The faint stench of urine sprang forth from the empty holding cell in which I was to occupy for the next two hours. I took a seat on the steel bench that appeared to have once bared a crisp, royal blue paint job, but then again, it was a holding cell. Amenities are not expected to be on par with the aesthetic qualities of a five star hotel, and that bench, which was noticeably worn down, appeared as if it wanted to forget the revolting scent of a few flatulent memories absorbed by its cold skin.
My arresting officer, who, for the sake of protecting his privacy and, of course, nonsensical humor, will be referred to as “Mr. T.” Ironically, he pitied this fool and assured me that he would try to process all of my information as quickly as possible.
In my experience, I already knew what that meant. Dealing with New York’s hospitals, precincts, courts, postal service, and public transportation, I’ve learned that the term quickly is loosely translated to mean a few hours, days, months or years. So, as I mentioned, once I entered the cell I chose to make myself comfortable.
You might be wondering why I got arrested in the first place.
Well, an overwhelming gust of wind swiftly pushed me through an open gate near the turnstile at a subway station. This inconceivable act by Mother Nature literally caught me by surprise — a phenomenon that has been cited by local meteorologists and environmental scientists to occur only when boy scouts and pigs seemingly disappear from the entrance of New York’s subway stations. Weird, isn’t it?
I found myself frozen in disbelief; it hadn’t occurred to me that I didn’t get a chance to pay the fare. Unfortunately, for me, the hidden cameras installed in this hot subway station did. Due to the lack of technology, I’m sure they were unable to capture the wind gust that escorted me through the open gate.
That’s my story and you better believe that I’m sticking to it.
Soon, Mr. T would ask me to come with him. As I stood by a trash can, cornered by this placid, white gentleman, with nowhere to run, I answered each of the routine questions:
“Got your I.D.?”
“Got anything sharp on you?”
“Got any drugs?”
“Yes, officer, I am carrying my medicine.”
“Do you prefer almond, rice or hemp?”
I thought all I was going to receive was a summons, but then he told me that he had to cuff me and take me to the precinct. I believe my exact reaction was, “Are you fucking serious?” (Normally, for Blacks and Latinos, this type of reaction warrants a couple of dozen bullet holes to the torso.) He explained that because of the high volume of criminal activity in this particular subway station I had to be taken in. Translation: It was the end of the month and he had to meet his quota.
When I was younger I always thought that if I ever got arrested it would be for attempting to mimic the archetypally conditioned and ill-fated career path for inner city youth, which has made the likes of Pablo Escobar and “Freeway” Ricky Ross notoriously famous. I was terribly wrong.
Awaiting the arrival of the paddy wagon that would take me to the precinct, Mr. T and I stood under a clothing store’s awning, dodging the rain as he described each step of the arresting process. He advised me not to say anything about the medicine in my jacket. One reason, because I obviously wanted to keep it. The second reason, because I didn’t want to make the situation any worse.
He asked me a few personal questions regarding employment, school, and where I was going. I sensed a friendly undertone to this manner of questioning, as opposed to the rigorous and smartass methods used by most cops. Once he realized that he arrested a freelance writer who just wanted to hit the gym before heading to work, he felt guilty for spoiling my day.
I let him know that while getting arrested wasn’t my cup of tea, there may have been a silver lining to the situation. Perhaps if I had made it out to the gym, like I planned, I would have been met with some form of misfortune. Who knows?
Once at the precinct, Mr. T kept his word and got me out as quickly as he could.
However short our interactions were between filling out papers, fingerprinting and mug shots, he was always cordial and made sure I was comfortable, offering me bathroom breaks, and constantly detailing the next step in the process.
Mr. T is an older police officer with a probing mind and an old-fashioned approach to life. He’s a humble man, yet it’s evident that he takes pride in doing his job accurately and honestly. He’s a true professional (and a wonderful conversationalist). He’s the type of person you would love to have in your corner, as a friend in your life or, in my case, as the man who arrested me.
In the end, Mr. T didn’t necessarily alter my views on the police as a group, or illuminate me with the truth about cops as persons, which remains unchanged: An encounter is simply contingent on the individual, because this broad group of men and women carries with them various personalities, backgrounds, characteristics, morals and ethics, but most importantly, life experiences.
Immortal Technique, one of my favorite emcees and revolutionaries, once said, “Trying to fight the system from inside eventually corrupts you.”
This experience has taught me to think otherwise. It’s taught me to have hope that no matter how corrupt and unjust an organization may be, a person can still remain a person — self; an individual inside of a systematic group — and still maintain the ability to empathize with others.
However, with all that said, the mantra still remains the same: Fuck the police!