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Not too long ago, I was waiting for the subway, about to head up to see my girlfriend in uptown New York. I’d just recently moved to the city and I was used to carrying my pocket knife with me – a 2-inch assisted-open karambit that I would carry with the clip out on my right pocket. As I was waiting, a plain clothes cop approached me, tapped me on the shoulder and began talking to me, asking to see my knife. As someone who has never even been approached by police before, I was freaking out a bit. He played with the knife a bit before asking me why I carried it, to which I apparently responded, “for protection.”
The reality is that I am an acting student that also works on set design and set construction. Anyone who works in technical theater would admit having a pocket-knife on you is not only reasonable, but at times, just the sensible thing to do. However, feeling as panicked as I was, I just said the first thing that came to my mouth. That worked out great.
Due to that statement, I won myself three hours in jail and a court date. When I went to court, and missed five classes, I sat for eight hours only to be called up and told the DA had nothing at the time and to come back on a different date. At this point, I had been in jail and missed a whole day of classes to go to court, just to be told to come back again.
Finally, my attorney reached an agreement with the DA to allow me a six month grace period. If I don’t get arrested again, my record is cleared. All I have to do is complete some community service. That’s right, I get a clean record at the cost of giving up a little more of my life. Not too big of a deal right? There are endings to this little scenario that could be much worse.
That’s not the problem though. The problem is that I had to go through any of this at all. If all was as it should be, the cop should never have approached me. If he did anyway and I told him why I carried the knife, then that answer should have been perfectly fine and he should have allowed me to walk away without even a slap on the wrist. Legally, I should be allowed to carry a knife for my protection and be allowed to openly state that I do, even if that is not the real reason I have always carried it on me.
It disturbs me greatly that in this land where freedom supposedly to reigns and we have the right to bear arms (or in this case a tool that can be used as a weapon and vice versa), I must fear leaving my room everyday. I do not go out of my way to harm others. I am not out to hurt anyone, take from anyone or do any such thing. I don’t even drink or do drugs. Yet, I still fear that something will happen to me.
Why do I need to do community service? In what way did I harm the community? Are there mothers fearing for their child’s life because I am building a set and have a knife handy in order to help me? Or, if I did buy and carry a knife for self-protection, would they fear me because I would be better able to defend myself and others against violence and theft?
I will perform the community service because I want my record clean. But, that does not mean I agree with the process I am now stuck in. We live in a country that is slowly turning into everything it used to stand against. When the innocent cannot leave their homes safe in the knowledge they will live their lives free, that is a problem. I fear this only the beginning of the problem.