Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Dead Horse Beaten

The cop story:

I've been sort of blogjammed since the cop incident. We moved, and then I got busy doing new house things, and then...Officer Gibson.

In the immediate aftermath of my encounter with Officer Gibson, I did indeed travel all over Southern Illinois...over and over, in fact... to try to find some governing body who would punish him. I spoke to the state police, the state's attorney, and a variety of interested and/or knowledgeable people in law and law enforcement.

I did finally find the right person and she outlined a strategy to get my new friend Officer Gibson out of his patrol car and maybe into an unemployment line. Beyond that, though...not so much. He and the municipality he worked for could be sued for violating my civil rights, but not penalized in a criminal court. There's a lot of leeway afforded to police officers in the manner in which they arrest and detain people.

And in the short term, part of the resolution strategy outlined by the state's attorney was that I was to avoid telling this story to too many people. I interpreted that to mean probably not telling the entire Internets, so as of August 25th, I was pretty much dead in the water as a blogger. I couldn't tell the only story I needed to tell, so I couldn't really tell any story at all. I was stuck behind this boulder of a story and couldn't figure out a way to get around it.

But this morning seemed like as good a time as any to exorcise this demon and get back on track. I had been to court, told my story, and left it in the hands of a higher legal authority...and presumably they're dealing with it now. Whether they are or not, I don't feel any obligation to keep my mouth shut any longer, so here it is.

But on my way home tonight I was thinking about this in the context of the little moments that change the direction of your life. Maybe not change your actual life, but open a window to a view a person might not ever see, or even know they ought to see.

Ten years ago I got hit in the temple with an errantly thrown softball, and it instantly and radically changed my life forever. Five months ago I was handcuffed and bullied on the side of a dark highway. I didn't commit a crime, nor did I do any of the things that I would have typically expect to cause such a result. What I did was have the bad luck to be in the car that a crazy cop pulled over to shake down for cash, and the bad fortune to be both local and bothersome. It was the same amount of randomness as the softball and just as impersonal.

So. Power. You never notice it until you lose it.

In my real life, I'm a force to be reckoned with. I'm fairly smart and verbally nimble. I'm not fearless, but I'm brave enough to stand up for myself. I'm college-educated and middle class, and I expect to be treated with respect.

So when some big bruiser with a gun and a pair of handcuffs takes that away from me in an instant, it's a shock. There's a "maybe you're confused about who I am" moment, followed by a suspicion that this is happening because of who I am, and not in spite of it. Maybe if I wasn't a person who looks an asshole cop in the eye and says, "wtf??", he would have strutted around, metaphorically pissed on my bumper and drove off.

And then what? Well...I wouldn't have bruised wrists, a ticket for crossing the white line, and a burning feeling of almost-shame at having been so easily stripped of my power by some redneck moron who doesn't know one tenth of the things I know...and doesn't need to, since he has that gun-and-handcuff thing going for him.

So I'm still a middle-aged, middle class white woman with a couple of college degrees, and I don't for a moment imagine that I can understand what it must be like to be a person who expects to be randomly and gratuitously harassed for the crime of being, what...alive, maybe? But I certainly do have a better sense of the hopeless anger and frustration that comes with realizing that personal power only exists if everyone remembers to follow the same rule book. It doesn't matter how special I think I am if the guy with the handcuffs doesn't think so too.

But the silver lining of this experience is that it gives me another way to interpret and understand the world. When life is going according to the plan, whatever the plan happens to be, it feels linear, like a drive on a road. Follow it, and it will take you where you mean to go.

But when something like this happens, it makes it clear that life isn't a road, it's a field...every direction has some sort of value, and it will take you somewhere, even if it's not a place you thought you wanted to see. And those unintended detours add new color and nuance to our internal picture of the world.

I would always prefer things to work the way I want. But I can (grudgingly) see the value of, as my mother used to say, upsetting the apple cart. When we restack the apples they have an entirely different look, and a whole bunch of different apples are available for inspection.

No comments: