Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 9, 2012 3:41PM

NYPD's Authoritarian-Following Risk-Taking & Me

Rate: 18 Flag


It happened over eight or so years ago. I was working “non-traditional" shifts at a major NYC midtown law firm.

It was early one Fall Sunday night. It was a work night for me.

No matter what my intention, my departure for work usually resembled the proverbial fireman’s exit. So it was this particular night.

I had opted to wear a mid-calf denim skirt ruffled at the bottom, a crisp white tailored man’s shirt, and a rust colored vest. The dress code for weekends was generous, but I had decided it was high time to spruce myself up more than my usual jeans and a pullover. I threw on a favorite long black suit jacket. I decided I’d have to apply makeup later at the office as I stuffed a pair of gold hoop earrings in my vest pocket to be inserted while awaiting the subway.

The last thing I always did upon leaving for work was grab hold of my keys hanging from a hook next to the door and from another hook one of those clear plastic neck holders often used for passports. I kept my office ID card in it. The card not only provided access to the building but onto the half dozen floors belonging to the firm. Wearing it around my neck was most convenient at the busy office.

I bounded down the apartment stairs and rushed through the mailboxed entryway. As I emerged onto the avenue I was startled by a number of things. It was darker than I had anticipated, eerily quiet even for a Sunday night and there was a serious chill in the air. I should have grabbed a heavier jacket I mourned, but did not want to take the time to go back and get one. To avoid the cold I decided instead of walking across to the west side from the 6 train stop I would switch to the shuttle at 42nd Street.

As I was calculating my route to work and its timing I suddenly stopped to take in a rather surreal image. I gasped. The sidewalks running up and down my block on both sides of the street were generously festooned with yellow crime scene tape. What on earth?

Well, this certainly accounted for the lack of pedestrians and traffic and the “eerie” quietness.

I noted a white and blue police car parked in the street -- parked perpendicular to the direction of traffic and blocking the entry of any cars from the intersection onto my block. Then I looked north to see another police car parallel to this one at the end of that block. I wondered what on earth had happened. The yellow tape was only on my block, however.

I walked the short distance to the corner honoring the stream of yellow and waited for the light to change. Then I realized how silly I was being since there was no traffic.

The deli on the corner directly across the street was closed. This was also unusual.

Then I spotted them. A covey of maybe a dozen police officers of varying ages and, judging from their uniforms, varying ranks. They were huddled on the north side of the building.

As I began to cross the street a young officer left the group to approach me. We stopped and faced each other on the south side of the parked police car.

The young man smiled and nodded politely. Politely and expectantly.

I nodded back.

He seemed to be waiting nervously for me to talk.

“So, what’s going on?” I asked.

He exhaled and began talking furiously fast to fill me in.

“Well, we have him isolated on the second floor of the apartment in his bedroom. He is by one of the windows. He has the gun!”

The young officer paused to turn and point to the second floor directly over a laundry of a tall building that was one block south of my building, catty-corner to it -- the southwest corner.

My jaw dropped. “WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” I demanded.

The guy looked at me, his forehead furrowing. He pointed to the work badge around my neck. “WHO ARE YOU????” he demanded back.

“I live in that building there on the corner.” My turn to pivot and point.

“YOU MEAN YOU ARE A CIVILIAN???” he gasped. “A CIVILIAN!!!” He exploded with exasperation and sudden disrespect.

Before I had time to answer he threw himself at me bringing us both dramatically and roughly down on the asphalt beside the car.


“FOLLOW ME!” I heard him order as I rallied to sit up. He was crawling on all fours around the car to the other side. I followed suit though it wasn’t easy, finally hoisting up my denim skirt above my poor knees as the hard pebbly surface dug into them. My right elbow began to throb with pain from the fall.

As we huddled beside the police car on its north side he explained to me that there was an emotionally disturbed young man with a gun a block away, who was threatening to shoot himself or others. The young officer and I apparently had been talking while in the proverbial line of fire.

I was astonished. The reality of the situation inspired more awe in me than fear or anger.

We had been discussing the situation IN THE LINE OF FIRE???? What the ...???

As if reading my mind, the young man disclosed. “We thought you were .... er .... we thought you might be ... well, somebody in authority.”

Then he declared, exasperated again, “WE DIDN’T KNOW WHO YOU WERE!!!!”

The adrenaline was pumping assuredly for both of us. But he seemed to have an additional anger at me -- AT ME??? As if I had tricked him. As if I callously had set HIM up for danger.

He pointed once again at the ID around my neck as if it explained everything.

I tried to process the scenario but I kept getting distracted by my heart pounding in my ears.

Let’s see. He had thought I was someone in authority. He apparently had been sent over to find out who I actually was.

He had been wiling to stand before me politely and attentively at the mercy of my assumed AUTHORITARIAN WILL where we were both in jeopardy of being shot. Where we were both in the line of fire because he assumed that is where I deigned to stand in spite of such a perilous circumstance which he had assumed I at least knew the gist of.

As we sat there uncomfortably on the pavement propped up against the police car doors, he asked me where I had been trying to go. I said, “Just to the subway stop. I’m on my way to work.” The stop was a block north.

He pointed to the west side of the street and told me to run across to the corner and then hug the walls of the buildings as I made my way to it. I nodded and watched him race back to the police officers still clustered on the southwest corner.

The bizarre dream I inadvertently had strolled into was coming to an end.  For me at least.

I pressed against the police car to get back on my feet, staying hunched over. I then obediently ran to the northwest corner of the intersection and hustled down the sidewalk to the subway station. When I got downstairs I located a pay phone and called my workplace to tell them I would be late.

“But I have a quite a story to explain why,” I promised my supervisor.

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libbyliberal, nypd, crime scene

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amusing story about life in the big city. your copper is a bit green, at least. but no biggy, unless he managed to tear clothing or flesh. then, being in new york, you initiate legal proceedings, naturally.
The key word here, Libby, is "young." Most young cops I've known have been so in awe of their new job and authority they seem ever on the verge of being willing to arrest themselves if need be. The older cops probly sent him over to you to get him away from them. Whew, I was afraid this might end differently. I hope the incident itself ended without harm to anybody. Nicely told, as always.
Now, that is what an EP looks like; excellent piece, Libby. R
Nice one. I lived in East Harlem for 2 years in the 1970s, and I honestly don't recall seeing any cops. I called them shortly after moving into my apartment because a man was beating up someone in the alley below me with a pipe. We always had a lot of muggings when it was pay day at Mt Sinai Hospital. Word would go up and down 5th Avenue that someone was on the street with a gun. People would stay indoors a few hours or take a different route, but we never saw any cops.
By the way, NYPD never came out to help the guy who was getting beaten up.
Congrats on the EP, Libby! I can hear your heart beating through the Computer. R
Yikes. Great story, Libby. Thanks for the peek into big city living.
Quite the encounter, libby. Funny how a simple talisman like a badge hanging around the neck can convey "authority." Congrats on a well-deserved EP.
Black suit jackets and lanyards will get you into trouble every time. Glad it all turned out okay.
Now that was a cool story. If nothing else, you've now learned how to intimidate young policemen.
Not what most people would want to hear; sounds like junior could use some more training not to mention the fact that they go about this whole crime thing all wrong.
Libby, at first many, many gongratulations on the EΡ!! Αt second, I have always thought that civilians are always under a silent ''war'' by authorities, and it is an issue of luck for ones not having issues. And when living safe and sound is an issue of luck... I think that mistakes can occur to all...but sometimes when surreality violates reality...what can I say..Glad you were all right. A civilian, what a sacred word~!!!!
toritto! Thanks for being the first to read this anecdote that I had been meaning to write up for years it had been so I think revealing and jarring about the power of authority over human beings in whatever scenario -- to scrap their own common sense and values to "follow orders" or to risk their welfare and/or that of others while "awaiting" orders. It is ironic, at the lawfirms where I have worked as a word-processing operator I am low on the proverbial food chain and it made me laugh that the card around my neck mistakenly could resonate such power!

al, thanks for commenting. yes, it certainly seemed the bevy of cops sent out the youngest to RISK the line of fire and to scope out who the hell I was. From "headquarters" or maybe they thought I was a reporter or someone with a serious ID. I suppose wandering the city on a Sunday night, you don't see many work ID cards. I forget it's there. Actually, his flinging me indelicately to the ground was welcome, rather than standing vertically ready to play lightning rod for a potential sniper, though the word "civilian" he hissed at me certainly showed an attitude!

chicken maaan, you make me laugh. "they seem ever on the verge of being willing to arrest themselves if need be." Well put. They ran the movie "The Devil Wears Prada" last week was it on tv and I think of that now, how Anne Hathaway's character is so stunned at the dictatorial sadism and off the charts narcissistic entitlement of the Streep character. How she terrorizes the ENTIRE workplace. I have run into such types during my work history (one man gave everyone who was in contact with him migraines and/or ulcers continually) as have many of us no doubt and being at the mercy of people who ask the inappropriate, the impossible, the demeaning stuns, especially if we are young and ambushed by it and so earnestly trying to do our best and have a frame of reference of justice and human decency. We try to do our best, but to the sadist and the narcissist they just escalate the demands. It is crazymaking. I also think of that awesome books like Catch 22 or Slaughterhouse 5 about the insanity among those running things and what surreal and buffoonish chaos and tragedy it can wreak. I don't know if my young officer was under such stress from one superior or just acting the way he thought the system expected him to. I think my age gave me the edge along with the badge, though I was impressed being a woman I was granted such sudden authority even with the badge. My age, it not being my mother's generation of women, and that supposed credential around my neck!

best, libby
Thoth, thanks for the comment and yeah, what a nice treat to get an EP! This piece of writing was galloping through the 40 pages fast due to the spam and I was hoping it would get more hits because it was a personal, anecdotal piece and one that is cathartic to write and to share with others. The kind of journalling that fulfills that kind of a Jack Benny or Johnny Carson (both of them now for those old enough) look out at the audience asking, "Do you believe what just happened here??" :-)

best, libby
Stuart, East Harlem in the 70's huh? Wow. Not seeing ANY cops at all. Wow. I remember those years -- chain-snatchings in midtown were also quite frequent -- even in the "safer" neighborhoods people were skittish. i can't begin to imagine.

How surreal and horrifying to call for help and have no one come. We are raised with that trust, the "police are our friends" and police and firepeople do deserve to be honored for risking their lives fighting crime and fires respectively. But there are also abuses of power, etc., and double standards. (We especially know about cronyism and white collar criminals get a walk while, say, stop and frisk operations are surreally numerous as well as small time drug sting ops!)

And we both know of the escalating police state mindset. It seems the NYPD is using Iraqi rules (and they were grossly inappropriate) of shoot to kill escalation for someone who could be apprehended ALIVE (more and more of this is happening) and disrespect of the right to privacy and assembly.

I remember having a purse snatched or a wallet lifted on maybe three occasions over my long history in NYC and indignantly going to the police and being told to "get real". What do I seriously think they can do. What are the chances. Once months after having a pocketbook stolen from a restaurant I got my driver's license sent to me from a kind woman in Florida who had had it returned to her among parts of her stolen wallet items. She thought I had been a tourist when it was stolen. Nope, I wrote back. It was stolen in NYC.

A lot of that hopelessness for restitution in those cases was not the cops fault given the size of the NYC population. Still one has outrage. Lili Tomlin once said, "New York is always knowing where your pocketbook is." Fortunately I was not physically roughed up in the process on those occasions. What a horrifying dimension that is.

One of the most horrifying behaviors of a group of police (aside from Republican Convention or OWS gestapo tactics, etc.) was during the Puerto Rican parade one year when the cops were in negotiations with management and were exercising some kind of "slow down" and a kind of "wilding" thing was going on in Central Park on the East Side as the parade was happening whereby women were being sexually molested as they attended the parade or were walking in that area of the park. L&O did a show on it. Many of the men were drunk or high or just swept into this hyper and ugly macho gang-molestation mode.

There are always a lot of cops on duty for parades. OT time. And as women and men ran over to alert the groups of cops at the edges of the Park to the horror going on, to the additional horror of these witnesses and/or escaping victims the cops shrugged it off and did not tend to what was happening. Let the women be mauled by these crazed groups, endure the cruel gauntlets. WTF????

I mean, you are making a statement for your job that you are angry, but there are women in broad daylight being sexually attacked?????? AND YOU DO NOTHING???? What a nightmare and it broke my trust to a great degree. Once again, you would think doing the "right" thing would break through the crony decision of the group to be inactive to make a statement for their working conditions.

I had to work that particular day and had been walking on 5th Avenue and caught some of the parade on my way to work in that same area near the park where the attacks later took place, things were already getting uncomfortably rowdy I noted and it was very hot and there was a lot of drinking, and I apparently had missed that horror by maybe an hour or two. I easily could have been there.

best, libby
Marilyn, thanks for visit and comment! Yes, the adventure happened so fast, but my body indeed had sirens going off inside re self-protection -- trying to deal with the immediate danger I had not even known I was in. I tried to find out later what had gone down. Some neighbors in my building I told about it said that it was resolved with no violence. The young man had surrendered.

Zanelle, thanks! I hope I am not making this seem like a daily occurrence in NYC, such danger. hah! it is not. This was eight years ago. But I always meant to write it up it had been so memorable!

Erica, how WONDERFUL TO SEE YOU BACK!! Thanks for commenting and supporting. You know a short while ago someone gave me a card that says "Tax The &%#@*!^ Rich" and I tucked it into the clear area next to the badge on that neck holder thingy. I of course forget it is there, and now every once in a while on the subway someone with a hard face suddenly breaks into a smile and nods at me and I am completely confused as I nod back (you of course know how unusual that is, people breaking out of the subway "dog face" for no apparent reason). Then I remember my little political comment also now hanging from my neck. Hah!

Take care, my friend!

best, libby
jlsathre, nice to see you!! Yes, I think it was the combo of the ID and the blue and black with man's white shirt get up I was wearing that day, also. Cop colors? Also, that I apparently appeared out of nowhere to these guys and was in the middle of the "frozen" zone. An apparition suddenly strolling across it in defiance of yellow crime scene tape.

kosher, thanks for commenting! yes, talk about easy intimidation, though thankfully short-lived for both the guy and me. You know reading what you just wrote makes me think of those Milgram experiments was it, whereby strangers with white coats and the doctor mystique asked other strangers to violently (they thought) shock fellow strangers because they were told to. It was amazing, 6 out of 10 people were intimidated enough by the authoritarian white-coated person issuing the inappropriate and inhumane order to inflict pain on an innocent stranger. Such is the power of authority!!! Psychopaths and sociopaths resort to and feel such inappropriate entitlement to get away with so much!!! And power does corrupt as they say! With my case, as I said above, I was startled that I could have apparently held so much authority with the young guy, being a woman for one thing, though my greater age did factor in. And my mild-mannered cluelessness which confused him and the other cops.

best, libby
zachd, it certainly was troubling and gave one pause! a tip of the iceberg moment, maybe. long before I was witnessing Zuccotti park, etc., tensions with the police and this overzealous "herding" mentality for protesters and invasions of privacy. Though that had also been around with the Republican Convention in 2004. Cops with their plastic handcuffs. More and more now the horrors of pepper spray and tasers and GUNS.

Seems more and more police shoot to kill violence that could have been avoided in police chases these days.

Once on Lexington there was a large group of soldiers dressed up in serious riot and combat gear heavily armed and I stopped and asked them what was going on. They all looked back and forth at each other like "what to do?" ... that a citizen inquiring in such a way was a serious ambush ... one guy made a joke about a sale at nearby Bloomies and they wanted to protect customers like me. Finally one guy said, "Practice, ma'am." Practice? I let it go and walked on. I figured, if suddenly a street corner in NYC looks like a preliminary combat operation like you see on the news in Iraq, it might be wise to inquire. But I was made to feel like Oliver Twist asking for more in my presumptuousness.

best, libby
Stathi, yes, what you say profoundly resonates. We as civilians are the "other" and should not be. We deserve empathy. And we need empathy and connection with our protectors who should be protecting us, not seeing some of us as THEIR enemy because their overlords tell them that. We need to have empathy between the police and citizens to make things seriously work!!! That paradigm switch from patriarchy and power and control to partnership and cooperation and empathy is so needed right now.

More and more US security people will have military backgrounds and with the rules of engagement being more and more anything goes "no rules of engagement" and little accountability, things will get more hairy and horrifying. Fort Carson has soldier homicides because of the PTSD and the trigger-happiness that was encouraged in combat areas by superiors. Now the military brass and pols are surprised their vets and soldiers between deployments can't control how they have been conditioned to act? Such recklessness is not okay in the states AND also not okay in those other countries but where is once again the accountability? Why do they hate us? Are people still asking that?

Peter, thanks for stopping by!!!

best, libby
What is truly eerie is that city cops inhale mistaken identity like low hanging smog. The infamous stories of kids being shot dead for what some cop mistakenly took a cell phone for a gun are legend. You sure must have presence, there with your official ID dangling from your neck. Good piece. Enjoyed it. Solid short story material.
Foot note: Saw Jill Stein last night on CURRENT. Handled herself extremely well; wish that the mediacenti would open their heads -- at least pluck the blinders for at least one night. We need to see those whom are not in the 47 % or 48.3%: that's a lot of people ...
inthisdeepcalm, so nice to see you and thanks for commenting! Yes, it is ironic about this identity confusion they had with me considering the tragic "identity confusion" that happens on the street with terrible misjudgments made and people killed. I empathize with police and firepeople facing horrifying danger at times. But there are so many scenarios of "shoot to kill" happenings and they are not just happening in the dead of night but broad daylight with mentally unstable people who could be apprehended without a bevy of cops encircling them and shooting dozens of bullets into their chests. Dear God! Mostly the police brass and Bloomberg & co. neatly sweep it all under the rug with a sound bite. Bloomie said after one horrifying incident that the fella was obviously unbalanced. WTF? So you kill 'em? I could tell them who I think is really unbalanced! THEM!!!

Thanks for info about Stein. It is so late in the game but I am glad she is beginning to break the sound barrier on some shows willing to go there. I wrote my angry email to the NewsHour and am going to boycott them next week at least. I am disappointed more of my left comrades are not pitching her. We need a non-corporate political party to get in power and to use as an umbrella to begin to repair our broken country in terms of the economy, citizen welfare and a war criminal foreign policy!

best, libby
The last sentence is just perfect.
Such an adventure filled place, NYC. Congrats on the EP!
NYC, one might think that's par for the course but it happens everywhere. I lived for twelve years in Moorpark and Simi Valley CA. Two small towns with some of the lowest crime rates in the state, because they had the highest per capita residence of law enforcement officers in the state. LAPD, LA County Sheriffs, CHP, Ventura Sheriffs, and law enforcement from through out the county owned homes in those towns.

On morning fresh from the shower I opened the door to two Ventura Sheriffs detectives... a woman, a neighbor who I'd never met had been stabbed while she was jogging. She bled out on the step of her front door, two hundred feet from my townhouse. It happens everywhere. Congrats on the EP. R&R.
Gena! Thanks for visiting. So glad you enjoyed the last sentence. Btw, the crew at work certainly did get a major kick out of my story when I got there. Suddenly I think it became far cooler in their eyes to wear that ID neck thingy! :-) best, libby
just phyllis! thanks for visiting. yes, a nice rush to get an EP. surprising and nice. I thought my wordy title may have been off-putting so nice to have extra time on the board! best, libby
jmac, so nice to see you. What a shocking and sad story you relate. How quickly things can happen, huh? Moments when the ordinary day to day-ness gets dramatically ambushed. best, libby
The stories You tell and have stored within You are second to none - the way You respond to comments, similarly so.

Libby rocks (incomparably).


What NO rat-basta*ds, again? You're killing me, Libby.
Mark, thanks so much for your kindness once again! YOU ROCK!

best, libby