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Kymberlie Ingalls is native to the Bay Area in California. She is a pioneer in blogging, having self-published online since 1997. Her style is loose, experimental, and a journey in stream of consciousness. Works include personal essay, prose, short fictional stories, and a memoir in progress. Thank you for taking a moment of your time to visit. Beware of the occasional falling opinions. For editing services: http://www.rainfallpress.com/

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rage Against The Machine

                            Damn!  She had been late for this meeting, and now that the battery had died in her car, she was going to be late to the next one too.  She’d agreed to give Joe, someone from the group she’d just left but had never met before, a short lift back to his car, about a mile away at a public lot.  Cursing as he darted across the road to an auto shop to inquire about jumper cables, she called her doctor to let him know that she would be delayed for her appointment.
            Shaken still from the events of the night before, she’d hoped today would be much smoother but it was rapidly turning out the opposite.  There had been a shooting outside the café she was in last night, in this same neighborhood, and someone had been killed.  She was beginning to feel a bad karma creeping up on her for the flip comments she’d made to her friends, while they were stuck waiting to get to their cars that were imprisoned in the lot across the street as the police conducted their investigation.
            Joe came back with the kit to jumpstart the battery, and soon they were on their way until suddenly, just a few minutes later, they were hit from behind.  Looking in her mirror, she swore again, pulling off to the side of the road before they got out of the car.  She could see it was two vehicles that had collided into her – a Volvo in the middle and an aged, red Ford truck. 
            The driver of the truck was chattering nervously with the Volvo owner, who said to her “We need to call the police, he doesn’t have a license.”  After asking to see his ID, which proved to be a license  from Mexico, she reached for her phone.  Joe had taken several pictures with the camera she’d pulled from her bag and asked if she was okay.  The Ford driver rushed up to her.
            “Please!  No call police!  I pay cash, take to my friend’s shop and he fix everything!”  She inspected her car – the damage was minimal, but knowing that insurance companies were persnickety about police reports, she apologized as she dialed. 
            “I’m sorry, but I have to call.  You don’t have a license from the US.  And I have to take the car to my own shop, the paint is a custom job.”  The operator informed her that if there were no major injuries, officers would not be dispatched.  Frustrated, she hung up and continued exchanging information with the other drivers, explaining why the police would not be coming.
            Joe then explained that he was now late for work, and would be leaving  Thanking him for helping, she tried to hurry everything up to get on to her own appointment.  Then Mr. Middle began to argue. 
            “I’m not paying for any custom paint job!  I’ll deny the whole thing to my insurance if that costs more than a couple hundred bucks and I’m found at fault for hitting you.”
            “No, your insurance will pay what it costs to repair.  I certainly didn’t hit myself, now did I?”
            As the argument went on, she became more agitated, and officers soon arrived on the scene because Mr. Middle’s son had called via the local number.  One of the policemen approached her as she was gathering her paperwork, only to realize that the Volvo owner had kept her insurance card.  While trying to explain clearly the numerous reasons she was upset at that point, he kept interrupting by admonishing her to “Calm down!”
            Without skipping a beat, she looked him in the eye with a sudden calm and said “You’re not married, are you?”
            “No, but I was at one time.”
            “Let me guess, you told your wife to calm down one time too many, and she left?” Shocked at the disrespectful words coming out of her, she then gathered herself back together and gave her statement.  “I tried to call you guys, because so far as I know the driver of the truck only has a Mexican driver’s license, I don’t think he has insurance.”  No other reference was made to the Hispanic driver, but she did speak of the middle driver saying he would deny her claim if she went to his insurance.
            From there, they were all detained for an hour while no report was filed, but the officer re-exchanged their information for them.  She’d called her husband because she could feel her stress level rising dangerously, her blood sugars were way off (not a good thing for a diabetic), and there was a cloud looming on the horizon that was approaching quickly in her head. 
            “You had a passenger in your car?  Who was that, and how can we get in touch with him?”
            “I don’t know, I only just met him two hours ago.”
            “What’s his name and phone number?” His tone suddenly took on that of an interrogation.
            “I .. don’t… know.” she reiterated.  “His name is Joe.  Never.. met.. him.. before… You try to find him based on that!”  Her tone became angrier.
            “Who were you on the phone with this whole time?  That wasn’t him?” Their accusatory manner was beginning to annoy her.
            “NO!  It was my husband.  He’s on his way here, but is stuck in traffic.”
            “What’s the status of your license?”  Alarm bells went off in her mind.  Shit.  She’d sent in the payments on those tickets months ago.  But what about that parking ticket here in Berkeley?  Could a license be suspended for that? Trying frantically to remember, she just looked blankly at the officers. 
            From there it was explained that yes, her license was suspended, for a ticket that she knew she had taken care of when they told her which it was.  As she protested, the officers demanded proof of receipt.  Like she carried such things around in the car??  She stared in disbelief as she was informed that her car would be towed unless someone could come in the next few minutes to take it for her.  “Your friend, ‘Joe,’ perhaps?” the shorter officer snarked. 
            As she turned around, the first officer was already rifling through her car, rearranging her things in a careless manner.  Her purse was on the sidewalk as he pulled everything out.  She started to approach him to ask what the hell was going on, when the second officer stopped her abruptly.
            “You are not to approach an officer when his back is to you, ever!  You will stand down until told otherwise.”
            They pulled out her medications, and made a show of lining them up on top of the car for all the passersby to see as they called in to the Poison Control Center to identify them. 
Astonished at the way she was being treated simply because of a mix-up with the DMV, her pulse pounded in fury.  Suddenly, without warning, they’d become increasingly hostile toward her, and as the dam broke in her head, she unleashed her anger in return.  As she hurled insults at the officers in response to their unfounded assumptions, her husband, still on the phone, yelled in helplessness at her to be quiet.
Thirty-nine years of respect vanished in an instant on the busy street of hustling people, where she stood judged by her peers in a falsehood of justice.

This is my story.  It was December 30th, 2010. 
I have always had a tremendous respect for law enforcement, despite my being on the wrong side of it many times in my younger days.  I don’t always believe in the system, and think it more flawed than effective, but these officers, the good ones, lay their lives on the line willingly more often than you or I ever will.  And the bad ones have the power to really screw with your life if you give them attitude, so the smart thing to do is just be civil, no matter what.
This is why my friends, upon hearing my tale, were completely shocked at my behavior.  I’m outspoken, opinionated, and don’t hesitate to defend myself on most occasions to a stranger, but never have I behaved like this to those in legal authority.  Upon their search of my car, I’ll tell you honestly that I unleashed a tirade on those officers that was so foul, calling them names I didn’t even know I knew.  I dared them to arrest me.  My husband Roger, hearing the entire exchange on the phone, couldn’t arrive fast enough. 
I asked for the probable cause to why they were searching my car, and my purse.  No explanation was given.  They would not communicate anything at all with me.  As Roger will testify, nothing fuels my anger more than having my questions ignored, so my temper only flared that much more as they examined every single thing they could.  Nothing was put back where it’d been.  Everything valuable in my purse was tossed randomly in the car.  Given only five minutes to retrieve my belongings before the tow driver took my car away, I searched desperately through a blood-red haze to find my electronics, wallet, and important documents.  My pulse was pounding so fast my mind couldn’t keep up. 
Upon Roger’s eventual arrival, I refused at that point to speak to the officers, letting him be my messenger.  They were still accusing me of calling Joe, despite my constant statement that it’d been my husband on the phone the entire time.
Thus began the nightmare of trying to clean up a mess that the DMV had left behind.  Three days of missed work for us both, endless bureaucratic lines, listening to others make the same claims as myself that our payments had not been processed, and $2500 thrown away at the courts and the tow yard, we were able to retrieve my car a week later.
Roger wisely waited until the day after my altercation with the police to tell me what they’d said to him.  Police officers have the discretionary option to not take your vehicle in these instances.  Mine was impounded for two reasons:  1) My “racist attitude” (the statement that the truck driver had a ‘Mexican driver’s license’) and my “belligerence.”  2) I immediately became suspect when they learned that Joe had left the scene, despite that he left after being told police were not being sent.
So suddenly, he’s a criminal and I’m an accomplice.  That’s how the world works these days. 
People cry out about injustice, prejudice, and abuse.  I’ll take responsibility for my heated reaction to the officer instructing me to “calm down.”  But the rest?  Absolutely not.  The chain reaction of why this country is suffering is apparent and now affecting me personally. 
I was a suspect for nothing more unfounded speculation.  The police have always been conditioned to suspect everyone they encounter, but there appears to be a new demeanor in the up and coming generation, and it’s not a pleasant one. 
It was obvious in the eyes of the two that I was dealing with – they were the bad-ass of their virtual, video world, and I was nothing more than an avatar perp that was going down.  These are the people sworn to protect us, and to serve. 
There was nobody there to protect me that day, just as there wasn’t four years ago in my hit-and-run-accident, when my husband had to demand the police take some sort of action.  When we’d gone to the station to say we’d just been hit and the driver had fled, the officer looked at us and said “So, what exactly do you want us to do about it?”  With those words, a battle line was invisibly drawn.
That was the beginning of my current disillusionment, and of Roger’s too.
And now, years later, I was just existing on this day in December.  And I was in the wrong.  I was tried right there in the street, and sentenced too. 
There is a saying that we don’t understand the steps of a man until we’ve walked a mile in his shoes.  Every day I read about those in authority abusing their power. 
Two days after this incident, there was an uproar in the news, and on Facebook pages everywhere, that police officers now have the approval to, upon detain or arrest, search our cell phones without a warrant.  My first reaction to that was to post “Every cell phone has a secret password option – without it, nothing on the phone can be accessed.  If pulled over, simply turn it on.  Screw them, they can’t make you give up the code.”
Then, an hour later, I said to my husband, “I don’t like that I have this frame of mind.  I don’t like being so resentful of the law.”
I don’t like where my road has taken me.  It’s not because of this one incident, but rather a simmering rage that’s built over time.  Road rage incidents that are never vindicated, stories of people wrongly imprisoned, indignant criminals that have made us all the enemy because they’re so “mistreated” by society. 
Over the course of that week, over New Year’s weekend and after, I had to stay medicated in order to function, to sleep, and to maintain a civil decorum while in court.  There was no celebration at our home.  I was depressed.  Roger is unable to understand the humiliation I’d felt that day, on the busy street while a thousand eyes stared. 
While I’ve always had a compassion for those treated unjustly for the color of their skin, their accent, their choice of religion or beliefs, the level of understanding is deeper.  I have been hated for a good part of my life just for being alive, but it was something I’d lived with for so long, that the pain was dulled by time and reticence.  Now it is fresh again, a wound that’s been ripped open. 
Nothing happens without reason. 
My car had given no sign of electrical problems or any other mechanical failure so for my battery to suddenly sputter and die as it had was entirely too strange.  Had it not happened, I’d never have been at the corner at that moment to be hit.  A man who was a part of my life for one hour that day will forever be the reason I was almost arrested, with a fabricated “proper cause.”
A simple, tarnished chain that will forever leave a stain in my mind.  I can only surmise that the purpose of my experience is to share with others, to give them another level of humanity.  But I want my respect back, and my self-respect.  I want to not judge all police officers as I do these two men, and those who’ve ignored my pleas for help in the past. 
I feel helpless, stripped of my right to their protection.  Any trust to be placed in their power to humanize us as citizens is gone.  It’s us against them.  Player versus avatar, and time is simply a loudly ticking bomb at the end of the game. 

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