Monday, 14 July 2008

a day out with the police

On 14th July 2009, I spent several hours at the mercy of local police officers.

Whilst driving to work, as usual, (although earlier than usual) via the m60 to stockport, I was caught by slow-moving traffic for what seemed like 40 minutes or longer in total.

Apparently (according to the overhead status boards) there had been an accident. The traffic crawled and indeed on several occasions, stopped altogether for several minutes at a time. After what seemed like fifteen minutes, I noticed an arrow indicating that drivers should leave the fast lane (one mph!) and pull in to the middle lane. I did so. After some time, another ten minutes or so, I noticed a pattern (noticed also by several others) that the middle lane was filling (as cars left the fast lane) in front of us such that it had stopped completely. The fast lane was virtually empty ahead which meant that people kept pulling into it from behind, driving the 200 yards of empty lane to then jump into the middle lane. The middle lane was never going to move, that was clear.

The driver in front of me had clearly noticed this and pulled back into the fast lane; I followed. We made the 200 yards then slowed to maybe five mph, significantly faster than zero mph. This continued for some time (again, all my estimates are probably off as time seemed to be moving in slow motion). The fast lane also slowed to a standstill and we sat there for perhaps five minutes before the lane gradually started to crawl forwards. We all (there were many cars and an articulated cab ahead of me) pulled forwards at one mph (I checked, utterly not enjoying such slow progress but telling myself that it was small inconvenience compared to what must have happened to some poor unfortunate ahead who had perhaps suffered serious injury.)

This continued for a while, one mpg, zero, one, zero. I picked up my mobile phone, intending to ring or text my manager at work to let him know that I was stuck in traffic. I held the phone in my hand for perhaps ten seconds, whilst crawling forwards at one mph before realising that as I was (regrettably) late every morning he wouldn't be expecting me anyway. I looked at the time on the phone absent-mindedly and put the phone down.

Please bear in mind the claustrophic, time-dilation of the situation that everyone in that traffic jam must have been experiencing, gradual edging forwards, stop, edge, etc..

As I was putting my phone into the console near the gear stick, I looked left, no doubt having seen something in my peripheral vision, to make eye contact with an agitated-looking police officer who was driving up the hard shoulder significantly faster than the other traffic, in his bmw suv, with his hand flat against the outside of the driver's door.

I suspected at that time that he might have seen the phone and might draw the conclusion that I'd just used it to make a call, thus breaking a law but more importantly, running the risk of endangering someone else. He appeared to be waving. It occurred to me that he was letting drivers know that it was safe to use the hard shoulder due to the blockage of the other lanes but as I wasn't clear that that's what he was saying, I continued on, at one mph. He continued onwards.

Moments later, he had set up a blockade of the hard shoulder and his hand flew out as if flicking something sticky from his finger. He pointed at the car two ahead of mine and what appeared to me. I motioned with my hands through the windscreen, in a gesture which meant 'do you mean me?'. He waved me on to the hard shoulder, after I'd managed to cut through the middle lane of traffic.

The other driver that the officer had signalled-to had stopped behind the suv and because of the angle I was approaching at, I was unable to get my car fully onto the hard shoulder, the back end being stuck out slightly into the slow lane (which was literally travelling at two-three miles per hour by now). As I stopped, the driver in front allowed his car to roll backwards as he was climbing out of his car. The officer was by this time stood at the driver's side of that car and started to yell that his car was rolling. I witnessed this and beeped my horn three of four times in rapid succession to indicate the urgency of the situation. The driver stopped his car approximately one foot before it crashed into mine.

[As an aside, I am in the habit of driving with socked feet as I prefer the extra sensitivity to the road it gives me as well as the control over the pedals.]

The officer was pacing about on the passenger side of my car. The passenger window was approximately one quarter of the way down. I recall asking him what the problem was and popped open the passenger door, intending as a friendly gesture that he would be able to take a seat next to me and, unwilling to delay to put my shoes on before making verbal contact with the officer.

He asked me if I'd like to get out of the car. I replied that no, I wouldn't as I had no shoes on and again asked him what the problem was and let him know that I was offering him a seat so we could discuss the situation, whatever it might be. He said that he didn't want to get into my car because it wasn't parked safely within the bounds of the hard shoulder.

This seemed a little excessive due to the three-miles-per-hour progress of the cars in the slow lane but I reversed the car, straightened-up and pulled forwards until I was once-again behind the car in front. I again offered my seat to the officer who used an instructive tone of voice to suggest that there was something I should do when parking on the hard shoulder. I immediately turned on my hazard warning lights (this hadn't seemed appropriate or necessary given that the traffic adjacent to my car was moving more slowly than that in a supermarket car park). Again I offered him the seat so that we could discuss his reasons for further delaying me.

At this point in time, (almost exactly) began a game of stalemate whereby the officer refused to speak to me whilst I was inside the car, wouldn't get in the car beside me, despite my making my parking position safe and using hazard warning lights but instead insisted that I get out of my car, despite my stockinged feet.

This frustrated me no end. He was being difficult, simply for the sake of it. I determined that I wasn't going to be put through the usual ringer as is usual when an over-zealous officer pulls someone over.

He began to become extremely agitated and started pacing up and down and speaking into his radio covertly. At this point (9:30 I think but can't be sure without requisitioning the mobile phone operator's cell-tower connection-log which would indicate the time of the call accurately) I became extremely nervous about the situation. Something about the officer's insistence that I leave the car, rather than just telling me what the problem was worried me. Something about the way he said it. His voice was extremely tense and he spoke in a stoccato manner. I did what everyone does when they feel they need help. I called 999. I explained in a panicky voice that I was being pulled-over for what seemed like no reason and that the officers were behaving strangely. The voice on the police emergency-line asked me where I was and asked if there was a marked police car evident and that they would dispatch someone soon.

Shortly afterwards, I was still unaware as to the reason for being stopped, it occurred to me that as I had a digital still camera which was capable of capturing video, I though that I'd get video of the officer pacing about which showed his 'officer number?' on his shoulder. I got approximately 20-30 seconds of video and some stills of both officers.

The second officer was called over and asked me to get out of the car. I explained that I had stockinged feet and asked him (and I quote) why he was "being such a dick about it" - one human to another "what is your problem?" - which, in fairness, he was. This didn't seem to have the desired effect of refocusing him on how his actions might appear to someone who had done nothing to warrant their attention.

The battle of wills continued. 

[More aside; I am somewhat of a strange character in that I believe passionately in ideas and principles. Some might say to the extent of being way towards one end of the bell curve. If a principle is held up as important; as a motivator for some course of action, I believe strongly that those doing so should really be motivated by that principle. In my mind, it's not enough to make reference to what may be seen as a current social phenomenon of popularity with all things philosophical, to claim to have principles, if one does not possess such principles, but is merely trying to leverage this current sociological trend to gain a desired end.

Specifically, in this case I was preoccupied by the idea that this situation seemed wrong; that I had been brought-up to believe that the police exist to help the general public; to smooth-out the interactions between them, demonstrating vast wisdom, and (as I heard the quote on the radio today) to 'speak softly but carry a big stick'. The principles are those of protect and serve (no doubt this is the american version of the declaration-of-principles but I believe my meaning is clear). In this case I felt neither were being employed but rather that a blanket of carte-blanche offered to the members of the police force was being used to cover an underlying motive; the need to harrass. The officer could have quite easily told me what the problem was whilst I sat in my car, in a manner which was in every way as effective at communicating that information as if I were stood on the hard shoulder with him. I've seen 'speak softly but carry a big stick' in action several times over my driving career, particularly as a young driver, after making an erratic turn for example. It's always been effective in my opinion. This was a different kind of thing altogether. In this case, the officer was clearly not motivated to communicate with me but rather to have me outside my car - at all costs.]

My reluctance to leave my vehicle was fueled by my belief that these officers had chosen me at random and were harrassing me for sport, which is how it appeared. I would not give in to their primitive need to be cruel, albeit in a words-only manner.

The second officer at some point opened my passenger car door and knelt on the seat, approaching me in a threatening manner. I told him that he could not just enter my car like that as it was private property. He informed me that that wasn't the way it worked. This further awakened my fear of the police which had been created on two other occasions, one ending badly for me. I began to explain the situations in which I had encountered corrupt police officers before and so knew his type. I used a variant of that phrase, 'your type'. The officer received the comment in an almost theatrically-exaggerated manner. I could see it hit him in slow motion. But, bizarrely, he chose to interpret this clear attempted-slur on his character and dedication-to-truth as a racial slur. I, until then had not noticed that he was asian, having lived in and around manchester since being a student in 1987, I experience people of all races all day long every day. I can no longer notice the visual differences in people in terms of classifying them as belonging to some particular race. I neither know nor care. The idea that my comment implying corruption, something aimed at him in his professional capacity might be taken racially, something aimed at his person, had not once occurred to me! I immediately explained that I was insulting his character not his race. This didn't seem to help.

He leaned further forwards and made a grab for me. For the next two minutes or so, he actually started to wrestle with me in my own car. Worse, to attempt to handcuff me for the crime of what had I done? Repeatedly asking them had yielded no reply other than surliness and overzealous attention to detail. The first officer approached me from behind and they forced handcuffs upon me using far more lack of control than was appropriate.

By this time I felt as though I was hallucinating. My morning drive to work, where I would sit all day and work on relatively interesting computing problems in a calm, respectful and tranquil atmosphere (one to which I am accustomed and prefer to foster wherever I go), occasionally listening to music, had been invaded by a nightmare scenario from some cops-and-robbers film.. for no reason that I could see!

This, though, was just the beginning. What followed for the next twenty minutes may only be described as torture.

Firstly, the handcuffs were too tight for my wrists. Secondly, officer2 insisted upon rotating them about an imaginary axis connecting my wristbones, every few seconds. Something which cannot be accomodated by human wrists without agonising pain. I becan to cry out that he was hurting me. This had the effect of increasing the force with which the pain was being applied until I was literally screaming at the top of my voice to stop it. Pleading with them, asking them why they were doing it. Panicking I screamed out of my window for help to the passing drivers. No aid arrived.

I was by now half sat in the driver's seat but pulled all the way across my car with my hands just outside the passenger door. Every few seconds, regular as clockwork, agonizing bursts of pains shot up my arms from the regular twisting, to be accompanied by howls and pleading to stop what he was doing.

On and on and on. I lost all sense of self-assurance that I was supposed to be being helped by these people; all sense of injustice had left too, to be replaced by pure animal fear. They were going to kill me, I was sure of it. The absent look in their eyes. The half-mumbling ritual repetition of phrases which sounded as though they were intended to sooth me, all the while the twisting of the handcuffs continued.. "You're safe now, you're with us, lie still, stop putting pressure on my hands.." on and on, insanely. This was, up until now, by far the most disturbing aspect of the situation.

I pleaded with them constantly, desperately, all sense of maintaing an air of competent adulthood long gone, until they loosened the handcuffs a notch on each hand (An act to be referred-to more than once as demonstration of officer2's benevolence). But to do so, officer1 felt it necessary, no doubt for my own protection, to come back around to the driver's side of the car and put his full weight upon me, transmitted through his straigtened arm into my right shoulder. Apparently, they told me, I had "tried to run into the road and was in danger of being run down by motorway traffic". Bear in mind that at this time the traffic was still virtually crawling along in the slow lane and I had no desire to flee my own car to escape a situation, within which, reality must surely re-exert itself within the near future.

It continued. I constantly pleaded with them, explaining that they were imbalancing the muscles around my spine by forcing me into an unnatural position and causing further unnecessary pain, but it had no effect. 

A constant theme throughout the whole experience, which in total lasted over five hours was one of, what might I call it?.. a form of mockery, whereby irony is emphasized but which, to some observer who might only hear their side of the conversation, would sound as if all the letter I's were dotted and all the T's crossed from the manual of 'how to interact with the general public'. For example, the response to my agonizing and increasingly hoarse screams and pleading to have him relent was "there.. you're comfy now.. that's right... etc". Maximum irony achieved... over and over..

This went on and on and on.. No help arrived from other officers. Eventually, a van arrived. "At last" I thought, "this will end" but the broad and clearly-amused grins from the approaching pair of officers indicated that things were just starting to get worse.

Prior to the arrival of the van, a noticeable shift in the demeanour of each officer has occurred. Firstly, officer2 began to look uncertain and panicky. I began to explain to him what I could discern about his inner state from this change of demeanour. That he was starting to realise that he'd gone too far and that the two of them would need to get their stories straight (a reference, in my mind, to one of the other occasions I'd been harassed by the police, at which time their court case against me was thrown-out because it was obvious that they'd both been reading from the same falsified record of occurrences). This triggered more mockery, "get our story straight, yes.. yes.."

At one point, officer2 handed over control of my person to officer1 in a manoeuvre reminiscent of a wrestling tag-team. Officer1 gave me an unpleasant prolonged twist of the handcuffs to emphasize that the manouevre was complete and that he was now in control. Shortly later, I noticed _his_ change of demeanour. He started to shake and due to the force he was applying to my wrists, the shaking rocked my arms. I made similar comments which indicated that I understood what had motivated his reevaluation of the situation.

Throught the time at the car, I asked repeatedly for an explanation of my 'crime'; to be told mockingly on each occasion "we've already told you". Not so. On no occasion was there any indication of what I might have done other than my own suspicion that the officer had seen me holding my mobile phone for ten seconds.. (Holding but not used, as will be clear after checking the log of connections made between orange mobile phones and the cell towers surrounding the m60 between manchester and stockport for the hour preceding 9:30 am.

Anyhow, back to the van. It seems that someone in handcuffs is to be ignored, as my pleas to be allowed to climb out of the car under my own volition and to have my shoes returned were repeatedly ignored, in favour of my being dragged by the handcuffed-wrists from the car, on to the hard shoulder and carried part-way and half-stumbling the rest of the way to the van where I was locked in a claustrophia-inducing cage, devoid of sufficient air and far too warm/moist to be comfortable; with no seatbelts to provide me with safety should an accident occur.

Now early shock was beginning to set-in for me. How had this happened? I started to let my mind wander then absently looked at the female officer (officer3) in the passenger seat of the van. She was waving in what seemed to be a manner only successfully carried-off by a woman or someone sufficiently skilled at imitation, to someone I believe to be a colleague in another vehicle. My shock deepened. Here I was, locked! in a cage, bleeding, entering mild shock and one of my captors was grinning and waving!

A drive of perhaps twenty-five minutes ended at the police station just off princess parkway, near to the siemens office building, where I sat in the van for perhaps another ten minutes attempting to explain that i had done nothing wrong. It didn't matter. All that seemed to matter was that I was in cuffs and so should be taunted so as to effectively demonstrate the current orientation of the power-balance.

Shortly afterwards, things would begin to get worse for me. Upon entering the station, I was met with amused glances. These shifted slightly as it became apparent (no doubt due to my constant pleas that I had done nothing wrong) that something was amiss.

It's a curious experience to witness a phenomenon which I've only ever encountered within police stations, only when handcuffed without just cause. There's an almost imperceptible shift sideways of everyone, as they evolve and defer-to group-think, which dictates how best to handle the inconvenient truth being placed before them.

On the one hand, is someone politely explaining the situation, occasionally falling into the stoccato rythmn of those truly panicked and pleading for someone to help.

On the other hand, is the certain knowledge that the police force must be seen to be infallible. That no mistakes are made. That to question the situation is to invite disaster.

So what happens? What usually happens, in my experience, is that they shut-off their senses to the new information. To the distress obvious to all. They smile. They smile broadly; as broadly as if, after a good meal, nay, a banquet, with chosen and trusted lifelong companions, they hear an anecdote so rich in subtlety, so attuned to the particular blend of humour present within the room, so perfect in every detail as to draw-out all the joy from the depths of their soul and cause it to surface around the area of their mouths. They smile the smile of satisfaction. Of a job well done... 

This is when fear takes root. When you are locked within the walls of a building controlled with near-military precision whose decor is intended to ensure no unexpected escapees, with the very people one expects to help but who, due to loyalty must ignore your pleas and laugh.

I spent several hours locked in a bare room, without comfort of any form. Certainly without cushions, food, internet connection, polite company.... Locked without word. Interrupted at twenty to thirty-minute intervals by a smiling face; promising me that it would be all right, that all I needed to do was tell them my details, to give-up information which they must already have possessed, having seized control of all my belongings.

Each time the smile turns to one expressing dismay at my having inconvenienced them. At having put them in a situation where they are forced to consider their characters and whether they can take a stand against the current tide. How DARE I?

Indeed, how dare I? I certainly sympathized with their position. At the same time I began to absently wonder how long it would be before a form of stockholm syndrome took hold of me.

But of course, "I" don't exist. "I" am merely the subject of a form to be filled-out, once again, all the I's are dotted and the T's crossed but really, the message is a poor imitation of due process, of justice in action. An imitation waved in front of the victim's face. "Look how we mock the safeguards put in-place by our absent betters, look how we demonstrate the flexibility within the system. dare to threaten us with complaints would you? we run the show..."

Each journey to and from the cell was facilitated by application of totally unnecessary and excessive force to wrists which were obviously already a source of great pain, something verified by myself verbally as well as by cries of pain. Unnecessary because there was not a single hint of 'trouble' from me, having been totally pacified by my shock. Excessive because given that I'm a single, slim-built computer programmer, being manhandled by upwards of two muscle-fiends dressed in combat armour, I could offer no resistance should I attempt to. Nevertheless, force is best, it seems.

On several occasions I asked for a counsellor as I was aware that I was going into clinical shock and wanted to find some way to prepare to integrate this experience into the remainder of my week and life. Each time this was denied. 

I was 'offerred' a visit with a doctor of unspecified speciality who, after I politely refused saw fit to enter the cell I was inhabiting. I was to be evaluated, he told me, as some questions had been raised about my mental state. I fell back into the sarcasm which is often my only defence, being a pacifist at heart (believing that violence only breeds further violence - a positive feedback loop leading to destruction of all concerned or an arms-race of skills-development amongst the competitors). so, sarcasm.. 

I offerred the suggestion that torture was not compatible with good mood. Ignored, repeatedly. "Interesting development" I thought. Not only am I at risk physically but am in danger of being incarcerated 'for my own good'. My level of shock deepened still further to an unexpected level as I integrated the knowledge of this latest threat. Somehow, this would turn out to be my fault....

Not once during the visit was my physical condition (wrists striated with red marks looking like lashes, swelling, obvious weakness, bleeding hands) mentioned. 

After attempting to allay this character's fears about my suitability for release and having been told "you're totally sane" I was curiously not relieved.

From the moment I entered the station to the moment I left, I had asked to make a telephone call; to be 'allowed' the privilege of calling my team-leader to explain my absence. Every time this was denied. No attempts at reasoning along the lines of "how could this possibly hinder you?" were successful. 

My requests to see a solictor were accepted. After a short delay, I was asked if I would like to see a solicitor; I explained that I would. This was accepted (yes, again). After a short delay I was asked if I would like to see a solictor (there's a pattern here somewhere). Again I said yes. Eventually the group decision was that I would not get to see a solicitor; instead I would be forced (this time with extra free pain thrown in for good measure) into a small room with five or six officers, to have fingerprints taken and dna extracted.

By this time my shock was so deep that I had started to become floppy all over my body. My arms hung by my side limply and were manipulated for me. I was utterly shocked at how quickly I had been transformed from an upright member of society into someone with blurred vision, slurred speech, dragging left leg and a space where panic had once been... in the space of five hours.  

Officer2, who had been the first to administer actual physical pain, floated by the doorway whilst my DNA was being taken against my wishes. Detached from the process; watching me.

Now on to the charging. Where I was to discover what I had done. And, unexpectedly, to have it explained which rights were being granted me on that occasion by virtue of their benevolence. I couldn't honestly say that I did understand. By now, my world was washing about in front of me as clinical shock continued to hold me. Apparently, I had assaulted an officer who was going about his business. Imagine that. Of course, that explains the harsh reactions from all concerned. The continually-applied pressure to my wrists from just about everyone seeing-fit to escort me from A to B. I had apparently assaulted officer2.. and I would need to promise to appear in court or face a length visit in their private hell until the court date. Of course I agreed. I'm weak like that. Always choosing the easy option.