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Far From Flatbush

A White Guy with a Pen

Drawing by Mark The-k.
The most surprising thing about all the feedback I've been getting, on this blog and on Facebook, about my encounter with the police last week is that not one person said anything in support of the police. Somebody, I suppose, could have pointed out that the cops made an honest mistake, that they really did think I was defacing the wall, and that they didn't actually do anything to me (except surreptitiously read my notes).

Instead, people like Peter DuPre, a professional automotive journalist, posted a story about the time the police pulled him over for driving a "suspicious" car, pointed a gun at him, and threatened to shoot his injured dog, who was in the car.

The reason for this kind of reaction, I think, is that are a lot of bad cops out there, most people have had an encounter with one of them, and New York’s stop-and-frisk program has become internationally notorious. That the police accosted me, a middle-aged, middle-class white guy, in my own neighborhood, in the middle of the afternoon, is kind of shocking. And yes, the bit about the cop sneaking up behind me and reading what I was writing does have that distinct odor of the police state. I mean, suppose I was writing a novel about terrorism, and was jotting down some notes about blowing up the Brooklyn Bridge. Would the cops have just walked away? I doubt it.

So, let me just say this before, hopefully, moving on to other topics: Yes, it’s true, I did not like the police when I was younger and they routinely harassed me for walking with long hair, or pulled me over every time they saw me behind the wheel of a car, and gave me tickets for utter bullshit. But things changed, in the summer of 1979, when an ex-cop hired me to ghostwrite a novel (never published) based on his experiences as a patrolman in a New York City ghetto neighborhood. I hung out with cops and ex-cops. I drank with them, smoked weed with them, and snorted coke with them. I rode with them in patrol cars. I listened to their stories and I came to see them as human beings, some of whom had done some genuinely heroic things in the course of their careers. Which is to say that what happened to me the other day is not an indictment of the police themselves, but rather an indictment of what New York City has become under Michael Bloomberg in this age of terrorism, when a white guy wielding a pen can arouse the suspicion of the police, who, I’m sure, were only following orders.
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