Thursday, May 19, 2011

Watching the Watchmen: Your Rights and the Police (Part 2)

The link above is to an article describing an altercation in which a Black teenage girl recorded a police encounter while riding the bus (public transit). The officers took her phone, deleted the video, and detained her (kept her in the squad car, cuffed) for a while, then let her go.

I was in a similar situation this article a couple years ago ('09). My roommates had called me outside because one of our housemates (Jay) was being arrested suspected of drunk driving and evading the police. The police had said that they followed him from campus all the way back to our house. At the time he was going through some things, and was in a rut of depression and suffering from all the things that depression can bring.

I came outside with a pencil and paper, asking the officers for their information. The lady cop was cool, she just asked me to step back until they were done. I stepped from the edge of the carport, back to the front door (to give them distance). One of the other officers kept asking Jay direct questions like had he been drinking and why didn't he stop, etc. I kept yelling out to him that all he had to give them was his name and address, and to remain silent after that. Jay was wasted so he kept talking, but I kept yelling out the same thing. 

The officer that was asking the questions got mad and approached me telling me to go back in the house. He said I was interfering with his investigation. I told him that I was standing a safe distance away, that I had a right to be where I was, and a right to observe and record what they were doing. He said if I didn't go back in the house I'd be getting in the back of the squad car with my homeboy. I wouldn't move so he started counting, and one of my other housemates finally told me to just go inside. 

We all went back in the house(and locked the door). I opened the window to the front room, and kept writing everything down and saying the same stuff I had been yelling outside, LOL. Finally the officer told Jay that he "should listen to your homeboy because he's probably a criminal justice major", and then he looked at me and said "but we're trained professionals so we know more about what we're doing than you". I just said "OK" and wrote all that down. They arrested him, and I recorded everything that the housemates had taken out of his car before the officers had the car towed away. Afterwards, I went back outside to meet with the lady cop who came back and gave me the names and badge numbers of the other officers who were present. The one that had told me to go back in the house was quick to get back in his car.
First thing in the morning I called one of my mentors who is a law professor and asked him the procedure for filing a formal police complaint. I explained the situation to him, and he told me to type everything up and that he would make a few calls (he is well known around the school and town). "Jay" got out of jail the same day, didn't have to pay bail, got his car back, and all charges against him had been dropped. That part had more to do with the pull that the mentor had with officials around town, but if I hadn't reacted the way I did my homeboy would most likely be rotting in TDC (Texas Department of "Corrections") right now.

Expanding on the ideas covered in Part 1, these are examples of what can happen when you assert your rights, and how the police may react due to the fact that most of them don't really know how to react. Most of them are not used to their activities being observed or dealing with a citizen that knows his/her rights and asserts them properly. Whether your situation ends up like the sister's in the article, or like the one I just described, if we don't actively observe the police and assert our rights, we will continue to be victimized. Learn your rights, study the law, and prepare for whatever the response will be whenever you are tested.

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