(I apologize that this is not directly related to the topics I usually cover here. I just had to write about this.)
True story: I am riding a particular downtown subway home, late on a Thursday evening (around 2:30am), all the way from one far-away borough to my home in another. Due to exhaustion and a long subway ride, I fall asleep. Because the subway is almost empty (there are maybe 5 other passengers in the car), I stretch my legs out across the seats next to me.
About five stops from my destination, I am awoken by a tall male cop telling me that “I can’t do that.” In my sleepy state of confusion, I quickly sit up, not knowing what is going on. The police officer then asks me to stand up and step off the train (this is not my final destination). I say with confusion, “Can’t I just go home? I’m only a few stops away.” He repeats, “Please step off the train.”
As I leave the train car and enter the station, I hear a series of gasps behind me, presumably other passengers who are as astonished as I am. The police officer then proceeds to interrogate me, without really explaining the reason I have been removed from the train. As the doors close and the train moves on, I sigh, knowing that this altercation has just added at least 30 minutes to my already long trip home. But my situation only gets worse, as I sit down on a bench and continue to answer the police officers questions: “Where are you going? Where do you live? Do you have identification?”
He begins to talk over his radio, and I still have no idea what is really going on. Three more uniformed police officers come over, and at this point I am surrounded. Now, let me just clarify that I was neither intoxicated nor doing anything more threatening than sleeping on the subway, apparently taking up too much space. Apparently this was enough to warrant the involvement of FOUR police officers.
The cop proceeded with what turned out to be a background check, to see if I had any warrants for my arrest or outstanding tickets. Since when does sleeping on the subway correlate with criminal behavior? I felt completely belittled and distrusted, being treated as a criminal for doing something that I was not even aware was a violation. I finally ask for clarification about what my crime was, and one of the other three cops standing around me shows me his violation book with a paragraph highlighted about taking up more than one subway seat. Never before had I seen anything of the sort listed.
After what felt like a ridiculously long amount of time (and reassurance that in fact, there were no outstanding warrants for my arrest), the cop gave me what he called a “summons,” which amounted to a $50 ticket or an appearance in court. For taking up more than one seat on a mostly empty train at 3am on a weekday. I asked if there was any type of warning for this, since it was my first offense. The cop gruffly responded, this is the warning, it’s either this or arrest. Apparently my offense was agregious enough to merit handcuffs and a lock up.
An hour later, I finally arrive at my apartment, frazzled and full of questions.
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