I cannot deny that I have enjoyed a by-and-large sheltered life; as a conscientious liberal, I try to temper my enjoyment of American privilege with the acknowledgement that my perspective is somewhat warped by it. I am the eldest son of a white-collar family, yet also an open homosexual. It is easy for me to see how and why many Americans in my position, such as my parents, are misled into becoming ardent followers of the Republicans' brand of conservatism. I grew up in the Detroit Suburbs of Michigan, represented by Thaddeus McCotter, and moved to Tampa to begin my professional career, living near Bayshore Drive and represented in Congress by Kathy Castor. Both of these regions are notable for their relative affluence. For a long time, the closest I'd come to experiencing first-hand political conflict was several family members' volunteering for McCain-Palin while I interned for Hillary Clinton.
I check DailyKOS more or less every day, having been a regular reader going back to 2004. The site has often been an intellectual refuge for me. Growing up as I did in a privileged white suburb, many of my neighbors and classmates didn't afford political life much thought beyond supporting whomever their friends and family supported. The Iraq War was a particularly trying time in my political life. I was surrounded by many who suffered the conflagration of Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, which was subtly perpetuated by the Republican Party and other enablers. In 2005, my Honors Humanities teacher's daughter, Jill Carroll, was taken hostage in Iraq, and I poured my feelings into a diary here. The community was so responsive and supportive that I was asked to take the diary down, as the Carrolls were seeking to disarm the terrorists by minimizing publicity. When I do opt to contribute to our community, I do so with intimately personal pieces, rather than making commentary on events or other op-ed's. I like to believe that this community, which I value so much, is most benefitted and most beneficial in providing a channel to "pajama politics"--the politics that we each experience on a supremely individual level.
The funny thing about being a gay American is that unlike other politically oppressed minorities in the country, it is often possible for us to be unidentifiable. Most days when you pass me on the street, I don't offer much indication of being openly gay. I have blonde hair, green eyes, stand about 5'10" and weigh ~180 lbs. I'm lucky enough to tan and not freckle, despite possessing a healthy dose of Irish blood. On the whole, I meet the eye as a quite average white boy more often than not.
On July 27th, 2011 this was not the case. On July 27th, 2011, I experienced discrimination and the abuse of American law in a way that I did not believe occurred in our country.
I'm pretty sure that more people on this site will have attended an "80s party" than have not, but for the unaware, these are get-togethers where the attendees attire themselves as they might have circa 1986 or so. It's as good an excuse as any to don big hair and neon colors. I was very happy to be attending, and very excited to appear in my outfit. I had dyed my hair to be a bright red with blond highlights in my bangs, wore a black T-Shirt from Forever 21 which loudly proclaimed "MADE IN THE 80s" in neon pink and white across the front, a pair of jeans stylishly pre-destroyed from Guess, and accessorized with a white, rainbow=studded rainbow belt, a rainbow pride bracelet, and a choker necklace that dangled zipper clasps in a loud, proud rainbow pattern.
After returning to my apartment with a straight friend of mine, he woke me up in the dead of night, as we had both fallen asleep and he needed to get back to his parents' house outside the city. Not having consumed any intoxicants at the party, I agreed to return him home. We departed, first stopping at a gas station just a block away from my home to gas up the Volkswagen for the trek.
I went into the gas station to pay cash for the pump, and struck up a conversation with the clerk. I was still in my proud outfit, and my friend is good-looking enough that I imagine he could have been mistaken for being my date. Behind us stood an officer of the police department; I paid little mind to him. I returned to my vehicle, finished pumping the gas, and we set off for the 20-mile trip.
I had not yet left the gas station parking lot before the officer behind me turned his lights on. Thinking this must just be a coincidence, I first started to leave the station, then looped back around to re-enter the gas station parking lot. To my surprise, the officer tailed us for the entire time, and stopped his vehicle behind mine as I pulled up to the pump I had just used. This act was, in and of itself, an illegal stop. Yet the illegal conduct of this officer, and the Tampa Police Department, does not stop here. This was but the first of many illegal violations of my rights which I would endure, only the first abuse of power that I knew happened in totalitarian regimes but thought impossible in the United States.
My best friend growing up was the granddaughter of the Chief of Police in our town, and I have always behaved with the utmost respect for officers of the law, so upon stopping my vehicle I turned on the interior lights and gathered my documentation. I provided these upon request and when I asked the officer why I had been stopped, he instructed me to step out of the vehicle.
The officer had me perform a field sobriety test. I did make one error in that when he requested me to recite the alphabet, I began reciting it backwards from the letter Z; I suffer from an anxiety disorder and panic attacks, and given that I had no idea why I was being so harshly tested by this officer, I was experiencing very intense anxiety. Recalling the incident is, in and of itself, a major trigger for me to this day. Upon completing the field test, the officer informed me that he had observed my pupils behaving abnormally during the test and he was placing me under arrest for Driving Under the Influence (DUI). As he handcuffed me I began asking for a breathalyzer test in futility. Before placing me in his patrol car, the officer took the time to remove my pride jewelry; my bracelet, belt, and necklace were all stripped from me. I was forced to abandon my vehicle and my friend, whom could not drive the manual transmission. I tearfully pleaded with the officer to provide me with a breathalyzer test. At one point, he said 'I'll tell you why I won't give you a breathalyzer. I think you're on something else.'
Arriving at the station, I couldn't bring myself to cooperate. This was so wrong, so against everything that I believed this country stood for, that I couldn't bring myself to facilitate this unjust transgression. I said to the officer, 'I'm not going into jail for a crime that both you and I know I did not commit," and stopped walking, attempting to stand my ground non-violently. The next thing I knew, I was underneath several police officers. At this point, without access to my medication, I suffered a panic attack. I cannot recall many of the details during this period, or exactly what happened when. The officers took me down with excessive force, resulting in a twisted ankle that I could barely walk on and several lacerations on my head.
I apologize, but these next memories are rather jumbled; for my resistance I was restrained in chains in a holding cell with a mask, as apparently I had spit during the struggle. I was gagged and sitting on my handcuffs, leaving further lacerations and bruising on my wrists. After being booked, I was placed in solitary confinement, and my next memory is of waking up in a pool of my own blood, which congealed underneath my head as I slept. Unable to walk due to the tremendous pain in my ankle, when I awoke I began to cause as much of a commotion as possible, as I needed medical attention. I remember it being hours before I managed to get a guard's attention and, after initially being refused medical attention point-blank, I claimed to start hearing voices. I was unable to walk, and my cell was covered in my own blood, as well as needing medication for my panicked state. Florida law includes a provision commonly referred to as the "Baker Act," wherein parties who ignore an individual claiming to be experiencing suicidal thoughts or hearing voices can be held legally responsible for the consequences of ignoring that individuals' claims. I was willing to say anything to get to the infirmary, and did.
Still to this day I cannot recall the phone call I made to my parents for them to post bail, but they did. Finally in the infirmary, I found almost no sympathy for my plight. Again, prior to this encounter, my image of the police in our country was primarily defined through my view of my best friend's grandfather, an outstandingly upstanding man who never shied from his duty as a servant of the public goodwill, and this image was shattered in my experiences. The officers I encountered had zero interest in serving me in any form, even in providing me adequate medical care; I had to claim psychiatric instability to the point of forcing legal responsibility on them even to get a band-aid and ibuprofen.
Bail having been posted, and having been placed under the baker act, they were required to take me to a public hospital before releasing me to a psychiatric care facility. At the hospital, they performed X-rays, re-bandaged my wounds, and strapped me to the bed with belts. From the hospital I was released and taken to a psychiatric facility, where under normal circumstances, a patient under the baker act is held for 72 hours. I was arrested in the early hours of the morning of the 27th; on the morning of the 28th, I relayed my experiences to the supervising psychiatrist at the first opportunity, and she signed for my release as I was not suffering any symptoms which would merit further detaining me.
A little over 24 hours after that officer illegally stopped my vehicle I was finally freed back into the world. The illegal stop meant that the field test was ruled inadmissible at trial, and although the DUI charge was thrown out, the officer perjured himself as to the events of the evening and my driver's license was suspended for refusing to give a breathalyzer. The DA dropped the charges of non-violent resistance. I was told by my lawyer that the District Attorney believed I should consider myself "lucky."
My friends and family have been mortified to hear of this experience. I am a college student, a teacher, and a Democratic (with a big D) political activist, someone who has taught children and driven in Hillary Clinton's motorcade. The only cause I have been able to think of behind the arresting officer's actions is a deep-seated, smoldering hated for homosexuals. How dare I go about with my boyfriend at night, thinking I can drive my vehicle when I deem it necessary? How dare I make the officer wait behind me in line while I wave my limp-wristed hands about in conversation with the store clerk? It is confounding as to why this officer of the law thought he would be serving the public good by illegally stopping and arresting me.
I have been very much afraid to bring this issue to light. I am aware of its incendiary nature. I am all too aware of the capability of the Tampa Police's ability to make my life a living Hell, with or without the backing of the law. I do not think it is unfounded to see this issue very much raising a public spectacle.
I wrote this diary because from my perspective, the occurrence is couched in political issues. There is the issue of the police's authority and how far it reaches. There is the issue of how we determine when the servants of the public good have gone beyond the pale. There is the issue of when a white kid who has never known police brutality has their faith in the system completely and utterly shattered; when someone who has never operated outside the law sees the power of that law sickly abused, and is completely disabused of the notion that officers do not go beyond what is morally right in their service.
Before this happened I considered myself a proud American. I had faith that our courts, our police, our prosecutors, and our laws served the public and served it well. I enjoyed a privileged upbringing and sheltered existence, being by-and-large a beneficiary of the American system. That all changed on a night when I had the audacity to express my pride in being different.
What am I now?