All hail the men and women in blue; this is what we’re taught to do. Night after dogged night, like a cop run ragged by the banality of a an overly familiar beat, a bunnies-on-speed proliferation of television cop shows parade actors in makeup who embody the glory of what it means to be a coveted member of Any P.D., USA. The sleek suits, flowing trench coats, crisp uniforms, and luminous badges are supposed to make our eyes glaze over with admiration, eject ourselves from living room couches, reject civilian inferiority, and declare our desire to better the world by being all we can be! According to these astute advertisers, our humanity could be improved and encouraged by government-sanctioned gun-toting and baton-brandishing. It’s para-military recruiting at its best; beneath prime-time television’s depthless façade of flashing red lights and slick edits of city street scenes lies marketing acumen worthy of an Emmy award.
The two that stepped onto the Jersey-bound PATH train at 9th Street looked as if they had been recruited from the major networks’ prime-time line-up. Wide, tall, puffy in the chest and square-jawed, they silently rearranged the standing crowd by the door with an authoritative entry and lust-filled glare. The partners, one Black and one white, each branded by PAPD (Port Authority Police Department) emblazoned in white stitches on their navy blue collars, didn’t speak, but maintained a wordless cadence that kept their thoughts in lock-step with one another. It was the ambition of crushing a quota, making it to the next level, not having to traverse the trains for petty offenses, of which the partners reeked. Any unsuspecting citizen who showed promise of generating any sort of frivolous PAPD paperwork would do; the partners were hungry and willing to devour any opportunity to pounce. At Christopher Street, the next stop, they got their chance.
“Fuck New York!” the gregarious young man in a baseball cap and sweatshirt laughed as he boarded the train with a friend. Caught up in playful conversation, he didn’t realize that he’d caught the attention of the Port Authority’s Finest half a car away. Upon hearing the outburst, the Black cop honed his vision on the vivacious passenger and silently mowed through the crowd toward him. The white cop, who appeared to negotiate bafflement with attempts to seem in control, temporarily remained stationed by the car doors, shifting one foot into the space that his partner left vacant.
The officer approached the man and conversation ensued. From where I stood, it was difficult to hear the conversation in its entirety, but the unconscionable weight of being a young man of color emerged irrepressibly in his responses to the officer. Though he presented no imminent, physical threat to anyone on that train, his inability to contain his justified indignation at being harassed for “not maintaining a conversational tone” (as another passenger later informed me the cop described the man’s offense) put him in a precarious predicament. Rather than concede to the officer’s unreasonable accusation, the man continued in forcefully audible conversation with his friend while the cop hovered over him, his right hand gripping a pole and a set of cuffs at the ready. The white cop walked the half-car distance toward his partner and fell in line behind him. He slipped on a pair of synthetic PAPD-issued black gloves. The cuffs were dangling, and the black gloves were on. I watched the seated passengers. Most of them averted their eyes as if observing is a crime. Lately, with cop paranoia escalating as their illegal antics are increasingly caught on video throughout the Occupy movement, it seems that it is. Any passenger bold enough to observe was witnessing the slow-motion obliteration of the right to speak freely while young, male, and Latino in a baseball cap and hoodie.
Like a sudden crackle of aggressive thunder disrupting nervously anticipating skies, the side of the young man’s head made contact with the car door, pushing his baseball cap slightly over his eyes. With instinctual speed, the proud trans woman standing across from me aimed her pink smartphone at the Black cop who continued pressing the young man against the car doors as he tightened the cuffs.
That’ll teach you for not bowing down to the boys in blue.
My voice uncontrollably filled the car; I demanded a reason for his arrest. The seated passengers awakened from their subjugated trance long enough to glance sideways at me. “Idiot,” they seemed to say. The young man pushed through the pressure that the egregiously misguided PAPD duo poured onto his body to holler thanks to the woman with the pink phone. The recorder diligently captured all faces. At Hoboken station, the train released an ear-splitting sigh of relief and let the cops out; their young, unjustly detained arrestee yanked roughly in tow. The woman and her pink phone elegantly strutted onto the platform and followed them from a distance.
Every year, I take special pains to avoid any place that has a large concentration of St. Patrick’s Day revelers. Every obnoxiously rambunctious group of green day party people I have ever encountered were usually some variation of frat boys who used St. Patrick’s Day as carte blanche to express racist leanings that usually would remain suppressed on any other day. On “progressive” station WBAI’s Radio-Free Eireann, an Irish American talk show, I’ve heard the host refer to a bar as being so crowded that “it was like Hiroshima – there were bodies everywhere!” Generally speaking, I have yet to be convinced that there lies a deeper consciousness within the collective of Irish America – one that allows them the awareness from which the rest of us don’t have the luxury of escaping.
Before being privy to the cozy relationship between Jersey trains, the PAPD, and St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve found myself unwittingly jockeying for breathing space on many a packed train stuffed with garrulous, drunken revelers in green garb. Beer spilled liberally, open containers adorned the train floor, drunk girls teetered and squealed, and frat boys wobbled and roared at almost unfathomable decibel levels. Were there any cops monitoring these trains during this traditionally raucous holiday? Surely the cumbersome confetti of beer cans found kicked about throughout the trains and stations have become an expected three-seventeen sight by now. Surely this fits within the parameters of violating the Jersey trains’ rule of “no drinking/no eating on train or in stations.” Surely, a trail of beer cans might be something a trained cop might want to look into.
But not on St. Patrick’s Day. Never on March 17th.
Despite the gangs of green clogging up stairwells and openly siphoning alcohol straight from unconcealed cans, I have never seen a cop approach one of these people for failing to “maintain a conversational tone,” much less for issuing a ticket for a an actual offense.
I watch one man, a sober Latino guy – for whom I’m sure there are many repeat stories of similar natures – get violently slammed against the car doors in full view of passengers, cuffed and arrested for not employing a cop’s definition of “conversational tone.”
Every year I watch swarms of white kids in green t-shirts talk shit loud enough to make God’s ears bleed while taking gulps from beer cans. Never once have I seen PAPD confront or, heaven forbid, arrest any one of them.
Until next time, this is Amerikkka. Brought to you by your local police department. Coming to you live, 24/7.