I realize that we are living in precarious and paranoid times, post 9/11.
If one looks hard enough, a gunman can be found in the most innocent of grassy knolls. Nothing brought this notion home to me more than my experience last week.
Currently, I am freelancing with a couple of a trade magazines and I had double deadlines last week.
This is for a trade journal that deals with gasoline companies and convenience stores, so I went back to the folks I interviewed and asked permission to take pictures of the outside facade of the gas stations.
Not a problem with the owner/managers. However, for the first picture, I was trying to get a picture of the gas station, along with the traffic coming off of the Interstate, next to the station.
To do that, I had to cross the street and stand at the corner of the Wachovia bank branch. It's on an elevated piece of sidewalk, in front of the bank parking lot. I'm 5'2, so the pre-made perch was perfect.
I snapped a few pictures of the BP, with my back facing the bank, and decided to get a different angle, so I moved to the McDonald's across the street (parallel with the Wachovia).
A few minutes into my picture taking, a cop car pulls up, with lights flashing.
He stops, rolls down the window and asks, "What are you DOING?"
Correct me if I am wrong, but when did it start to be against the law to take photographs in public areas? Maybe it is and I don't know it and maybe post 9/11 it really is not okay to do that anymore.
"I'm taking pictures of the BP station, right over there," I said, as I pointed to the BP station. He says, "Why?"
I reply, "Well, not that it matters, but I'm a freelance writer for a trade journal, and I am taking some pictures of gas stations...I interviewed the owner of that one, last week. He gave me permission to take pictures."
So he says, "Someone from Wachovia called and said you were taking pictures of the bank."
"No sir. I am not taking pictures of the bank," I reply.
"Can I see your credentials?" he says.
"Okay, I'm parked at the McDonalds up there, if you want to follow me, but I am not taking pictures of the Wachovia. I stood on that ledge, right there (pointing to it), because I'm 5'2, in order to get a good view of the BP and the traffic."
"First of all, you can cut the attitude," he says.
Oooh, consider whatever attitude cut, Mr. Jerkycop, as I picture myself in a cell with Big Betty.
"But they said you were taking pictures of the bank," he continues. Not that I wanted to, but because I feared this guy was really ready to haul me in, I offered a solution.
"Officer, this is a digital camera, and you can review any recent pictures taken. I'd be more than happy to show you what I took."
I push the review button, and show him all of the pictures of my cats, my plants outside on the back deck, and the pictures of the BP station. Hell yes. If he was going to force me to forego my personal rights, then he was going to see every boring picture on my camera.
"See? No bank pictures."
His own attitude changes from defensive to apologetic. "Ma'am sorry about that. I think, these days, people get nervous."
I told him I understood, but that I had no idea how anyone would think I was taking pictures of the bank, when my backside was to the bank, and I was not on their property.
I was so angry after that exchange, that I wanted to march into the Wachovia and find the twit that called the cops on me without even sending a representative out to ask me what I was doing. I wasn't on their property at all, either.
But I decided to calm down a bit, finish my deadline, and then go over to that Wachovia and talk with the manager. I understand that people are nervous these days, but instead of making up stories about what I was doing, someone could have just come out there and asked me, don't you think?
Last time I checked I didn't look like Osama.
In fairness, this is a highly conservative area, and I was wearing my tye dye T-shirt, shorts, loafers and my hair is long and in that "won't do anything" stage, so maybe the person watching me thought I was some threat to the bank. Maybe this person was creative enough to think I had a camera hidden in my buttocks, a la 'Get Smart.' My front side was certainly was facing toward the BP, as was my camera, not toward the bank.
I called that Wachovia branch, and I spoke with the manager. She feigned ignorance (imagine that?) and that she didn't know what I was talking about. But, oddly enough, after saying that she says the following:
"But what were you doing on MY property, anyway?"
I reply, "That's an odd question coming from someone who claims she knows nothing about the incident, yesterday."
She stuttered and stammered, which sort of clinched it for me.
I don't know if it's even worth pursuing with Wachovia, or if it even warrants any follow-up.
I have never been singled out, for whatever biased reasons, for questioning by police over a very innocent act. This gave me a very small view into what it must be like for minorities in this country. I felt that same sense of dread and fear that so many others have experienced just for the color of their skin, or whatever stereotype that caused someone to fabricate details of an innocent act. There was obviously something that made someone say, "she's a terrorist! she's a bank-robber!"
It made me think of how many African Americans are still routinely pulled over by a jerk cop, for no good reason other than the color of his skin.
You know you are innocent, but the police officer is already biased against you for whatever reason. It's a scary feeling. I felt myself trying to prove that I was really innocent, as if I was guilty. I wasn't.
Yes, for the most part, I appreciate police officers. For a salary that is usually below average, police officers put their lives on the line every day. But for every honest cop, there are egomaniacs who get off on intimidating others, just because they feel that they can.