One of the most-often repeated suggestions here at CopBlock.org – perhaps second only to filming all police interactions – is to document and disseminate the interaction – to rely on reputation and the court of public opinion to maximize accountability. Author S.E. Bowler took that a step further. After being kidnapped and caged by a Denver police employee, whom she describes as a “Herculean hillbilly,” and navigating the legaland process, she sat down, and in a fast-paced narrative, peppered with what she describes as her own “cheeky attitude,” recounted the ridiculousness of the process to which she was subjected. The result was a 20pg book available for Kindle, Antagonize, and Other Fancy Words Never to Say to a Cop, released in late February, 2014.
Bowler’s experience – a negative interaction with a person who subsists on money stolen from area inhabitants under the pretense of protecting and serving – is unfortunately all too common these days. That sentiment was echoed by other other readers of Antagonize – one who commented that her story is something “all can relate too.” In fact it was Bowler’s prose about the personal impact of the situation that for me was most insightful. Communicating, for example, the uncertainty in the moment – Is the police employee telling the truth? Do I really have to do X or Y as dictated? I didn’t do anything wrong, why is this police employee so reactionary and callous? – and the ramifications incurred for not jumping through prescribed hoops, which can stretch out for months or even years, is a powerful solvent to the veneer of legitimacy claimed by actors in the criminals’ justice system. And of course, a healthy dose of humor can be very disempowering to the aggressors.
Below is an excerpt from Antagonize, and Other Fancy Words Never to Say to a Cop.
A couple things I was hoping to see in Bowlers’ book – first, the names of the police employee who kidnapped her and those who caged her, and second, a retrospect wish that she would have filmed the stop, or that such a tactic is planned for any future exchanges.
Irregardless of if you’d agree with the statement that police employees default to be unnecessarily hostile, it is indisputable that police employees today do not face the same repercussions when they violate the rights of another, as would you or I if engaged in the same act. That is not a surprise – there’s a lot of propaganda supporting their coercion-based monopoly. Yet, as countless posts submitted here to CopBlock.org demonstrate, and Bowler’s book underscores, there is a pattern, an underlying cause – the instituation. That is why it is Bower’s book is so powerful – she effectively communicates what happened to her, delegitimizing any illusions of justice claimed by the police employees and their friends in legaland.
by S.E. Bowler
Imagine. It’s 2:30 in the morning, you’ve been out of Prozac for two weeks, your Grandma Janet died the morning before, you’re out of work, your ex is behaving like an ass, you miss your kids (who are at your ex’s house that night), and you’re on your way home from a bar. You didn’t go to the bar to drink, you went to drop a gift off for a friend who works there. You aren’t drunk, and you are almost home. You see the boxy shadow of a cop car’s roof lights on the other side of the street, check your speed – it’s 37 – and drive on. You stop at a red left-turn light, and while you’re stopped, the cop car pulls up behind you.
You’re not worried, though. You weren’t speeding. Well, technically you were, since the speed limit is 35 on that road, but you were only going 37, so you figure that doesn’t really count. Your left turn signal is on already – even though there is no one else around. The light turns green. You glance in your rearview mirror out of habit, ease your foot off the clutch, and begin to drive. Before you get out of first gear, you are pulled over.
The cop is huge. A corn-fed, mid-western-looking, Herculean hillbilly. He shines his flashlight at you in that condescending way that cops do. (You know what I mean. Even though the street is well-lit, and the cop’s extra-bright headlights are on, and your dome light is on because you were looking through your purse for your driver’s license when he sauntered up, he still feels compelled to pull out his big light and wield it at you like some kind of illuminated 18 inch phallus.) Then he asks if you know why he pulled you over. You answer that you have absolutely no idea. At all.
He says you were speeding. You don’t understand how you could possibly have been speeding when he pulled you over from a complete stop. So, you say, “Well, can I see your radar?”
“It’s in my car, and I can’t take it out,” he replies.
“Uh, well then, can you, y’know, walk me to your car so I can see your radar?”
That’s interesting, you think. He just said No. Every friend you have who is from Colorado with whom you have ever had a conversation about being pulled over has told you that cops have to show you their radar if you ask them. They always say it with eyes wide and index finger pointed for emphasis. They HAVE to. Your friends are very convincing.
“Oh… Hmmm… Okaaay…”
Up to this very moment, it has never occurred to you that a cop would actually refuse to do something you are pretty sure he HAS to do. Sure, you’ve seen them do that on TV, but that’s make-believe. Right? And even though you know in your head that most cops are power-tripping pseudo-criminals who really just want to show their illuminated phallus whenever possible, you don’t really feel that in your heart. Not yet, anyway. Granted, you are a reasonably cute, fairly compact, blond-ish, blue-eyed chick from SoCal, with long, thick hair, and an adorable smattering of freckles across her nose, (You aren’t conceited, but you don’t believe in false modesty, either.) so your experiences with the police are few and brief … but, still. You are genuinely taken aback by this cop’s flagrant disregard for the rules. You also begin to wonder whether your friends from Colorado are misinformed or whether they lied to you in some kind of territorial, Californians-Go-Home-and-Take-Your-Traffic-and-Your-Smog-and-Your-Stupid-Words-Like-“Stoked”-With-You themed practical joke.
“I don’t think I was speeding. When I saw you on the other side of the street I checked my speed just to make sure, and my speedometer said I was doing 37. So, if for some reason you think I was speeding, then there must be something wrong with my car, and if there is something wrong with my car, I would think you would want to show me your radar so we can verify whether I need to take my car to a mechanic. Plus, I was stopped at a red light right before you pulled me over, sooo, I’m not sure why you would think I was speeding anyway.” You talk a lot, and you do it really quickly when you are out of Prozac and you are nervous. And you are out of Prozac. And, now you’re also nervous. Goddamn it. Actually, you speak quickly and almost always say too much anyway, but when you’re out of Prozac, you say even more, even more quickly.
“Have you been drinking, ma’am?” he asks.
“No,” you answer. You feel somewhat annoyed because he called you ma’am and you are clearly not older than him.
He asks you to step out of the car. As you step out of the car, you explain once more that you are sure you weren’t speeding, unless your speedometer is broken, and then you ask him if he might be able to take a look at your speedometer to make sure it’s working properly, but he ignores you.
On the sidewalk just outside the parking lot of your local Whole-Paycheck-Foods, he begins to give you detailed directions that he wants you to follow. Although he isn’t very good at explaining the directions, you are very good at asking about every possible loophole because, again, you are out of Prozac, and your OCD is going a bit crazy, and you want to make sure you understand precisely what to do. Pre. Cis. Ly. After all, you are an A student, and this is an important test, and you don’t fail. Unfortunately, your need for complete understanding directly conflicts with his need for immediate and unquestioning compliance, and as has happened so often before with so many other people in so many other direction-giving kinds of situations, you begin to irritate the crap out of him.
Eventually, you both manage to get through the series of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. He looks you in the eyes, left hand on your right shoulder and says, “I don’t think you’re drunk.” Which is good, because you aren’t. Then he says, “But, I want you to take either the breathalyzer or the blood test anyway.” He takes his hand off your shoulder and turns toward his car.
“Oh,” he adds, turning back toward you, like Columbo asking his suspect one last question, “and it’s illegal to talk to an attorney before you decide, and if you refuse either test, your license will be revoked for a year.”
You are very confused. What does he mean, you can’t talk to an attorney?
“What do you mean, ‘I can’t talk to an attorney’?” you ask.
“That’s right. You can’t talk to an attorney before you decide which test to take. It’s illegal.”
“How can it be illegal to speak to an attorney?” You are incredulous.
“Um, ma’am, it just is,” there’s that annoying ma’am again, “you just have to decide.” You think he must be crazy. You also realize you aren’t in a position to argue. About speaking to an attorney, anyway.
You take a deep breath. “Ummm, okaaay,” you say. “Do you have any written information I can have a look at before I make my decision?”
He cocks his titanic head to the side, looks at you like you’ve just asked him if he has a one-legged monkey wearing a tu-tu in his pocket, and says, “Uh, nnnoo.”
You sigh. You are about to become the most irritating person this guy has ever met. If you knew then what you know now, you would almost feel sorry for him. Almost.