2013, Oni's Life

Had to tell my boss I was late because I was detained by the police in New York City

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.

Thanks to Mark Frauenfelder and Cory Doctorow’s posting about never engaging with the authorities unless you legally have to do so (here and here), I simply replied “Am I being arrested?”

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?”

It wasn't that dramatic.

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:

27 Comments on “Had to tell my boss I was late because I was detained by the police in New York City

    1. I am going to check that out. I, and no one, can afford to ignore this any more.

      I used to say that my job as an artist was to make people happy – not to be political. Now I am thinking this over.

    2. It’s a sign of how ridiculous politics have become in this country that someone is accusing the super-liberal mayor-elect of being a fascist. The mayor-elect who *specifically ran* on his opposition to stop-and-frisk and other things like these random searches.

        1. There is no such thing as Socialism in the United States in 2013, and it is unlikely there will be anything like it in the foreseeable future. Social welfare programs, health care programs, minimum wage laws, *taxes* and all those other things you guys keep calling socialism are *nothing* to do with socialism. When the government says they are going to nationalize the oil and coal companies, then we’ll talk.

        2. When that happens, it will be too late to talk, won’t it. Progressivism is, after all…well…*progressive*.

          Look, I know how much lefties like to argue about how *their* form of collectivism is so different from all those other forms of collectivism, and how ignorant you must be for flouting the definitions. Call it what you like, but “Faith, as you say, there’s small choice in rotten apples.”

          Let’s see how much happier everybody is after the new guy is in for a term or two (because that approach worked so well at the Federal level since 2008) Y’all can tell me about it remotely, because I go to New York only if I absolutely have to; it’s been a lost cause for years. Just like New Jersey.

        3. I’ll have to weigh in here… we may decry the TERM “Socalism” as being a more vile insult than “Liberal”… but in terms of gonvermantal function, there is a fair amount of Socialism in a functional society, especially those things that would be horribly wasteful, or brutally oppressive under a free market system.

          We have a socialized Military. Socialized Public Schools. Somewhat socialized Medicine. Socialized – (ta da)- Law Enforcement and First Responders. A socialized Highway infrastructure. Most Mass transit is generally more or less socialized. And quite rightly these are among the things which should fall under the umbrella of a functional government.

          Not that we HAVE one, but that’s the idea anyway…

        4. I had some thoughts about “Living for the City” on KOS..

          “For years and years, when people referred to “The City”, they were taking about Manhattan Island. Apparently the real New York City. The outer boroughs are where worker bees and poor people lived. The Manhattan centric focus has only deepened over the years, with ever more goods, services, and attention sucking inward to “The City” like a quantum singularly of wealth, prestige, culture and privilege, letting the boroughs languish for city services and funds. Industry and business also followed this trend, leaving the outer boroughs to scramble, as stepchildren of The City. Mayor Bloomberg’s corporate leanings only makes him the perfect figurehead for the trend.”


  1. Ugh. That’s just… ugh. Are they supposed to be doing that, or is this just a bunch of over-empowered police deciding that they should dominate other people?

    I hate to say it but my experience with law enforcement has been mostly negative. The nicest real police officers I ever dealt with were the Rutgers Police, who are REAL police officers. New Brunswick cops were total dicks. And I know a lot of cops I’ve met who really seem like they got into law enforcement just so they could be dicks to people.

    1. I actually used to train with the police in Pittsburgh and haven’t had any issues before now. Usually they are opening doors for me or being nice. I guess not everyone!

    2. I an fifty-four years old and in my experience, law enforcement comes in every flavor from Peace Officers to Pigs and every flavor in between. But I am becoming increasingly disturbed at the increasing militarization of law enforcement as an extension of the “Security State.”

  2. I understand your impulse to respond by walking to work and avoiding the issue. But please consider getting involved in, or at least getting more info about, the fight against stop & frisk and other egregious NYPD policies. This is happening to many people. Thanks. Rob

  3. Those “stations” have been at Penn Station for twelve years now, but you (like most people) paid them no attention as they were just for “criminals.” Now that you were the one stopped, it touched your life, you not only took interest but are sufficiently outraged to write this post.

    And you learned how to deal with the police from Boing Boing? Well, better than TMZ, I guess, but not much.

    It’s unfortunate that these “stations” exist at all. It’s unfortunate that anyone is hassled for a random check. It’s unfortunate that you were delayed. It’s unfortunate that you didn’t care until it touched you.

    And that’s why so many things that should be, such as these “stations,” exist while people breeze in and out of Penn Station oblivious to them. After all, as long as it only affect the “criminals,” why waste your time and attention?

    1. Haha! I think the main reason I didn’t notice the stations that much is because I am brand new to NYC and only been here for a couple of months. But yeah, more people should pay attention to them.

  4. I’m a white girl. I keep count of how many times I go past those tables and don’t get stopped, while POC behind me do. It makes me crazy. These searches are stupid. They do NOTHING. It is a waste of police resources.

    This post demonstrates that to the nth degree. Just WRONG.

    FWIW, you have a right not to be searched. You won’t be able to get on the subway if you decline, but you have a full right to decline the search and go out the way you came.

  5. This has been happening since July 15, 2007. Any time you step onto MTA property you are consenting to be searched. The reality is that NYPD is not known for being courteous and you were treated very well considering they probably didn’t suspect you of anything.

    I’m saying you should’ve enjoyed it but your experience was pretty innocuous compared to other innocent people’s experience. Everything they did, based on your description, they’re allowed to do and they will continue to do.

    Repeal the PATRIOT Act an maybe you’ll see a change.

  6. Hello, Amerika.

    And yes, it IS leaning that way. I was stopped and detained on the street – even before 9/11 – apparently for no other reason than that I was of mixed color, and was carrying my drum & chorus gear. (He MUST have stolen it)

    There is a reason that the judge who issued the injunction against “Stop and Frisk” was overturned and REMOVED from the case. The rule of the Security State is not to be questioned. The brutal subjugation of the Occupy Movement is not to be Questiones. The right and need of the NSA to evesdrop of EVERTHING is not to be questioned.


  7. My favorite resources for learning what to do when you are stopped by the police are:

    https://www.aclu.org (and I recommend people look at the national website and their local state aclu office. Since this happened in NYC, you should visit http://www.nyclu.org/publications/palm-card-what-do-if-youre-stopped-police-english-and-spanish)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc (It’s over 48 minutes long)


    and http://www.nlg-npap.org/

    I also suggest that people get involved in their communities and with an organization such as ACLU or NLG.

    No, I am not an attorney, I just volunteer with civil rights groups a lot.

  8. Those arguing that a “functioning government must be socialized” are reminded that “malfunction” and “dysfunction” are nonetheless functions.

    The Constitution placed strict limits on federal power; defense is “socialized” as is foreign policy and interstate commerce.

    Jefferson intended that the limits be very strict, but our first central banker Hamilton argued for a fatally abusive interpretation of the Taxing and Spending Clause to justify the Feds doing anything they want that could arguably fall under “the general welfare”. Jefferson’s insistence that “general” meant “for all equally” or “common” rather than the sense of “general” in “general store” (And thus we have, post-FDR, executive departments of agriculture, energy, education, HHS, etc, etc, etc. ad nauseam)

    All this would apply to TSA only as a Federal agency in air travel (and now we hear in rail and road transport as well), but here in the NYC subway the overreach is in the state’s (small S) police power.

    Our only refuge is in a court’s Fourth Amendment interpretation of what an “unreasonable” search might be.

    1. “malfunction” and “dysfunction” are nonetheless functions.

      NO KIDDIN’.

      Was just making the point that socialism – in and of itself – is not this overwhelming pure evil. The rub is always finding the appropriate balance in these things. But any notion of “balance” much less appropriateness seems to not be a consideration in the current political environment.

  9. GEosrge Bush started The Patrot Act, that’s when losing our rights really accelerated. I am sorry this happened to you but I really hope you didn’t vote for obama because he re-newed The Patraiot Act.

    If we the people do not stand up for our rights, we will go way of a Police State all the way.

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