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Open Season on the Poor

A while back, before it got cold, Olga and I went to a fund-raiser for an organization that helps veterans become organic farmers. It was a pizza dinner at a family farm, and I found myself across a long picnic table from a Vermont police officer who was telling everyone in earshot about the need to sterilize Holyoke, Massachusettes. Holyoke is full of people of color, many of them Dominicans. And there's a fair amount of crime. This Vermont policeman was telling us it needed to be nuked. "Turn the ground to glass and start over," he said.

He talked about how easy it was to spot drug couriers coming up from New Jersey. He said it was always the same combination: a haggard looking white girl driving a car that used to be nice. A black man in the passenger's seat with the seat reclined so far that his face, with its telltale dark skin, was barely visible. Pull them over, search the car, and you're guaranteed to find heroin.

He looked over at me and said, "If I was ever going to be a drug dealer, I'd want to look just like this guy."

By that, I took him to mean that I am white, middle-aged, conservative haircut and no visible tattoos. I told him about the time I was driving across Ohio in my '92 Ford Ranger and I got pulled over by a sheriff's deputy. The lead deputy approached my window, and I could see in my passenger's side mirror that his junior partner was creeping up with his hand on his holster. The deputy told me my plates (they were Arkansas plates at the time) were registered to a different vehicle. At first, I thought it might be possible that he had entered the wrong data and come up with a different registration, but more likely an automated camera scanned my plates and he was just lying about the mismatch as a pretense to start prying.

He asked me where I was going, and I told him my business was my own. He asked me if I had any weapons in the truck and I just glared at him. He told me, "I asked you if you have any weapons." With words, I told him, "No. I don't have any weapons in the truck." With my eyes and tone, I told him, "You disgust me. You deserve to die in agony."

As he continued to ask me questions about the contents of my vehicle, a voice came over the radio attached to the front of his uniform verifying that the truck was registered to my mother, who has the same last name as I do. The lead deputy reached up and turned off his radio. He was maintaining the pretense that my plate didn't match my vehicle, even though we both heard that it did. He told me to wait, that he was going to get a canine out of his vehicle. He trotted once around my truck with a german shepherd, put the dog back in his SUV and returned to tell me that the dog signaled the presence of narcotics in the vehicle.

He told me to get out of the truck so he could search it. I told him I didn't consent to a search. He said, "That's fine. This is happening." And he put his hand on his gun. I glanced over at his junior partner and saw him tensed. They were ready to rock. I got out of the truck, endured a search of my person, and then stood by the side of the highway under the supervision of a third, older deputy, who asked me if I had seen any rain that day and made other innocuous small talk while the other two turned my truck inside out.

I didn't have any drugs in the car, and they didn't find any drugs. Eventually, the lead deputy told me that I was free to go. I asked him where the "narcotics" were. He said he didn't find any. I asserted that the dog had made no signal, or if it did that he might as well have left the dog in the kennel and claimed that it sent him a psychic signal for all the credibility his trot around my truck provided. He responded with unwavering arrogance saying, "NOW I know that there are no drugs in the vehicle."

I wanted to punch him right in his arrogant cop mouth, but I knew that it would be the last thing I ever did, and it wasn't worth my life, so I told him that he was destroying the fabric of civil society and eviscerating the constitution. "I'm sorry you feel that way," he said, exuding smug self-assurance. At this point, I was so angry and amped up on adrenaline I could have ripped his throat out with my teeth, but again, I knew that it would cost me my life, and so I continued to tell him what a disgrace he was, that he had committed multiple crimes. He gave the same response to every accusation. "I'm sorry you feel that way."

Eventually, I got in my truck, reassembled my thrashed belongings and drove away, seething with humiliation and rage.

I did not include all of the details when I relayed this story to the Vermont cop at the pizza dinner in the barn, but I included enough of the details to communicate the hatred for police that that sort of behavior engenders in me. He shook his head and asked me how long ago that happened. I guess he was expecting me to say that it happened years ago because he looked shocked when I said that it happened about four months prior. "Well, there's always some," he said.

I asked him why he thought they'd pulled me over, and he responded that I fit a profile. "What profile?" I asked. Old car. Out of state plates. "What profile is that?" I asked. He didn't answer. He didn't have to. The answer was obvious. In that old, beat-up farm truck I looked poor. There is no need to obey the law when hassling poor people. They can't afford to take a police officer to court.

I love my 24-year-old truck. It still runs. It's useful for a variety of tasks. I have many reasons to keep driving it, but it makes me look poor, and that's dangerous.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 24th, 2017 02:40 am (UTC)
I've heard this story enough that I can laugh at the re-telling; not at the humiliating and angering experience, but at your deadpan rage. I'm sorry this happened to you, but but I'm thrilled that you burned the officer's civil-rights assault to the ground like hot glass with your withering assessment of his over-reach. Sure he still had all the power, but I think he'll carry your imprinted scolding, deep within his mind for some time.
Cloudwalking Owl
Feb. 24th, 2017 03:02 am (UTC)
Re: Reax
I wish this sort of thing bugged macho dicks, but it doesn't. He either shrugged it off with a laugh, or, clicked his hatred of "well-educated, smart asses" up a notch.
Feb. 24th, 2017 03:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Reax
Alas, I think Cloudwalking Owl's assessment is probably closer to the truth.

One thing I didn't mention in the post but which added to my anger is that in their search they made a point of being destructive and disrespectful of my property, but I could have had 10 pounds of heroin in the truck and they wouldn't have found it. Their "search" was so clearly not an effort to find contraband. It was pure bullying.
Feb. 24th, 2017 05:19 am (UTC)
early in 2016 i had a side gig writing articles for a web marketing company focused on drug rehab. Holyoke came up a lot in the content orders. :(
Feb. 24th, 2017 03:18 pm (UTC)
No doubt.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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