What I learned from an unfortunate incident with the NYPD

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Did you know that Central Park has a curfew? I didn’t.

I was issued a summons for violating the 1 AM curfew back in October. I happened to be passing right by the Greywacke Arch just as a police officer was driving through it. I produced my ID as instructed, was told about the curfew in the park, issued a citation and told that as long as I made my mandatory appearance in court, the matter would be dismissed. All in all, the officer seemed somewhat apologetic and indicated through his body language that he thought this was a pretty farcical part of his job.

What does this have to do with my initiation into the stop-and-frisk club? I’ll get there.

On my way to the Summons Answer Part of the New York Criminal court, my train was delayed twice by “police activity”. The first time, the NYPD were called upon to remove a person who had lost control of their bowels. I myself had moved one train car down due to the smell and caught a glimpse of the hostile interaction between the unfortunate citizen and pair of transit cops. One tug, a slip and a few screams later the elderly lady was off the train and in handcuffs.

Further along, a fight broke out at the other end of the more crowded train car I fled to after the last incident. I heard someone nearby calmly calling it in on the intercom and continued to hear far more than I saw, right up to the point where I saw the four transit officers more or less throw everyone on that end of the train car out onto the platform. Only an instant after the scuffle poured onto the platform, the train doors closed and I felt dumbstruck with luck that I hadn’t been ejected.

The events of that morning, the circumstances of my own ticket and that unfortunate incident in Times Square with the NYPD on the eve of the Super Bowl left me with a greater appreciation of the horrible situation we’ve set out for the NYPD to deal with and how they’re responding to it is making it so much worse in the long run.

In the nearly six hours I spent in court on two separate dates, I saw around a hundred people plead guilty and pay fines for a variety of different petty offenses. Most people just did what they were told to do, as if they didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Some cases qualified for a thing called “ACD“, which basically meant one’s charges would be dismissed if they didn’t commit another offense in 6 months.

A select few were represented by attorneys, almost all of whom jumped to the head of the queue and had their cases dismissed. I managed to see one trial on the charge of urinating in public. While the magistrate established that the officer did not directly see a stream of urine, the really incompetent attorney representing the poor kid did a sufficiently good job of botching the cross of the officer and trying the patience of the magistrate. While the client was eventually found guilty, the attorney managed to eek out one obvious but prescient question:

Q: “How many citations have you written since you saw my client?”

A: “Maybe 40 or 50. We’re required to write 10 citations a month.”

Eventually, my case came up for trial. The court clerks indicated that my case was eligible for ACD and were somewhat shocked I wasn’t offered it when I was arraigned. As my “court appointed attorney” began to explain what ACD was at the beginning of my trial, I explained I had not been offered it. The only choice offered by the magistrate at my arraignment (along with about 50 other people) was to enter a plea, so I plead not guilty.

Why?

Lesson #1: Don’t let the justice system eat you up and spit you out. If you have a right to exercise, even if you’re “in the wrong”, exercise it. Great! Go me! I learned something from the 12 credits of legal topics I took, on top of the many tickets I got out of simply for showing up to court. However, what does this all have to do with being randomly stopped and frisked on the eve of the Super Bowl for responding to a really inappropriate comment about my beard?

The NYPD aren’t tasked with policing, the act of maintaining law and order. They’re tasked with writing citations, scooping up those who don’t comply with the court, engaging in systematic intimidation and picking up the problems that social services can’t cope with. They have a quota. They make it, or they don’t, regardless of what kinds of crime or lack of crime is present in their area. In my experience, the police handle this pressure much better than most of my peers could handle it. They’re largely good people charged with bad policing tactics.

Bad cops make quotas however they can. Good cops get pressure to do what bad cops do well. This leads us to the biggest lesson which I failed to take into account when I was asked, “Is that a Muslim or Hipster beard?” by a crew of three NYPD officers in Times Square:

Lesson #2: Avoid interacting with the NYPD whenever possible. If asked a question, focus on memorizing badge numbers, answer as minimally as possible and focus on ending your interaction with the NYPD as quickly as possible.

The main reason I didn’t file any kind of report or move forward at all was that I don’t have badge numbers. I don’t even know what precinct they were from. Not more than 30 seconds likely elapsed from the time I very unwisely said, “You can’t fucking ask that” to the moment that I was shoved back into a crowd of Super-Bowl’s-eve revelers. While I’ll never know what was on their mind, I’m reasonably certain that the interaction wound down rather quickly once they unzipped my snowboarding jacket, realized I had a tie on and sifted through my wallet enough to grasp the level of privilege my outer attire failed to communicate.

But wait! Bill DeBlasio is the mayor! Stop and frisk is over! Everything is going to get better right? Maybe. Hopefully. However, change is going to come very, very slowly. I had an unfortunate incident that’s been a way of life for the less privileged in NYC for years.

While I really, really would like to bring this all to a decent conclusion, something hopeful and revelatory, I’m really left with only one final lesson. I’m still struggling to figure out how to move forward on in my own life.

Lesson #3: Fsck the police. Fsck is the command line on xnix systems for “file system check“. While it’s an obvious word substitution for a popular profane phrase, I believe the twist of meaning carries precisely the feelings of action that I want to bring to my peers. What this means to me personally is something I’m still wrestling with.

In the mean time, as a recap:

  1. Exercise your rights, even if you’re wrong: Download the Stop and Frisk app. Learn the 10 rules for dealing with the police, especially the rules about keeping calm and never raising your voice. Get in the habit of looking for and memorizing badge numbers.
  2. Avoid unnecessary interactions. Don’t engage in crime and don’t engage officers even if they address you incredibly disrespectfully.
  3. Fsck the police. More on that later.

Care to comment?  Please see the discussion thread on HN.

Thanks to Wendy, Gabe and Todd for catching typos!

All my favorite bands have broken up

Katie+the+Pest+Picture+3
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NumbersGeorgie JamesSensual Armed ForcesThe Mighty NarwhaleKatie the Pest.  Just a list of obscure bands I credit for bringing me some of the most joyous, redemptive moments of my short life.  I believe that music saves lives, and at the risk of hyperbole, each of these bands has at one time in some way saved my life.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love newer acts like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Thao with the Get Down Stay Down.  While lovely, dancing with my girlfriend at home is not really comparable to getting thrown into the drum kit and liking it.

Stumbling upon these acts is a rare treat, while doing so exposes the conundrum of being, well…older. Hearing a new song by an old favorite is sort of like stumbling upon an ex you barely recognize while you know you’ll never forget them. 4-5 bars into a track spit out by a music service I brought up, I knew it was a Katie the Pest track I hadn’t heard.  How thrilling!