The unassailable, DNA-level disdain that I harbor toward law-enforcement certainly has roots that grow back to my criminal childhood, a time during which I did not look at police officers so much as enforcers of laws (most of which I happened to disagree with), but, rather, as fun mitigators, the pendejos who came a-runnin’ after I had just participated in, say, a spate of recreational windshield-smashing. There was, not surprisingly, enough resultant heavy head-butting that lifelong stereotypes were indelibly seared into my psyche.
But understanding the roots of my personal contempt for law enforcement does nothing to mitigate the reality of the situation: in my little world, all cops are guilty until proven innocent, and very few are ever proven innocent. Sure, there have been a couple times in my life when I have become chummy with a badge-wearer. While living in Colorado, I came to really like Bob Broadis, Tina White, Jim Walsh, Gary Robinson and Tom Wickman, all decent people who were more interested in making sure that everyone got home in one piece than they were in making arrests. Those, however, have been rarities in a life defined by the perception that I cannot remember a single interface with law enforcement that was made any better by the presence of law enforcement. Most have been made worse.
You would think, as I approach my sixth decade, that this seemingly immature example of personal overt anti-authoritarianism — which includes not just cops, but pretty much all uniformed people (even Burger King employees and marching band members are somewhat suspect) — would soften, if not dissipate entirely. Quite the opposite, however. In these increasingly dark days of the war on drugs and MADD-based DUI-enforcement madness and DARE-based “1984”ishness and the lengthening arm of Homeland (in)Security, I find my anti-law-enforcement bile rising both more frequently and more intensely than ever. The difference that increasing age has brought is that I no longer have the energy to confront the Badges as vehemently as I used to. Twice in my life I have been handcuffed and hauled off because of my stubborn refusal to essentially kiss the ass of the cop I was dealing with, which points to yet another issue I have with the thin blue line: They often spend more time forcing people to submit to the power and glory of law enforcement than they do actually enforcing laws.
Admittedly, there are plenty of folks who would argue that, given today’s worldwide terror-based circumstances, cops ought to be cut more slack than ever. There are those who observe the death knell of the Fourth Amendment by pointing to lower violent crime rates (or so those who aggregate crime statistics would have us believe). What I see is more cops on the highways and byways, more enforcement staff in national forests and parks, more military-like posturing by those whose job it supposedly is to do nothing more, nothing less than “serve and protect” — more roadblocks, more muscle flexing, more preening. It’s like law enforcement has become yet another inane Xtreme sport, with sleek body armor, blade sunglasses, tattoos and tricked-out SUVs.
Where I live, with the ongoing, over-militarized war against illegal immigration, life can sometimes be trying for people like me who would be happy as a pig in slop if I never ever again rubbed elbows with a person wearing a stinking badge. If you take a drive anywhere near here — on your way to go hiking in the Chiricahuas, near the Continental Divide Trail route at the base of Big Hatchet Peak, even on the remote roads of the Gila National Forest — you run the risk of being stopped for no other reason than you are where you are. Your very presence is considered a suspicious activity. Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Show us your papers. What I hate more than ANYTHING about our immediate law-enforcement reality down here in Border Country is that most of the clamor for increased vigilance comes from slack-jawed lawmakers who dwell in places far away from the implementation of the increasingly draconian law-enforcement policies they legislatively demand. To the senators from Kentucky and Utah who don’t seem to mind the fact that, for millions and millions of us in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas who have to deal with the ramifications of their politically motivated fear of poor brown people, let me say: Well, first, let me say: Screw you! Second, let me say that this is not Honduras. I’ve traveled in Honduras. I’ve dealt with that Third-World authoritarian “show-me-your-papers” nonsense, and I do not expect, as an American, to have to deal with such nonsense as I go about my day-to-day business.
And it’s certainly not just me. Many and varied are the tales we all have heard from our various cohorts who recount having been pulled on their way back from a day on the slopes or the crags because a taillight is out, and, next thing anyone knows, there are three cop cars and a drug-sniffing dog on the scene and all manner of non-taillight-being-out action is transpiring. I have heard about people politely refusing to consent to a vehicle search and having that refusal used as probable cause to search the vehicle. I have heard about law-abiding citizens consenting to requests to have their vehicle searched, only to find themselves two hours later stranded on the side of the highway with their car seats resting upside-down on the shoulder and their luggage strewn about.
Like I said, though, my fist-shaking days are likely behind me — days when I would respond to questions posed at illegal roadblocks by refusing to hand over my papers and telling the officers they have no legal right to stop me — so I now resort to more subtle (some would say masturbatory) means of making my point, though, truth be told, the cops I’m making those points to are probably too dim realize they’ve just been fracked with. I suspect most people, understanding that there’s no way they can go toe-to-toe with the long arm of the law without being dragged off to jail and consequently losing their job and custody of their kids, choose to bite their lip and answer the questions and voluntarily allow their vehicles to be searched by the American version of the Hitler Youth and maybe even say thank-you after they have been stopped by a pimply faced piece of crap who would look right at home goose-stepping in front of the Reichstag.
All that considered, I faithfully convey my last few encounters with law enforcement. All immature and flaccid, yes. But recreational nonetheless. I recommend you look at these as tips and add your own personal spin when next you’re stopped for no probable cause whatsoever on a lonely desert or mountain highway by someone who’s not intellectually qualified to work at a car wash much less carry a badge and a gun. Consider this to be a primer.
• B. Frank and I were making our way toward Big Bend National Park last October and, 70 miles east of El Paso on Interstate 10, there’s a permanent Border Patrol checkpoint through which all traffic must pass. When our turn came, we were asked by a young black Border Patrol Cub Scout if we were American citizens. Thing is, this young man spoke so fast, his words were barely comprehensible. Barely. I knew what he had asked us, but, just for the pure fun of it, I told him that, since he was talking so rapidly, I did not understand the question. Would he mind repeating it a bit more slowly. The young man seemed genuinely shocked. He literally took a step back and had to regain his composure. He re-posed the question almost like he was talking to a developmentally disabled kindergartner. “Are … you … American … citizens?”
This example of toying with a uniformed child did nothing whatsoever to stem the erosion of the Fourth Amendment. But it sure did make me feel good. When you get to be my age, you find satisfaction in small acts of random recalcitrance.
• On that same trip, B. and I were driving north toward Marfa from Presidio. I was paying less attention than I should have been to my rate of speed and was justifiably pulled by a zygote employed by the Texas State Highway Patrol.
As soon as the Highway Patrol zygote approached the passenger-side, where B. was innocently sitting, I had license, registration and proof of insurance, all current and ready for inspection. This seemed to confuse the zygote. Stinking Badges prefer to control every aspect of their interactions with the huddled masses. It’s funny to see the look on their faces when they don’t. He was prepared to make his customary first contact, which undoubtedly consisted partly of asking for my papers, and, before he could do so, he had my papers in hand. He then asked me to turn my stereo down, which I had just cranked up as he approached the car. I turned it down about one thousandth of a knob turn. He asked me to roll down the back window, which I did about two-tenths of an inch. The flustered zygote then took my papers back with him to his Xtreme police-mobile and returned shortly thereafter and informed me that he was going to let me off with just a warning, a statement that’s supposed to elicit a thankful response. I grunted. Truthfully, I’m at a point in life where I did not care if he threw the book at me, and he seemed to know that. Then he asked me if B. was a friend of mine, and, to this day, I am miffed at the opportunity for further cop mind-games that was presented on a silver platter at that moment. Basically, I was caught off guard. I answered in the affirmative (B. later told me that they are legally prohibited from asking for ID from passengers at a traffic stop without probable cause or exigent circumstances; I did not know that), but regretted mightily that I did not put my hand on B.’s leg and say, no, he was my lover. Ugly as B. is, those would have been some tough words to spit out straight faced, but I’m sure the reaction from the zygote would have made the effort worthwhile.
The zygote then asked me to sign the warning, which contained about 600 words of two-point print. “What am I signing here?” I asked the zygote. “The warning,” he responded. “But what’s all this fine print say?” It was clear he did not know. “How fast was I going, anyway?” I asked. “75,” he responded, with a look on his face like, “Damn, I was supposed to have mentioned that somewhere along the line. “What’s the speed limit? I asked. “70.” “OK.” With that, I drove off. No thanks, no promises to drive more slowly, no faux-friendly banter. He was still standing there on the side of the highway looking confounded as we accelerated to 73.
• A few minutes later, we approached the permanent Border Patrol station south of Marfa, which looked for all the world like something straight out of Nicaragua during the heyday of the Sandinistas. Mine was the only vehicle in the queue, which was manned by two agents. “Where you going?” the one with the most zits asked. “So, what’s Marfa like?” I responded. Law-enforcement people really hate it when you answer one of their questions with a question. That this interrogative response to an interrogative was also deflective in nature apparently did not sink into the cranial mainframe of the agent with the most zits. “Well, there’s not much there, just a couple gas stations and a few restaurants,” he responded. “Well, we’ll check it out,” I said. “Have a nice day.” We drove off, and I’ll bet it was at least a half hour before the agents realized that they did not control that conversation at all, except, of course, for the fact that they were manning a legal roadblock and could have shot me in the head and probably won an award for so doing.
I get it that Border Patrol agents and cops are not necessarily looking for answers to their questions; they are, rather, looking for body-language cues. Still, it feels good to drive away thinking that, even in a small way, you just got over on a child soldier. You just hope they don’t retaliate on the next guy.
• It had been a miserable visit to Las Cruces, the closest city to where I live. I had driven down on a summer day to do some unavoidable and long-overdue urban errands, and everything had gone badly. I couldn’t find most of the places I was looking for, the ones I did find were closed or didn’t have what I needed and I ended up eating an awful lunch in an awful truck stop. It was also about 120 degrees. There is a permanent Border Patrol checkpoint between Las Cruces and Deming, and one of the main reasons I avoid driving to Cruces is my visceral hatred of that checkpoint, even though, almost every single time, I have just been waved through with nary a syllable exchanged.
This time, I was stopped, and the midget agent asked if I was an American Citizen. Would have been easy enough to simply answer the question and drive off. But my mood was foul. “Yes. Are you?” I responded. I thought the midget’s head was going to explode. “What … what …do … you … mean … by … that?” he stammered. “Well, I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in Central America, and you look Honduran to me.” Indeed, he did look as though he came from Mayan ancestry. As his face got redder and redder, I added a bit of fuel to the fire: “Well, I figure I have as much right to ask you that question as you do to ask me.” The overall negative vibe must have been strong, because, right then, a supervisor came dashing out of the little tollbooth-looking station. He and the red-faced midget Mayan exchanged a few words, and the supervisor came over to me and said, “Sir, you have yourself a nice day.” As I drove away, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw that supervisor waving a finger about three inches under the nose of the Mayan.
Probably, the supervisor was saying to the Mayan, “Look, shit for brains, next time someone does anything except answer your question, Taser him right in the eyeball.”
But maybe I’m getting soft, because I’d like to think he was saying, “Hey, these people have every right as Americans, as humans, to be miffed about having to stop at a roadblock and answer questions. They have every right to be in a bad mood. So, unless you suspect them of criminal behavior, no matter what they say, you respectfully bid them a good day and return your attention to finding the real bad guys.”
Here’s the thing about all four of the encounters I have herein related: The people I am essentially bragging about messing with were all friendly and professional. So, what does this say about me?
It says: I don’t care if the hungry, undocumented hordes break upon our borders like a ravenous tsunami of humanity; I do not care if every man, woman and child in the nation becomes a crack addict working full time for the Zetas, if the alternative is my country turning into the police state it is clearly already turning into. Friendliness and professionalism on the part of the Stinking Badges amounts to nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.