This playful photo almost lead to my arrest. The threat of arrest is good fun, akin to swallowing a handful of straight pins. I suggest being surrounded by angry policemen at least once in your life. Its good for your constitution. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by cops several times in my life, so my constitution is rock solid. Well, sort of.
I wanted a photo for my blog entry about breaking the law. Why not shoot some shots in front of the local police station, methinks. I toss my camera equipment in my truck and drive a few blocks to the nearby precinct. Setting the camera on its tripod, I set my timer and began posing quickly.
I realize my jacket was bunching up in the back, so I take another chance; I unbutton the coat a little (black bra underneath for what its worth.) Since my coat is open a bit more, I decided to take a few more risqué shots.
Why do I take PG-13 shots of myself, I wonder. Then I quickly counter with a "Why the hell not?" I can make some guesses as to why I do though. I love sex. I love sexy. I don't have much of the former currently so I have fun with the latter. I think its called compensation.
Besides, I can do whatever I want. No one to answer to. Its one of the perks of being single and kid-free. If people think I'm some narcissistic self-pornographer, then gee, they just might be right. Next week, I'll wear a burlap sack and stick my head in a bucket of wet cement in deep repentance...oh, whilst knitting.
After about 5 minutes into my police car porn shoot, I hear the precinct door slam open and three cops exit the station quickly: one in plain clothes, the other two in uniform. Here’s what I look like when I see them:
Don’t I look kinda sweet? Unsuspecting? Slightly embarrassed but certainly not afraid. This smile will only last a millisecond longer.
The plain clothes cop descends on me like an angry dog. My coat isn't buttoned all the way up and I desperately struggled to fix it. But the buttons won't go in easily and my hands begin shaking. The plain clothes cop gets all up in my grill (that's street lingo for in my face, thank you.)
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, miss?”
“I’m a writer. I'm shooting for my blog. I'm writing about [nervous laughter] breaking the law and how I used to do it more in the past and I miss it and…
“You don’t toy with cop cars, ma’am. Why is your coat open? Are you shooting pornographic shots in front of the cop car?”
“NO! No…I mean, not the traditional kind. It’s for my blog…”
“I don’t know what the fuck a blog is. Open your jacket!”
My god, was I going to be arrested for pornography? Self-pornography at that?! Is it a crime even? I don't know. Why am I doing this anyway? Have I become a pervert? A weirdo? Are playgrounds and vans in my future? Just how bored have I become?
By this point, I am extremely nervous, realizing that this situation is suddenly getting quite serious.
“Show me your I.D. right now”
“I don’t have it. It’s at home”
I look over at the two cops standing off to the side, both of whom I know. Why aren't they helping me? Why aren't they saying something to this guy, confirming my identity?
“I live here. I’m a writer. I needed some shots in front of a cop car. Honestly, I didn’t think it would be a big deal. Ron!”
Ron, my cop acquaintance, off in the distance, shrugs his shoulders in as if to say, “What can I do? He’s my superior.”
After much explanation, the angry cop, in the blink of an eye, switches his trajectory.
“Sure. Okay, go ahead. Finish shooting. Hey, what kind of camera is that anyway? Is that an SLR?”
Oh, it's time for fucking small talk now? Well, why the hell not? Let's just talk about my Aunt Mary Lou's famous potato salad recipe next, shall we?
“Um…no. It’s a consumer…point and…shit. I don’t know.” My hands are still shaking but my jacket is finally buttoned.
“Yeah, I want to buy something like that for my daughter. How many pixels?”
“Um...I haven’t a clue.”
“Well, carry on then.”
Yeah, like I'm going to shoot more photos after that! As I walk toward my car, I begin reviewing my shots, not thrilled with any. Over-exposed, midday light. Oh well. Keep walking, Beth. Drinking early may be an option today.
Then I think about my blog post: how I wax nostalgic about law-breaking, how being a bit of a badass is in my nature and that's a good thing. I begin to wonder if my badass posturing karmically brought this trouble on, which seems sad. Was this a case of hubris and cosmic payback? I sure didn't seem like much of a badass, that's for sure. Shaking, stuttering, scared and very unsure what to do.
It was then I turned around and said:
“Okay, I’ll continue shooting. These shots aren’t what I want.”
They walk back inside, chatting, easy like a Sunday morning. (My friend who works with cops explains to me that their aggro nature is second nature to them. It can be turned on and off like a light-switch, without all that post-adrenaline jitters that the rest of us feel.)
So that was as much badassness I could muster in that moment: to continue shooting in the face of a possible arrest and angry interrogation, even though my knees were shaking and my skin was white clammy.
Here's my last shot of the day, looking a tad different:
And now for the boring but helpful informational part of my post. If there are any corrections or additions, please feel free to add. I'm not an expert in this arena, by any means:
If you are ever in a difficult situation with the police, know these points (and remember, this could be you, no matter how law abiding you are. As Socrates once put it, "Shit happens."):
- Do not, under any circumstances, physically resist the police. To do so justifies their use of force to compel you.
- Law Enforcement Officers have the right to stop and question any citizen, whenever a felony has been committed and they have reasonable grounds to believe that the citizen may have been involved in that felony. If this should happen to you, your first reaction should be to cooperate fully with the officer. This is not harassment, unless the questions asked do not or cannot pertain to any real crime (“Open your jacket!”)
- At your first opportunity, when you suspect that you are being harassed, you should ask, "Am I under arrest?" This forces the officer to inform you of your official status. If he or she does not formally arrest you at that point, then you are still a "private citizen" with all the civil rights thereof. You do not have to answer any questions or allow the officer into any premises for which he or she does not have a warrant.
- Ask the officer, "What crime is under investigation?" The answer to this question should allow you to decide whether the officer’s questions are legitimate.
- You should not volunteer information about any persons or incidents, no matter what is promised to you. Anything you say can be used against you and others, and could be used out of context to mean something you had never intended. You will not clear yourself by naming others or describing events. It is best not to say a word until you have legal representation present.
- Sometimes you could be subjected to bigotry, insult or epithets from police who feel that intimidation will get them results from reticent subjects. Do not go into shock, do not lose your temper and do not respond in kind; it will could only make matters worse. If you can remember exact words and details, write them down at the first opportunity and talk with a lawyer about whether you have adequate grounds for a civil rights complaint.
- The police may take you to the station to talk. If this happens, ask to have an attorney present. Then shut up. Don't say anything until the lawyer is there with you and speak only if your lawyer advises it.
- If you are in a public place with a multitude of neutral witnesses, like an event in a public park, you can speak a little more freely. Just remember, witnesses can work against you, too, so watch what you say and watch your temper.
- If you are at another's home when the police come in, remain quiet. Avoid incriminating your host. You really don't know what grounds are being used for the raid and you probably don't know they are innocent; so avoid incriminating yourself or others. In this case, the time to act is afterward; see an attorney.
- If in your own home and the police ask permission to come in, the answer should be "No." You should step outside and talk with them. Offer to go with them to the police station. You don't have to let them in without a warrant. If you are asked, "What do you have to hide?" simply ask "What kind of question is that?" If they are not asking to come in, but breaking down your door, give way and let them in. Don't fight them or make any insults or threats, but remember all that is said and done, make notes, and get a lawyer.
- If the officer looks frightened or angry, take extreme precautions not to do anything to startle him or make him think you are about to do him harm. This is a time of maximum risk to yourself, so be very polite and don't do anything that may be interpreted as a threat.