13 April, 2009

A Saturday evening incident

The following is an account of a recent conversation with two police officers and a rant about Boston law enforcement.

On Saturday night I was walking with MK to my friend Kathryn's apartment. Kathryn lives in Roxbury which is not the nicest part of Boston. Both MK and I lived in Northeastern dorms in Roxbury before so we didn't feel too uncomfortable walking out there at 9:30PM on a Saturday. Still, when we passed an unmarked police car right by the liquor store we were walking into I commented that it was nice to see police presence in the area. MK jokingly said that they would probably stop us to check our IDs, especially since I turned and looked at them as we walked past. We bought a bottle of wine, walked out of the liquor store and turned the corner onto Kathryn's street. We had gone no further than maybe 10 or 15 feet when we heard a siren right behind us and saw flashing lights. Even though we had sort of expected this it still startled the hell out of me. Nobody expects to hear a loud police siren directly behind them.

MK and I walked over to the cruiser and handed the officers our IDs. She remarked to me that she had been right and the cops asked what she had been right about. We explained that we had passed them and thought that they might stop us. The officers were nice enough and joked about MK being a New Yorker while writing down our information. One of them said, "you know this isn't a safe area to be walking around in at night, right?" We replied that we knew. He then went on to say that there had been a murder only two blocks away a month beforehand. This really pissed me off. They're concerned for our safety in an unsafe area yet they are staking out a liquor store to try and catch underage drinkers? I fully understand that purchasing alcohol as a minor is illegal and that officers have every right to ask for someone's ID if they think they're underage. What I have issue with is that the cops don't seem to think that they have anything better to do in a neighborhood like Roxbury other than try and stop college students from drinking. How about driving around and patrolling some of the crime ridden areas? I was angry but I kept my mouth shut.

The police wanted to know where we were going, if we were students, what my job was and where I worked. They asked for our phone numbers and social security numbers. At this point I asked why they were writing all of this information down. We were told that they needed it to prove that they had talked to us. I felt that giving my drivers license should have been enough but if there's anything I've learned in 2009 it's to not talk to police. Even now I regret that I said as much as I did but I didn't really have a choice. If I refused then I'm not sure what could have happened. I watched a video lecture by a law professor and former defense attorney who gave a number of excellent reasons why you should never speak to police under any circumstances without a lawyer. Unfortunately, I know all too well how expensive lawyers can be and can't afford to hire one over nothing.

All in all the police had us there for about 10 minutes. Their attitudes were pleasant and I didn't feel intimidated by them in any way. At the same time I felt they had no right to question us beyond asking for our IDs in order to determine our age and identity. Due to previous interactions with police I have lost all faith in officers to behave correctly and lawfully especially in situations involving college aged students. My trust of law enforcement officials in this country has been lost and I was too worried that if I so much as questioned their right to ask this information then I would potentially be detained or even falsely charged with a crime. I'm not suggesting that all police officers are corrupt assholes; certainly there are upstanding members of all law enforcement agencies including the Boston Police Department. My personal experiences have shown me the darker side of things unfortunately. It might be that the officers were perfectly within their rights to ask us for all of that information and write it down. If that is the case then we are becoming way too much of a police state for my comfort.


  1. Not to burst your bubble but he was more than likely checking your social against your ID to make sure it wasn't a fake. Police use your social to check your identity when you do not have an ID, that happened to a friend of mine when we got pulled over for him hanging out the window. He was issued a ticket against his SSN.

    Also they probably stopped you guys only to tell you about the murder. Not because you were white kids getting beer, but because you were white kids who may be drunk later walking home late at night through a poorly lit high crime-rate area and they would prefer you to be aware of your surroundings and not find you stabbed in the gut for your wallet. Not saying you would have been yourself but I can think of a handful of white guys who could very easily find themselves in that situation.

  2. Obviously your explanation makes a lot of sense. I still don't think they had any reason to ask for my phone number, destination, occupation and place of employment. I have a hard time believing that they were simply looking out for us. But like I said, a previous incident has broken my trust of police officers.

  3. I've only had one shady incident with a police officer, but that was in Texas. I got pulled over fairly enough for speeding, but the officer proceeded to accuse my passenger of smuggling drugs because she had a plastic bag full of... hair ties. HAIR TIES. It was ridiculous. That was the only bad incident I've had with a cop, but it wasn't too bad, aside from the sheer embarrassment of the whole situation.

    I get your point about staking outside a liquor store in an obviously bad part of town (I've been to Roxbury -- would not walk there at sundown no matter what). Didn't he have some better place to be? -shrugs-