An Excerpt from Marginal Eyes, Chapter Eight
“Stand against the trunk and spread your legs,” the officer behind me directed.
As he grabbed me roughly from behind and started to pat me down, Tommy lit into them.
“Hey man, this is bullshit. What are you guys doing this for? He didn’t do shit!”
Although I was glad to have someone else there, Tommy’s aggressive reaction was making me even more tense. I knew that he hated authority and was perhaps more of a liability than an asset in a situation like this. On top of it all, we were also near a major street corner, and the ever busy road was full of gawking drivers, who watched as I was held up against my car like a dangerous criminal. The officer frisking me reached around to my chest, purportedly checking my skin-tight, sleeveless shirt for something important I might have hidden.
“Why is your heart beating so fast?” he asked me sternly.
“Because I’m afraid,” I replied simply.
“I’m going to have to take a look inside the vehicle,” the other officer said.
“Fuck no, this is bullshit,” Tommy protested. “You guys have no right to do this!”
He was indignant, and thank God he was White. But, knowing Tommy, I was afraid he might have been so obstinate because he had stashed a bowl of weed inside my glove compartment. Marijuana was nowhere legal at the time. It seemed to me things could start to get worse pretty quickly.
“All right. Just put the plates on the right way,” the officer behind me said, as he finished his search and walked back to the squad car.
“Thank you,” I said reflexively, my body shaking violently.
Tommy tried to commiserate with me, as I switched the plates and drove us to rehearsal, but there was really no rhyme or reason to the situation. I came up with excuses for the officers’ extreme response to what seemed like a harmless situation, thinking maybe it was how I was dressed, my shaved head, or that they were just a couple of city cops doing their best at a dangerous job. Over the years, as I grew up, I had stopped responding with anger when accosted by others, because I couldn’t keep up that much anger, and I was generally on the losing end of situations. Now, as a result, I rationalized and blamed myself for what I just experienced. The reality is that, whether or not the cops had some plausible reason to stop and frisk me, I was publicly humiliated because of my appearance. Tommy or anyone else doing the same thing might have received a helpful (or perhaps a jeering), “Hey, your plates are on the wrong side,” as the squad car passed by harmlessly, but to these cops (or the person who called them), I was a possible car or license plate thief.
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