So it was a fine summer day when I was coming out of my apartment building. I was heading to Blockbuster to return a DVD.
After walking a few blocks three plain-clothes NYC police officers approach me. They quickly make their presence known by getting presumptuous with my civil rights and forcing me against a fence. They search me while demanding information about something I know nothing about:
“What did you get from the store?”
“Let’s see what’s in the bag you have.”
“What is it you were shopping for?”
Unfortunately for me I had not been in a store, I was not carrying a bag, only the DVD I was returning, and I wasn’t shopping or planning to go shopping anytime soon.
So my answer was, “What the fuck is going on here??!!? I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Meanwhile these guys are not acting like they’re actually curious about my response. No, they’re acting like they got the answers from god himself a few hours ago and the questions are merely a formality. After forcing me against the fence, frisking me pretty physically, and looking in every nook and cranny you can find on a DVD case, there’s now a crowd beginning to form on the street.
Undoubtedly spurred on by the lack of material evidence, they continue their informal interrogation.
“what were you doing coming out of that store?”
“look. You know what store. What were you doing?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just came out of my house and I’m going to blockbuster. This is my first time outside today”
The officers pause to consider this unexpected fact.
Meanwhile I’m beginning to piece it together. Next to my apartment building there’s a bodega, and very often bodegas are fronts for weed-shops (something I, of course, know nothing about, other than they may exist). Anyways, I figure these officers thought I was coming out the store instead of my apartment. I relay this revelation to them.
They are not eager to reevaluate their situation but they do eventually back off me a little. At which point I get a little more assertive in expressing my dissatisfaction. I sort of play to the crowd and talk about how a “black man can’t even return his DVD on time no more.” I’m jabbing at them, but nothing too inflammatory.
The officers are talking amongst themselves, presumably trying to figure out how they botched this situation up. They’re also telling me to calm down, which of course only gets me more fired up. They’re the ones in the wrong, I have full right to be causing a ruckus, plus my ruckus was fairly tame all things considered. The crowd on the street formed because of their actions, not mine.
After some more back and forth I eventually raise my hands, one of which is holding the DVD, and declare, “I can't believe this is happening! This is ridiculous!!” I say it loud, but I’m quite certain that harsher, more threatening words have been used in similar scenarios. But apparently that’s not what the officer in charge thought, because upon hearing that he looked at me and then at the DVD case and said, “you’re threatening to assault a police officer.” He then tells one of his partners to cuff me and take me in.
In shocked disbelief, my hands are cuffed behind my back. My tone immediately changes from challenging to compliant. I apologize and say I got out of line. But the head guy is no longer listening. Still his order to take me in was so preposterous that a couple of his partners made an effort to verify that he genuinely wanted them to take me in. He did.
I was cuffed and taken to a minivan that was parked around the corner and down the block a bit. And that’s when this unfortunate misunderstanding evolved into an incredible educational experience ...
To Be Continued