Tuesday, August 26, 2014

the police

My first interaction with a police officer happened during my first year living in the United States when our class was visited by the D.A.R.E. program. While I always remembered their slogan, D.A.R.E. to keep kids off drugs, I never actually thought about what D.A.R.E. stood for (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). I also don't recall learning anything about drug resistance but even at the tender age of ten I was a cynic and repeating catchy phrases didn't sway me to believe. What I do remember is that the officer was young and friendly, and his props were a police horse (who had a racing tattoo on its inner cheek) and a tricked out corvette that had been confiscated during a drug raid.

Unfortunately that was the last time that I had a friendly, personal interaction with the police. It was a decade later that I started working at a bar to pay for school and I became unfortunately involved. My colleague was dating a deputy sheriff and he was a piece of work. He abused her and did so blatantly and with impunity. He came into our bar drunk (and driving) on a regular basis late at night after his shift ended and would grab her and pinch her on the inside of her arms where it hurt the most. She paid for his drinks out of the tip jar which was bullshit because those tips were to be split between the two of us at the end of the night but I never complained to her because I felt sorry for her. I figured that I was making more than enough to cover my tuition and rent while she was a twenty-four year old single mother with a scary boyfriend.

At least once per week he showed up with three or four of his fellow officers. Some were police and some were sheriff's department. Two were very creepy and I was more than happy to stay at the other end of the bar and leave them to J to serve (from our tip jar). The regulars seemed to also sense that they were bad news and tended to crowd my side of the bar on these nights. Only one of the cops was even remotely respectful toward me. He was a very handsome man and very polite but since he was friends with the others I never let my guard down with him. When he asked me about myself I always answered in the vaguest terms; it even worried me that he saw me doing my calculus homework during my dinner break because I was afraid that he could use the information to check my school records and find out where I lived. As it turned out, he only needed to run my license plate (duh) though it was not he who ended up doing so but one of the creepier cops. The creep showed up at my door one night and parked in front of my building, knocking every half hour until the morning while I hid in my closet. I thought that he was going to burst in at any minute because my car was in the parking lot and he had to know that I was home.

The doorman ended up picking me up and driving me to work for a week after that. It caused everyone at work to think that he was cheating on his wife with me but also ensured that the creep didn't come by again. At this point I had become much more jaded with the realities of the world and I was only slightly horrified by just how many of my coworkers didn't seem too bothered by the doorman stepping out on his really sweet wife. In the two years that I worked at the bar I learned a lot. I learned how it feels to be powerless. I learned that sometimes you keep your head down not because you are a coward but because it is the best option to keep yourself and others safe (or at least safer than they would be otherwise). I saw men who were protected by a fraternity of law officers behaving like brazen criminals.

One night after work I saw J being dragged into her boyfriend's car and against all of the common sense screaming in my head I followed them home as he drunkenly wove through traffic in his sheriff's car. On her front lawn I tried to get her to leave with me but she was too scared and went inside his home with him. I didn't own a mobile phone so I knocked on her neighbors' doors but no one wanted to help me and be identified as having called the police so I walked back and sat with my back against her door crying while I could hear her screaming inside.

I know there are good cops because I have seen them. I know that there are children who believe in goodness and fairness and grow up wanting to become heroes. Some of them take up the mantle of justice and stay gold but others become horribly tarnished. I wonder if it happens after years of working closely with the worst of society or if these bad cops were never heroes to begin with, and all it took was a gun and some authority to unleash their corrupted selves. I wonder about the D.A.R.E. cop sometimes. I hope that he was truly a nice guy through and through and not like the handsome cop at the bar who sat by and watched his friend mistreat his girlfriend.

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