Here’s a contribution from eco-villager “El Jimmy” Lizama – one of the founders of the Bike Kitchen, proprietor of the Bike Morgue, messenger, wrenchista, poet, and generally considered to be the sexiest man in the two-block eco-village neighborhood.
(I’ve linkified it a little bit… but all the words are Jimmy’s)
For a Traffic Violation?
by Jimmy Lizama
I am livid, but I could conceivably be much more upset and in a heap of more trouble, but that’s exactly what the problem is. Let me explain: Every morning I get up early and ride Jeanmichel, my partner’s 8-year old boy, to school on our tandem. Today was like any other day; I dropped him off, put his helmet in the pannier and rode to Cafe Tropical. I took Santa Monica Blvd. to Sunset, there by Sanborn, with that funny little light. The cops say I took that red light — I don’t really remember doing that. Their word against mine.
They pull me over at Maltman, in front of Madame Matisse, a french restaurant with the best pancakes anywhere. The first officer, I’ll venture to say the dominant of the two, gets out and asks, “Hey, did you know you took a red light back there?”
I think for bit, wondering if I actually took a red light and think no, I don’t think I did. The cop tells me where and I respond with, “No, I don’t think I did officer.”
The dominant officer, a man of about 6 feet in high, somewhere between Latino and Armenian looking, thin with a quiet sternness to him then commands me to put my hands behind head, cross my fingers, face the wall and spread my legs. I cross my fingers like I’m making a wish and ask, “For a traffic violation?”
He repeats his commands. Frustrated I have no option but to comply.
They do not ask me if I can be searched, but the smaller and nicer cop does so anyway, without my permission. But it’s like this, with LAPD I’ve learned that if you give them a hand they’ll take the whole arm. I tried my best to be quiet, but I had to ask them about their protocol and if this was it. Is it customary or even legal procedure for officers to search your person, ask you to face a wall, fingers Criss-Crossed (not crosssed), legs spread for a traffic violation? Really?
As the domineering officer writes up the ticket, I continue to face the wall assuming the stance they’ve commanded me to take and I continue to ask them about their procedures. They come back with, “Did you hear about the transient that got pulled over and stabbed a cop recently? You know you could be a threat to us. We don’t know you? Do you know us? Your attitude and body language says that you can be a threat to us. We have to protect ourselves …” and so on.
They run my name and my name is similar to someone else’s name, who happens to have a warrant, so the cops put me in hand cuffs. Luckily there were no customers dining as, they might not have been able to hold it down, from laughter? From anger? Both?
I inform them that that person is not me and that the cuffs are not necessary. My name is cleared in 5 minutes. They continue to fill out the ticket. “Um, can you take off the hand cuffs now?”, I ask, annoyed at Officer Domineering’s all-too-relaxed attitude. “Sure”, he returns, and slowly removes the cuffs, but not really to be careful, you know? More like, when little Jeanmichel has to get the last word in when he’s being scolded. Like a little brat.
So, my name is cleared, yay! But wait: face the wall, keep your legs spread and your hands behind your back, fingers crossed (criss-crossed!!!). “For a traffic violation? You just cleared my name.” He repeats instructions on how to assume the stance …
He asks me if I want a supervising officer. I say yes.
When the sergeant arrives, I’m still in the position and no one has told me that I cannot leave that position, so I’m not about to test what their comfort levels are, dig? I speak to the wall as I speak to the sergeant who pretty much repeats their logic, i.e., I could be a threat, my body language says this or that (I suppose hands behind your back, legs spread, fingers criss-crossed does connote something threatening, but to whom?) So I ask the sergeant, “So, you and I, we’ve had a pretty civil conversation right?”
“Yes”, he agrees.
“And if I don’t seem like a threat to you or your officers, why am I still having this conversation like this [facing the wall, fingers criss-crossed …].”
“For our safety,” he replies bluntly.
In the end, I’m given the ticket and I lecture them. I tell them three that the conversation needs to stop because I simply do not agree with their tactics, their methodology nor their way of treating Me. There’s a difference in how they treat say a motorist, especially one on his way to work in an office in downtown wearing a suit and tie and how they treat Me a person who just dropped off his kid at school on a tandem bicycle in corduroys and a black T-shirt. The sergeant thinks that’s bullshit, per his own words, because this is not about race. I never said it was about racial profiling.
And I don’t think it’s racial profiling … I don’t think … as Officer Domineering asked me if I was Italian or Hispanic. I spilled the beans and told him I’m Latino. I just don’t understand how me saying, without an attitude, just matter of fact, “I don’t think I took that red light officer” translates into taking tactical maneuvers against potential bodily harm on them. Had I said, “Yes sir, one more please …” perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten a ticket at all.
I don’t know about y’alls, but me, I really have a hard time kissing anyone’s ass outright. I don’t need to perpetuate unhealthy givens by consenting to bad behavior. I don’t think I took the red light, but if I did and they caught me, well yeah, sure, gotta pay the ticket. But who’s gonna give them a ticket for uncivilized exchange? Who’s gonna hold them accountable for egregious handling of their citizenry as civil servants who’s job I pay for through taxes?
So yes, I am livid, but what if I would have been pulled over when Jeanmichel was with me? I think that’s a whole different ball game. Can you imagine me in hand cuffs, Jeanmichel in the back of the police car all for a traffic violation? Can you imagine a lawyer being pulled out of his BMW and his kid placed in the squad car, because he ran a red light? No, you really can’t. Neither can I and neither do I want to even think about that happening to my family. So, I’m really pissed about what could have happened. I don’t need to ride my kid to school with the fear that over-domineering cops will detain me and parade me around as if they just caught some thief in the act.
If anyone out there wants to come forward, bicycle or motorist or other human powered and just tell about your experiences with Rampart PD, specifically to being pulled over for a traffic violation and inform on how you were treated, that might be helpful. What time was it? What were you wearing? What were you pulled over for? Were you asked to step out of your car? Were you asked to assume the stance? Did you feel that their actions/orders were justified? Anything like that. Instances where you were pulled over on Sunset by all the shops and things went smoothly are very helpful as they illustrate the stark difference.
And lastly, just so that things are consistent and clear, the other cop is asian, about 5’7″, shaved head, looks somewhere between Filipino and Thai, in his early 30’s, 160 lbs or so. The meaner cop has wavy dark brown hair, clean cut, light eyes and is in his late 30’s.
I will add that this is not about super bad cops. They didn’t beat me or call me names or anything like that. They did however abuse their position of power and while they may have acted within some obscure scope allowed, it was applied incorrectly. If the PD want to really improve their relationship with the communities they serve, it’s obvious that they need to do a much better job of identifying blatant criminals from stepdad’s biking their kids to school and act accordingly.
Thanks for reading.