A run-in with Officer Green
"WHAT'S THAT SMELL??" scowled Officer Green, and ordered me out of my car.
Yes, I play the Lottery
I have a secret vice. For decades now, I've played the Lottery. I place one dollar on every one of those big interstate jackpots and one dollar on every one of those state jackpots, every drawing. That adds up to about $100 a year for each drawing. That's the extent of my gambling, and has been for years.
When we used to live in Chicago, I bought my tickets at a little corner drugstore in a not-very-wealthy neighborhood near our apartment. I would get in line with folks who were, I'd estimate, never going to be worth what I'm worth, and these not-rich people were playing the three-digit lottery and four-digit lottery with what seemed even to me to be vast amounts of money. Being no gambler, it looked like insanity to me. My mere $200 a year looked downright pikerish.
I know there's not much chance of winning the lottery, especially those huge jackpots, and especially playing it the way I do. There's good reason they call the lotteries a tax on people who are bad at math. I used to call it my regular voluntary tax contribution to (allegedly) the Illinois school system. Now, of course, I buy my tickets up in Kansas.
There is nearly no other value to playing the lottery, but every five weeks, wife Mary Jo and I drive the distance of about twenty-five miles to Caney to purchase my tickets. This way, at least, for the money, we get to enjoy a very beautiful drive and some time off from the rigors of our daily life. It's become a nice ritual, an excuse that almost is worth the price.
Which brings me to last Saturday, 2004 May 8. My tickets had expired the previous Wednesday, but Mary Jo and I had not made it up to Kansas. We had a concert scheduled on that night at us75.com/, and by late Saturday evening, we saw we were too busy for both Mary Jo and I to go to Kansas.
Thus arose one of those minor dilemmae. I could skip going and miss the Saturday drawings, since I'd probably lose my $2 anyway (and in fact did). But in the extremely unlikely possibility that my numbers did come up and I hadn't bought tickets (the Murphy's Law possibility), I would never get over it. I decided to go up to Kansas about 7pm, even though the concert was scheduled to start at 8pm.
I had a very pleasant drive. Being without Mary Jo, I took the time to commune with God. Having some private time on the road, I turned off the radio and tried to train my brain to hold in consciousness the presence of the Almighty. I don't know about yours, but my mind sure does wander! In any case, I felt pretty peaceful by the time I got to Kansas.
I collected my winnings from the previous tickets ($1), bought my new tickets, along with some sunflower seeds and a fruity beverage, and headed back home.
The drive back home was as uneventful and enjoyable as the drive up to Kansas. I had the windows rolled down at least part of the time, enjoying the sights, the wind, and the smells (okay, some like squashed skunk can be less enjoyable) of late Spring in north-eastern Oklahoma.
My name is Don Tyler
Both the main street of Dewey, Oklahoma, and I, were named after my grandfather. Yes, my name is Don Tyler Avenue.
I have a special affection for Dewey, naturally. I also have had the perverse amused idea of being stopped for some minor traffic infraction on Don Tyler Avenue, just to see what reaction my name might cause.
On Saturday, I had a chance to find out what impression my name made on Dewey police. (None.)
The ordinary traffic stop
As I entered Dewey, I carefully decelerated with the rest of the traffic. Forty-five MPH. Thirty-five MPH. To my left, 'way across the highway, I see a Dewey police car, waiting to turn South onto the highway with us.
As the officer joins traffic, everything was moving smoothly and legally, and I thought to myself, isn't this a nice thing. Everybody's doing the speed limit, driving safely, and there's nothing for the officer to do. As it really ought to be.
Very shortly after this comforting reflection crossed my mind, there were squad lights in my mirror. At the first available turnoff, a car wash, I pulled in. Dusk was coming on and I had just turned on my lights with the officer behind me, so since nothing else was going on, I presumed he must have stopped me for something like a burned-out taillight.
Close. An expired license tag. Very expired. More than the one-month "grace" period usually granted, the officer explained to me. I told him it wasn't lack of money, just ignorance and incompetence at getting our bills paid on time. No excuses, as he reminded me. He was supposed to give me a ticket, but said he would let me off with a warning.
So I went back and sat in the car, with the driver's-side door open, sipping my beverage and listening to the ball game on the radio, waiting for him to write out the warning.
Suddenly the world goes surreal
Officer Green approached me with the warning for me to sign, and as I reached out to sign it, he drew back, with a look of particular disgust on his face.
"WHAT'S THAT SMELL??" scowled Officer Green, a look of repugnance on his face. I'm not sure what I looked like, but I know I was surprised, as I hadn't any idea what he meant. Then he ordered me out of my car.
Now, I'm not a TV watcher for many years now, and never was a fan of serious cop shows or real-crime shows. I have gathered however that things have changed over the thirty years in the way police and communities interact. I don't think of myself as guilty, or know how to act in today's "dangerous" society, and also I suppose I'm a little slow on the uptake, which is why Officer Green had a little problem with me understanding how to obey his orders.
He ordered me to stand back, and took a cursory look in my car. Now, I can't remember the sequence, but I know he did these things. He looked in the car. He had me put my hands on the car and frisked me. He told me something to the effect of, "In a minute, I'm going to tear this car apart, so why don't you just save me the time and tell me where it is." I gathered at some point that he was talking about marijuana.
In frisking me up and down, he took my billfold out of my pocket, checking under the brim of my hat, inside my socks and shoes (ick!). I have to admit there were not one but a couple of moments where I presumed he was done frisking me, and I started to stand up and he had to bark at me to put my hands back on the car. Call me dumb, but I just don't have any experience with all these serious criminal-mentality procedures.
Likewise, when he was first looking in my car, he had to tell me not just once but a couple of times to stand back. Like a dumbass, I'm thinking I can be more helpful, and heard better, a little closer to the door. The second time, when he barks, "take two steps back," it finally sinks in. I stand at Rest. (Never was in the military, but Dad taught me a few things.)
Another Dewey officer drove up. I'm sorry to say in all the excitement I've forgotten his name; I'm pretty sure it began with a C. Officer Green had him watch me, and frisk me again. Again, my hands on the car, my hatband, my shoes, my socks, my pants pockets turned inside out, that was different. Officer C. was more rookie than Officer Green, I gathered, or in any case was much less excited and stern with me. When Officer C. asked me to put my hands on his car, I'm by now a little paranoid of maybe not doing it right for him. Maybe I'm supposed to spread my feet apart, or I don't know what. I told him, just tell me what I'm supposed to do, I'm not familiar with all this. He was very nice, saying, just put your hands on the car.
After that Officer C. and I stood there and talked while Officer Green searched my car. A couple of times Officer Green would come out and say something accusatory. He asked, at least twice, "Did you eat it or throw it out?" At another point, when he was searching the passenger side of my car with the back door open, he said something to the effect of, now he couldn't smell it any more which he said meant I must therefore have just been smoking!
Officer C. and I had a nice talk, I thought, despite my nervousness. A fresh-faced young blond officer, seemed to me, uncorrupted.
I had been about to hand Officer Green a couple of flyers for us75.com/ when his nose went off, and I had left the flyers on the dashboard. One had blown out of the car. I was starting to talk with Officer C. about our place, us75.com/, and at one point started to head off to pick up the flyer on the ground, before I realized I had to ask permission to move. Officer C. not only said okay, but went with me and thoughtfully moved the other flyer that was about to blow out. I took that and handed both of them to him, pointing out our Acoustic Stage shows especially.
I talked with Officer C. slightly about their job, you guys do this a lot, that kind of thing. I told him, a bit sheepishly, that when Officer Green exclaimed, "What's that SMELL?" my first thought was, had I farted? You know, no one to offend but the angels, so to speak, a man traveling alone can fart proudly like Ben Franklin suggested. I had been having some digestive rumblings lately!
I lamented to Officer C., I was just going up to buy my lottery tickets, and this is what I won! I asked him what time it was, about 8:20pm, and told him I was concerned I might not be back in time for the show.
I talked with him about how I remembered once back when our daughter Majic had been a wild teenager, she took some kids home and afterward I found a foot-long steel pipe (of the smoking variety) in our car. Although I didn't tell Officer C. this, another time I found a tiny bag of pot seeds (very clean, I noted, nothing to smoke, just seeds.) Our car is still used a lot for carting youngsters home or giving them rides. There's no telling what some kid dropped in our car. I told Officer C., what if Officer Green did find something? I'd be in deep shit! Getting back in time for the show might become the least of my problems.
Our car is used for everything, and being a country family vehicle over a decade old, we really don't clean or vacuum it very well or very frequently. This is not one of your Bartlesville upscale BMWs, it's a Chevy suburban from the years after lead paint was prohibited but before they found out how to make the new paints stick to the car, so it's old, gray, peeling, battered, and dirty. As I watched Officer Green looking through the overhead map compartment, the glove box, under the seats, under the dash, and finally in the back seat, I began to think about what he was encountering, and I felt sorry for him. I knew there was a load of crap in the back of the car. Baskets and bags and litter galore. For example, when I got back to the car, I discovered there was a big bag of my son Mike's dirty laundry. (Talk about "what's that smell"!!)
Finally, Officer Green seemed to be finished with his inspection of my car. He walked up to us, and held his hand up, thumb and forefinger pinched together, claiming to have found "a burned marijuana seed," announced it seemed to me with a combination of triumph and frustration. I frankly couldn't see anything at all in his fingers. He told me there were a couple more "in between the seats." All I could do is shrug and, so I presume, look as dumb as I was.
He told me now, I was going to get a ticket! Still a dummy, I thought he meant that a ticket was the fine for having a marijuana seed. I have no idea. He appeared frustrated in his efforts to find any evidence more satisfactory than whatever particle he plucked from between our seats. While he was writing up my ticket. I got the flashlight out of my ever-nearby backpack, and inspected between the front seats. I couldn't believe the awful litter of pebbles, leaves, food crumbs , animal hair and general gunk that he must have seen! I sure couldn't see anything as innocuous as individual burned seeds, myself!
As it turned out, what he was writing me a ticket for was the expired license tag! Plainly frustrated, acting as if he was sure he almost "had me" except I had outsmarted him somehow, save for the alleged burned particle of something or other that he found, Officer Green decided to take it out on me, as I see it, by writing me the tag ticket instead of the warning.
Officer Green told me, when he smells pot, ninety percent of the time he finds it. Again, all I could do was shrug. I was, obviously, relieved that I was going to be able to go on with my life without being any further embroiled in the war on users of some government-disapproved substances. Again, being a bit innocently dumb, I started to talk to Officer Green about our place, about some of the wild things kids will sometimes do that we have to handle. Talking about smells, I started to tell him the one about the kid who hid out by the dumpster behind our building to smoke a joint, but the back door was open and the wind was out of that direction, and suddenly our whole place stank of pot! But suddenly I thought, Officer Green was just convinced that I was pulling something on him, still thinks I'm guilty and just got away with it, and to him I'm basically the enemy. As he said of catching pot-smokers, "This is my passion!" O-kay. I decided to just stop in mid-story, probably seeming like a dumbass... or stoned... and shook his hand and said good-bye.
Thinking about it afterward…
I of course can't possibly know what, if anything, Officer Green smelled, fart, dirty laundry, a nearby sewer, or actual pot blowing out of a passing car. I likewise can't possibly know what if anything he found in the car.
I really doubted he had found a burned marijuana seed. It did occur to me, after he held up his seemingly empty pinched-together fingers, that he was attempting to appear threatening, as you might say, "put the fear of God" into someone he presumed guilty. Authority types do that. I probably had to at a few points with my kids.
When I told my experience to friends later that night, someone suggested I had been typed, or as they say now, profiled. Such a thing didn't occur to me until then. In the profiling scenario, Officer Green saw the old fellow with the long gray hair driving by, pulled up behind me looking for a pretext to pull me over, which of course there was a very real one, made up this story about smelling something, and proceded to do what he'd intended to do from the moment he saw me going down the highway.
Now I'm not saying that's the case with Officer Green. I don't know. Cops do that, it's sure. We all know shady cops plant evidence when they think a person's guilty enough. There are also cops who are straight-arrow guys who believe in what they're doing and play by the rules. I have no reason to think Officer Green is anything but the latter, but you never know. His behavior certainly would just as easily fit the curve of the profiling rogue, and his remark that this is not just his duty but his "passion" could likewise be seen in that regard. Another friend remarked that I was lucky I wasn't arrested. I have no real reason to think that Officer Green was lying about what he thought he found, I can imagine that a seed very well might have ended up in the car over the years. I do presume that Officer Green was smart enough that if he had wanted to plant evidence in my car, he would have planted something more substantial than the alleged burned seed. Then again, the whole thing of being frustrated in his ardent search, claiming to have found some tiny evidence, giving me a ticket ($87!!) instead of the warning for the tag, I must admit it all certainly could fit the modus operandi of a hassling, profiling cop out of control.
I've recently had my son Mike get sucked into our so-called justice system, dragged through jails and courts and ultimately copping a tiny plea for something he never did, just to avoid the dragged-out expense and dice-toss of a jury trial, the only other option. I saw how the system is designed to keep the lawyers paid and the courts going, but not to dispense any kind of real justice, certainly not to the actually innocent. I also saw police claims on reports of Mike's alleged crime were mysteriously changed. So things simply aren't always on the up-and-up. Getting involved with the legal system at all is a horrible nightmare with no justice in any of it. Considering especially the drug-frenzied mentality today, I suppose I should count myself very lucky that I didn't meet a cop who was any worse, or I might be going through the injustice system for more than a car tag fine.
But it still seems that, if an officer stops you, accuses you of something, searches you, diligently searches your car, finds nothing, there should be some apology for the inconvenience and error. I suppose you could say that his seeming surety that he had found something illegal in that microscopic tidbit of supposed carbonated vegetation precluded an apology, but I doubt I would have received one in any case.
I talked with some Dewey citizens about my encounter, and they asked me the officer's name. When I told them, I heard a round of groans of recognition; he was known to them by his reputation, and it wasn't a good one.
Frequently, I read about a drug bust that begins with an alleged ordinary traffic stop. Minor things like an expired license tag, or alleged weaving in traffic. When you read about it, it's because they found something. But how many times does it happen that people are shaken down, and up, by these arrogant and invasive "drug warriors," but they find nothing, and so it doesn't make the news? For the profiling and shake-downs to work, they have to stop many times the number of people they bust; I even doubt Officer Green's "90%" claim is anywhere near that high. I never read about such cases of random traffic infractions leading to busts without thinking that the cops involved are likewise following their "passion," and looking for excuses to bust folks, that they are more likely to stop certain types for these minor infractions than stop others who don't fit the profile. Whenever I read about such busts now, I say, cynically, "yeah, sure!"
Like all aspects of Prohibitionism, such invasion of privacy, wanton hassling of random citizens by cops, is one more deterioration of freedom in the name of obscene social control of private behavior. The corruption of the forces of law to enforcement of taboos instead of tackling true transgressions leads to a horrible distancing between the citizenry and the law.
Whenever I'm going through Dewey, now, I'm on the watch for Officer Green. I wonder if I'll have to go through it all again. He (or any other cop) can pull me over on any trumped-up infraction, or none at all, and interrupt my life based on some goofy or imagined evidence. Before it was just something I read about, but now that it is my experience, I realize more than ever that any cop at any time can shake down anyone, and bust them for anything. We put a lot of power in our police, and with that power goes enormous trust. I'd still like to think that most of them are decent people, doing their job. Most of the police encounters I've had in my life have been positive. I respect that theirs is a hard and dangerous job, but it's a job made harder and more dangerous, as well as much dirtier, by Prohibition. It's not the fault of the police that our society has these insane regulations, but the kind of people who like to become passionate taboo police are not the kind of people who you want, but they're the kind of law enforcement a prohibitionist society gets.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition at leap.cc
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