The outcome became clear to me when I heard the sound of a heavy steel door close behind me and lock into position. I heard the sound of drunken inmates as they howled in their small holding cells. Further down the line, I heard the crying sobs of a young man whose only temporary comfort was his separation from the other criminals in the Town of Hempstead’s Holding Facility.
It was as clear to me as the cell block wall. I did this—there was no one else I could successfully blame other than me. There was no one else I could blame for the red marks around my wrists from the pair of intentionally overtightened handcuffs.
“Fuckin cops,” I thought to myself.
In my mind, I could have accused the arresting officers of harassment. I could have charged them with police brutality—but in truth—I brought this punishment on myself.
The pain in my forehead was from its introduction to the hood of my car as my hands were pulled behind my back, and two officers restrained, and placed handcuffs on me in the upper level of a mezzanine parking lot at a law office on Merrick Avenue. I tried to speak my way out of this, but as I went to pull my hands back around and put them against the car to lift myself, I was quickly brought back to the same submissive position; I was face down and my hands were pulled behind my back.
“But officer,” I tried to plead. “I didn’t do anything.”
“I’m innocent,” I said to the pair of policemen as they handled me into custody.
“I’m sure you are,” said one of the officers as he linked the cold steel handcuffs around my wrists.
“But I didn’t do anything.”
The officer replied, “Of course you didn’t. I’m sure those lumps on that guy’s head are because he took a bat and decided to hit himself with it.”
I claimed, “It was self-defense,”
“It always is,” said the officer leaning into my back.
I knew they had me. I knew I was wrong and I knew there was no way I could talk myself out of this . . . but I had to try. Except, the more I spoke or tried to turn around, the more I felt the painful force of the arresting officers.
I claimed, “It was his baseball bat.”
And it was . . .
“So you just took the bat away from him?” laughed the policeman standing at my left side.
“He was going to swing at my friend with it?”
“Right,” teased the officer. “And I suppose he just let you take it away from him.”
“But he did!”
I could have left the scene before any of this happened. I could have walked away before a strange man, who I antagonized after his brief threat during a traffic altercation, pulled into the parking lot of the West-Law Building, leapt from his car, and began to swing and threaten us with a silvery, aluminum bat with a black, rubbery grip at the bottom.
When my friend (or co-defendant as the report showed) stepped from the car to reach out to one of the several witnesses who saw the commotion, I noticed the strange man head towards him.
When I saw him lift the bat, I simply stepped behind and quickly removed it from the strange man’s grip. This, of course, was not what the strange man expected. He was not large in size. He was somewhat thin and not terribly strong. His hair was curly; his face was slightly bony with a hooked nose and a wiseass grin that could outrage anyone.
Thinking fast, he turned to jump at me before I thought deeply enough to swing the bat at him. However, as the strange man jumped on top of me and pinned me back against a car—my friend returned the loyalty.
As I held onto a close guard to keep from being hit or have the bat taken away from me, my friend landed punches to the side of the strange man’s body. I was blank for the moment. I stalled because I was not sure what to do next. Then my friend screamed and woke me up from unsure daze.
“What the hell are you waiting for? Hit him with the fuckin bat!”
At that point, I could not land a full swing because the strange man was lying on my chest. Instead of a traditional swing, I extended my arms over my head, and with both hands, I brought the aluminum bat straight down as hard as I could to clang against the top of the stranger’s head.
With each strike, I heard the sound of the aluminum echo against the top of his skull. Each shot was not a deadly one—but they were good enough to leave large, golfball sized lumps at the top of stranger’s forehead.
Yes, it is true this man started the argument. Yes, it is true that he threatened us earlier. But it is also true that we followed him up the ramp into the parking lot. We followed him to teach him a lesson. Only it was us that were punished.
Yes, it is true the man went to swing a bat—however—there were so many times I could have simply walked away—but I never did.
Yes there were witnesses to the event; however, those witnesses were the man’s co-workers . . . so the reports were more than slightly towards his benefit. As it turns out, the man was not pulling over to fight us. He was simply coming back from lunch and returning to work . . .
While waiting for the overnight stay to end, I was separated from my codefendant. I could hear him in the cage nearby, but the guards on duty were specifically instructed to keep us separated.
As the slow-moving hours went by, I sat on a hard wooden bench with my back against the concrete wall. The cell was very dim and it depended upon the corridor for any source of true brightness. There was an overbearing smell coming from the strip of jail cells. It was a mixture of uncleaned bodies and sanitary cleaning products.
Most of the men in the holding cells smelled from alcoholic breath. Others had an odor burning from their armpits—and since the guards removed our shoes so nobody would string shoelaces around their throats and commit suicide before facing the judge, there was also an overpowering smell of men’s feet.
Every so often, a guard would pass with a new inmate. The inmate’s head would usually cock back. His chin pointed upward in defiance; his face was stern in an attempt to show no fear or concern, and the footsteps of the escorting guard echoed behind him throughout the hallway.
After they reached the holding cell, the footsteps paused. I could hear the sound of keys jingling. I could hear the sound of the key entering the cylinder, turning the lock, and then I heard the sound of a steel-barred door as it rolled open.
The guard ordered and placed the inmate inside the cell, removed the handcuffs, and lastly, I could hear the sound of the barred doors rolling back into its shut position.
The sound of the door banging into place and the sound of the guard returning his keys to the side of his belt was unmistakably telling . . . saying, “This is it, kid. Now get ready and hold on for the ride.”
After the cell door was shut, the sound of echoing footsteps resumed, and I watched the guard on duty pass by with a straight face.
Eventually, the cells began to crowd and inevitably, everyone had their own story of why they were there. Everyone was innocent—everyone had an excuse—and nearly everyone said the same thing as me.
What I recall most before process and the time in a cell was the questions asked by an officer sitting behind a desk.
“They didn’t have to slam me on the car,” I complained.
“Did you comply with the arresting officer?”
“I was trying to explain myself, but he wouldn’t give me a chance.”
“Did you comply with the arresting officer?”
“I just wanted to tell him what happened.”
The man behind the desk exhaled with the sound to explain his frustration.
“Did you . . .” he began to say in a much slower, frustrated voice,
“Comply . . . with the arresting . . . officer?”
“But I just wanted to tell him what happened.”
“Look,” said the desk cop in a raised voice. “When he told you to get against the car, did you listen to him?”
I tried to defend my actions by saying, “I didn’t understand what was going on or why I was being arrested.”
“You hit a man in the head with a baseball bat in front of several witnesses, and you mean to tell me you didn’t understand why you were being asked to turn around and place your hands on the hood of your car?”
“You were being arrested for assault. What did you think was going to happen? What did you expect us to show up and shake your hand? It doesn’t work that way.”
“But it was self-defense.”
“Were you at any point, cornered or in a position where you could not get away from this guy?”
“He went to hit my friend with a baseball bat.”
“Look,” said the desk cop. “I know what happened. I heard your side of the story and I heard your buddy’s side—but you’re both stupid. You took something as idiotic as traffic altercation and escalated it to a felony assault charge. And now you’re gonna sit in front of me and complain about the arresting officers?”
The desk cop laughed at me.
“You hit someone with a bat and you’re wondering why we were rough with you? That’s just too funny,” laughed the officer.
“We’re not here to be your friend. We’re here to enforce the law—a law which you broke!”
I was 19 at the time of this arrest. At the time, I hated “Cops.”
I hated them because I had a reason to hate them. I hated them because I was on the other side of their line and they were in between me and the laws I tried to reach around.
I never saw their jobs as important or dangerous; I saw it as a nuisance to people like myself.
I saw traffic cops as a pain because they stopped, and pulled me over for speeding. Even though I was speeding and even though I knew I broke the law, I cursed them.
But again—I had an excuse. Then again, I always had an excuse. “Fuckin cops!”
I said, “Fuckin cops,” because I was on the other side of the law and they caught me.
And that’s why I hated them . . .
While I do agree, there are some behind the badge who abuse their power and see it as an extension of their manhood, the bottom line is if I had done as I was asked, or stepping back further, if I had driven away instead of making the decision to engage; I would have spent the rest of that afternoon at home.
However, since I chose to engage and since I chose to resist the command of an officer of the law—I spent the remainder of that evening in a small holding cell with a man whose feet smelled worse than his shit-like breath.
I say again, there was no one else who I could successfully blame but myself.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t try.