, with millions in their war chest, would fight me until I ran out of money.
So, I gave in. On the advice of my attorney. And that piece of shit is still a cop. Who knows how many others have suffered from his delusions of superiority. I was humiliated, dragged by the back of my collar, in front of hundreds of acquaintances, my wife and my daughter, for what amounted to a traffic stop, all because this loser needed anger management classes. And I couldn’t do a damned thing about it.
I’m a middle-aged white guy with no criminal record. What do you think would have happened if the unfortunate guy who drove into that parking lot with his wife and baby that sunny Sunday morning just happened to be a young black guy, driving a beat-up car, who chose to wear a hoodie.
Go ahead. Explain it to me…