This was a letter to the editor that I wrote slightly over a year ago, and as expected the local paper wouldn't print it. It's been sitting in my home directory for a while and I felt it still needed to be aired out.
This letter concerns something you don't hear about too much in a small
town like Ithaca, but I believe we should think about as a community. A
few weeks back I had an encounter with the police that started me thinking
about aggressive police tactics.
I was born here and have lived here for pretty much my entire life.
While I understand that wearing combat boots and a leather jacket and
spiky hair is probably inviting trouble, I also feel that it's my right
to dress however I wish without having to fear the police, provided I am
not actually breaking any laws.
Several weeks ago I was walking home from a party on a Friday night.
Upon getting home, I unlocked my door, went inside, locked it behind me,
and took off my boots and hung up my jacket and sat down to check my
e-mail. I had just settled in when there is a pounding on the door, when
I answered the door, there were two police officers who demanded that I
step out onto the porch and show them some identification (while calling a backup car for a burglary in progress). I took out my
license (which has that address printed on it), and showed it to
them, which in my mind should have been the end of the encounter.
Unfortunately it wasn't, the next thing the police did is radio in to
check me for outstanding warrants, while I stood there in the snow in socks and a
t-shirt. When my record came up clean, they said rather rudely "we're just protecting
your property sir", and drove off.
I see several things wrong with this. First, I was going home. My
address on on my license, my name is on the mailbox, and my key fit the
lock. The encounter should have been over once that was determined.
Secondly, I felt like I was being treated like I was guilty until I could
prove myself innocent. Thirdly, I firmly believe that the way I dress has
a lot to do with how often I am stopped and searched or asked to
provide I.D. for no apparent reason.
This bothers me quite a bit. I feel the police are not serving me or
protecting me. I work full time, I vote, and I pay my taxes. I am not a
criminal, yet I have been branded as one on account of my
clothing and my hair. It doesn't matter that I hold down a job
as a computer programmer and try to be a good citizen. It doesn't matter
that I am not breaking any laws. All that matters is the cut of my
clothes and the length of my hair (to quote Johnny Cash).
The proponents of aggressive policing talk to the middle class, and
they do it well. They talk in terms of security and conformity. They
neglect to mention the impact on freedom. I'm not breaking the law
by being a punk, but by the treatment I recieve from the police, I might as well be. From where I sit, it looks
like the security that's being sold to the middle class is coming at the
price of my freedom of expression. It makes me wonder who's property the
police thought they were protecting when they knocked on my door.
I would like everybody to stop and think about this for a moment.
I would like to ask how far is too far?