On Friday I was on my way to work as usual. I work during the day as a Project Manager at a prestigious ad agency in New York City. My train gets off at New York Penn Station at which point I have to walk through the station to catch the 1, 2, or 3 Subway to 42nd Street.
I was descending the LIRR escalator to get to the subway when I noticed from about 50-100 feet away a police officer staring right at me. Thinking it was “just me” I brushed it off. When he approached me and asked me to come with him, my stomach turned. I was so freaked out that I have no memory of leaving the escalator and getting to the Subway gate with him.
I have no police record and I am actually pretty boring. I tried to figure out what might have made them single me out of the sea of people. Unless the profile for a terrorist is a girl with some fierce blush and bronzer, a blue Michael Kors coat, an iPhone, and Converse-inspired Ugg trainers – I have no idea.
But there I was, standing at the police barricade. One police officer to my left with his hand on his gun asking me questions. One in front of my holding my bag ransom. They started asking me questions about where I was going which was posed as non-threatening small talk. How it can actually be non-threatening when the guy asking the questions has his hand on a holstered gun is beyond me.
Where am I going? “Am I being arrested?”
What do I have in my bag? “I’m sorry, I don’ t understand – am I being arrested?”
What is my name? “Am I being arrested, Officer?”
They now have stations set up in NY Penn where they can detain people at random. It wasn’t until today that I really paid them any mind. Here all this time I was assuming they used them to screen criminals who were doing really shifty stuff. Apparently they are now assuming that all American citizens are criminals.
They must not be able to legally go through your stuff or they got spooked by me answering them with “Am I being arrested?”. They stopped short of opening my bag and just held onto it for an uncomfortable few minutes. They then wiped it down. I found out later that this is to look for bomb residue.
One police officer stood to my left with his hand on his holstered gun, the other stared at me while holding my bag. Eventually they gave me my bag back and released me.
I felt so many different emotions while this happened. I felt like I felt when someone broke into my car and stole my GPS. I felt invaded, threatened, and demeaned. I was also angry that I was basically being accused of being a possible terrorist, but careful to not let that show.
To make matters worse, I was now late for work and a little stunned because of this.I came face to face that we no longer have rights to not be disturbed by the police even if we are doing absolutely nothing wrong. If the police want to take my bag, they can just do that.
When I got to work I had no choice but to explain why I was late for a critical meeting. In this case the truth was the only thing good enough to excuse that. It’s pretty damn embarrassing to tell you boss that you were late because of being detained by the police. What is even more striking to me is that everyone who heard about what happened seemed to just take this as “how it is” with absolutely no question.
When I review Haunted Attractions, I want to get scared and messed with. In real life I don’t. It’s the last thing I would expect to happen to someone like me. I have been a long time supporter of the EFF for internet freedom, but today I learned that I should be paying even more attention to my country’s politics that affect my very right to a free existence, too.
Much like when I was little and would take an alternate route to avoid the school bully, I am considering just walking to work instead of taking the subway from Penn Station. I just don’t want to deal with this again. It’s not only the inconvenience, it’s the humiliation of it all.
Harknell suggested that I make some art based on how this made me feel since I am an artist. Here:
Oni Hartstein is an New Jersey-based entrepreneur that is obsessed with Marketing, Music, and Technology. Please direct all business inquiries or technology review requests to the "Contact" tab on the top nav bar.
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