By Robert Ekas
In the summer of 2007, on two separate days I decided to exercise my rights under the 1st Amendment.
Before I go on, let me explain why. In the county I lived in, Clackamas, in the state of Oregon, a young man was brutally murdered by Clackamas County Sheriff’s deputy Willard and officer Bergin from a local municipality, the City of Sandy. A year or two after that, a Portland transient was beaten and left to die in the back of a Portland Police Bureau patrol car. I’d had enough and decided to speak out, except I didn’t use words.
So, back to the summer of 2007 and the rights violations. I was pulled over the first time I gave Officer Wold the finger and written a citation for 2 violations that didn’t occur. A month later, officer Shelley pulled me over after I gave him the finger, but didn’t issue a citation. I was plenty pissed. I called them out on their behavior. I called them cowards, thugs, and pussies. I told them I would sue them ALL! They hear this on a near daily basis. They are told they’ll be sued so many times that they don’t care. Even if they were inclined to care, the law indemnifies them so they have no motive to care.
It took a while for me to calm down. Two months after the stop wherein a citation was issued, I faced deputy Wold in a court of law. I was still infuriated and during cross-examination I tore him to shreds. My wife, seated in the audience later told me that the general consensus from the crowd was mixed. When the officer testified they were sure I was sunk, but after cross they wanted me to represent them. That made me feel better, but I was still enraged. So much so that, upon exiting after my acquittal, I told two deputies standing in the lobby in a loud boastful voice, “Score one for the good guys, fellas. Oh, in case you’re not sure who the good guys are, it’s us and not you.” One of them responded, “Un-fucking-beleivable!” I responded to that with laughter, but I was still in the grip of Wrath.
We all have a “Deadly Sin” or two and the front-runner for me is Wrath. And, so, I was beset by Wrath for many, many months. It had to end. I had to find a way to purge the Wrath. I thought about the encounters. I used my imagination and adopted a multitude of mindsets to account for the behavior of the officers. I believe I succeeded, in part. My belief bolstered by the following chain of events, none of which have any connection to each other.
When I chose to oppose the citations I went to the County Courthouse with my son. My son is, sadly, a juvenile diabetic and must carry with him at all times certain medical equipment. I refused to allow his bag to be X-rayed for obvious reasons but agreed to a “visual inspection”. Sgt. Grahn refused to allow the “bag” into the courthouse even though they had already searched it and it clearly contained nothing but medical supplies. I told him he is violating my son’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and would be brought to account. At this time, prior to the court hearing I was still enraged.
After I won my acquittal, after many months of wrath and contemplation, after using my imagination to try to understand them, I filed a federal lawsuit. The court ordered me to amend my initial filing to name the appropriate parties. I’m not an attorney and I made a few procedural errors that needed correcting. During the process of amending the original complaint I remembered Grahn. My Wrath told me, “Get that Asshole!” But, I didn’t because he was dead. After serving 17 years as a sheriff’s deputy he went into a bar his estranged wife and her two friends were patronizing, argued with her, drug her out by her hair, shot her dead with a Glock 22 (.40 caliber), went back into the bar with his weapon in hand, shot and killed her two friends, and then went outside and shot himself to death. Adding Grahn’s estate to satisfy my Wrath seemed wrong so I didn’t to do it.
And with those events, an idea began to form. An idea that was solidified during the federal trial I had initiated, during media interviews that started when a reporter from the Oregonian who covers stories in Clackamas county literally stumbled across the complaint I filed and called to ask questions. I had to think about my answers, not because I was worried my case would be harmed; I didn’t file for money so harm would have been irrelevant. I had to think because I was still gripped by Wrath and I didn’t want my responses to be tainted. I have concluded that police officers have little choice in how they behave. I have concluded that the idea that if the “bad apples” are removed, then the police institution and citizens will be better for it is bullshit. While there are those who seek to become law enforcement officers to exercise power over others, their numbers are few. The vast majority of the “Apples” that enter the barrel of the institutions of law enforcement are fine. There’s nothing wrong with those apples, it’s the barrel that’s rotten. And, an apple in a rotten barrel stands no chance.
This is my story and it has an ending. It ends with the County writing me a check to dismiss my lawsuit. But, that’s not the important ending. The important ending is my Wrath is gone. It didn’t go away when I received a check, it wasn’t that simple. It went away because I acted; it went away when I took a stand against fear. It went away when I realized that hate and fear of the Police should be replaced with contempt and pity.
There’s a footnote to this story. A different story, but related. I was taking my wife to lunch in 2011 to a restaraunt in Milwaukie, a neighboring community. While nearing our destination, I drove slowly past a bus stop that had a single black man of perhaps 50 years of age. Bracketing the bus stop were two of Milwaukie’s “finest” standing with postures that radiated aggression. My wife is terrified of police, so she made me drop her off at the restaurant if I was to confront them. I did as she asked. I returned with my window down and came to a stop across from the bus stop. I yelled out, “Hey guys!” so they would turn to see me, a middle aged white male, giving them the finger. They stared at me as I executed a left turn heading back to the restaurant. One of them shouted, “Turn signal!” I replied, “Hand signal!” since I was still flipping them off as I turned.
And, as I close my story, I say to you all who have had the patience to read it, do something. Because, as I’ve concluded that the police institutions are hopelessly corrupt and have, one and all, a Tyrant’s heart, I have also concluded that the very words I type are useless. The words you speak are useless. Words, words, words …. Words are only effective in a negotiation. We’re not negotiating with law enforcement, we’re running for our lives. They’re not interested in negotiations, only obedience will do. Words will do nothing. If you see a wrong, intervene. If you are wronged, stand up. A great man, Martin Luther King, once said, “No man can ride your back if it isn’t bent.” You don’t have to stand tall, above the crowd, but you do have to stand up. I did my part and I’ll do it again. It’s time for the rest of you to get off of your knees and stand up.