I have remained silent for a long time about an unfortunate event that happened to me two years ago. It is something I seldom discuss because it can be painful, but on the wake of the recent national controversies involving police misconduct I have decided to be open about it. It has caused me great fear and distrust in law enforcement. I am hoping my story will help someone else that shares the same anger as me.
Two years ago, I was a regular senior in college at Florida State University. I was focused on graduating so I spent a lot of time in the library. Sometimes I took breaks like a human should, so one night I attended a bar to with friends after an evening of studying. I have never been a huge drinker by any means. In fact, I actually do not like the taste of alcohol, and would prefer a Shirley Temple over whiskey any day. On this night I made an exception and decided to consume an 8 fl-oz can of beer. I drove home at about midnight to get sleep before class. My tolerance is undeniably bad, but my motor skills were not diminished due after the can of beer, so I knew it was okay to drive.
As I was driving down Tennessee Street I saw in my rearview mirror cop lights flash and sirens go off. They were signaling that I pull over into a lot of dorm so they could speak with me. When I parked, a cop came up to my window and told me one of my headlights was out and he was to write me up. I was not aware of this, and was compliant to his demands, albeit extremely nervous around authority. He then told me to get out of the car and started harassing me with questions. He told me that my eyes looked “high and squinty”. He asked me how much I had drank that night. He also asked me, “where can I find the drugs you did tonight?”. I told him the honest truth which was that I had consumed one 8 fl oz beer and I do not do drugs. He then called four other male officers over to watch me be questioned. I was compliant and calm, but a bit distraught because I was excessively being accused of lying.
He gave me a quick “field sobriety test” which should not be an accurate measure of anything with someone who is nervous, shaking, and has uneven balance on both sides of her body. He told me to do leg lifts at a specific pace, which I apparently did not accomplish. He was basically telling me to do an exercise you would do in perhaps an 80’s aerobics class. He claimed that I failed it, I was lying about everything I did that night, and he would arrest me. So he handcuffed me, shoved me into his car, and searched my vehicle which only had apples on the floor.
As I sat in the police car, I accepted that there was nothing I could do at that moment. Four other cops watched as I sat in the car and cried. I wondered how I could explain this to my family. I knew they would be on my side because they knew I was not guilty of endangering anyone on the road. When the cop returned I asked him if I could have a breathalyzer test on the spot because I knew it would return with negative results. He told me that we would have to go to the jail, I would get booked, and the test would be administered.
When I arrived at the jail, my photo was snapped and I was charged with a DUI. The officer kept telling me, “I just KNOW you are high. You are on drugs. I just know.” I was thrown into a room, where I cried at various intensities for about 9 hours. During the crying fest, I was given the breathalyzer test. The results of the test showed I had drank no alcohol. As in I blew a zero. The man that administered the test was baffled and I could tell felt sympathy for me. However, the officer still was holding onto his claim that I was on drugs that I have never touched in my life. I also returned a urine sample that showed no traces of drugs. I was treated like a criminal for ten hours even though I had proven to not had committed a punishable crime.
My mother bailed me out of jail shortly after being booked. I will never forget how I felt seeing her face as the officer unlocked a gate to release me. I ran to her, we both hugged each other and cried. I told her, “I didn’t do anything”. She said, “I know honey, I know you didn’t. I know you.” Seeing the light of day was beautiful. When I got home, I took the longest shower of my life. I bathed in my tears and disgust. I wanted to get all of the remnants of law enforcement off of me.
As I thought more about the incident, I came to realize that the officers were getting a cheap thrill out of watching me being harassed. When the officer that harassed me called for four other officers for back up on someone extremely compliant with the ability to name capitals of countries voluntarily, that was some indication. I also caught him staring at my breasts at times during questioning. I could tell he wanted to make an arrest that night, and he loved arresting me even though I was undeserving.
I was very fortunate to have a lawyer who had my case thrown out and had my record cleared; though having a clean record did not erase the traumatic event from my mind. My family tried to have the officer penalized for wrongfully accusing and harassing me, but the police department did not believe we had reasonable grounds. The best they could do to appease us was have the sheriff speak with him about the incident, which never happened. Why couldn’t the police officer be addressed, I wondered. I just wanted to erase everything from my mind, so I accepted what they told me.
Now as I write about the event as a form of therapy, I ask this: if we cannot be treated like humans by law enforcements then who do we call? Who can we trust to protect us? How can a cop not receive punishment for lazy and irresponsible practices? I said back then and will say it now especially, the cop cannot be in the wrong. I proved his accusations false with multiple tests, but he was ultimately not even approached by his superiors. How is this fair? Whether it is shooting an unarmed Black man, performing an illegal chokehold on a person reporting a fight, or harassing a woman on a street for doing absolutely nothing, we should all care about how the people that are supposed to protect us are using their authority.
A blank canvas to express some of my frustration related to this experience has been joining the recent protests in New York City. I will continue to fight until justice is received for Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and the many others the police have violated the civil rights of. I do not want these misconducts to go unnoticed or pardoned. A “cheap thrill” for a cop is very expensive emotionally and you never know if you will fall a victim to it. I never thought that I would.