Sunday, May 04, 2008

City and Police Misconduct

As many of San Jose's residents know, Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) is a time of great celebration. As alcohol tends to be consumed in large quantities during such occasions, the city of San Jose went to great measures this year to prevent drunk driving and other bad behavior. They did this with check points throughout the downtown area. Police blocked nearly every other street near my neighborhood in order to focus drivers down certain streets and I presume make it difficult for drivers to escape these check points.

As I drove home Friday night with my girlfriend, I dropped her off at her car in the Fourth Street Garage. Normally, I would exit the garage onto Fourth Street, and make a very quick right onto San Salvador, loop around, and be home within 1 to 2 minutes. Not this Friday though.

Upon exiting this during this hectic time, I met with every single street being rigorously blocked by multiple police cars, lights blazing, and orange street cones. As many other streets were blocked, a flood of cars were pouring down Fourth Street's multiple lanes making it very difficult to change lanes, park, or do anything ad hoc. I continued driving thinking at some point they will *have* to let me turn, the won't make me enter the freeway, that would be ridiculous as I literally only have to turn around 2 blocks to get home...

Let's just say I was very happy no one was in the car to hear my screaming.

Now as I entered I-280N, I though "Alright, I'll just take Highway 87 North to Julian, then home, no big deal." Nope. Not tonight. Highway 87 North was blocked for "construction" which I presume was also just a way to further funnel the people to controlled streets. At this point though, I have little experience or knowledge of 87 South, but there was no looking back. I proceeded up a while, made an illegal U-turn or 2 I'm sure, and wound up barely finding my way back to San Fernando. There I though I could pass Fourth Street and make my way down to Market, but without fail, all traffic was being directed to make a left onto Fourth, which would make an excellent repeat to my past 35 minute round trip through foreign territory.

After hitting a stop light, I pulled over behind a police car and attempted to wipe off my frustration before I attempted talking to the officer. I must say this officer deserves credit for being humane, civil, and understanding; quite contrary to how the next day's officer would behave. He told me to simply continue down Fourth Street, then stop and tell the closest police officer to let me through. At least I should see an end to this now.

After following his instructions, I again pulled over near the closest blocked street that would get me home and beckoned an officer. At this point, I asked the officer to please let me through. He responded by requiring some form of identification that would establish my residence. To make things worse, my driver's license has my permanent address on it, not my current address.

I think this was thoroughly ridiculous as the city never contacted me about the oncoming trouble that all residents around me were about to have with getting home. Did they really think that sending people on lengthy drives and being forced onto freeways is acceptable? And to assume that we must prove residence to be able to get home is also totally outrageous. What if my mother was trying to visit me? Is she somehow suppose to prove that her son lives here?

The City of San Jose was very irresponsible for allowing such activities to take place, especially

At least I made it home that night.


This part of the story is the thing that really makes my blood boil. I can feel my hair standing on end even as I type it.

So tonight, I was driving home and ended up in a similar predicament: many exits and streets were blocked off making it very difficult to get home. After passing 3 exits, I ended up stopped on Taylor Street. A long train of cars waited on this exit. From my lesson from the previous night, I learned you must ask if you are to return home. Following this lesson, I pulled through some orange markers, again, up behind a police car, but was greeted with polar opposite response.

An officer briskly walked up to me and I began asking how to return home. He very harshly asked where I lived, and I responded. He told me very rough directions to which I asked he repeat, especially since I again have little experience with the area I ended up in. He looked noticeable annoyed and somehow this ended up at a point where I asked as to why the streets were in the condition they were in. Big No-No.

With this officer, ya know, the ones who are suppose to serve and protect (they have it all over their cars anyway), I was told something very close to this:

"Never ask a policeman why, I told you your directions, and you just get back in your car and go. Do you want me to write you a $300 ticket? You are in my comb (??) and I can certainly do that for you. Never ask why. NEVER."

I really have to un-wrench my teeth as I continue here.

This police officer crossed what I believe are my civil rights in so many critical ways that I am appalled he has a job. I was just a guy asking a simple, earnest question while very distressed and just trying to get home. This question caused me to be very disrespected by that officer, unduly threatened with questionable fines, and sternly slapped with the statement that we should never question authority. Ever.

It does not take a history book to remember that authority must always be questioned. Countless events in our nation's history, as well as others', demanded that people rise up and challenge the supposed authority. The irony is this weekend's celebration which lead to these events was celebrating Mexico's victory against Spain's control in the New World. The United States' fore-fathers would definitely have agreed that challenging authority and asking "Why?" is fundamental to a free and democratic society.

Having an officer of the law expect complacency in such an extreme and fear-inducing manner threatens everyones' liberty, including himself. I only wish he does not harm more free people by scaring them into the believe that government, or any authority, must have a large degree of transparency and accountability to the people they serve. The government should fear the people, not the other way around.

If you have *any* comments or related stories, *please* email me with them at gleenn at gmail dot com.

Here are various related quotes.

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.
John Adams (1735 - 1826), Journal, 1772

The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it always to be kept alive.
Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826)

I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826)

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