Friday, July 23, 2010

All Time Worst Tickets #4 (Part 3, Epilogue)

          If you missed it, here is Part One.

          As the fort-like security of their station house grew on them, the mood grew friendlier which meant that I was mostly ignored. Someone did suggest they could take off the handcuffs. Someone else assured me they were going to get me out of there in no time, but I waited for over an hour for my Summons. Once they handed it to me, I was shown the door, shooed out like a little squirrel that had wandered in. My friend was parked across the street waiting all this time. He told me one officer had forced him to follow us in his pickup and ordered him to wait for me which rankled him. He didn’t need a cop to tell him to come and get me. Especially one who had ground his face into the dirt.

          He decided he wanted to keep the BB gun. He made a comment that implied I was responsible for it being confiscated. He seemed to think I could get it once it had been used in evidence and declared my Summons was bogus and if I appeared in court, I could ask for it back then. I assured him I would fight the ticket. That the Devil’s bargain I had made with the PVB (see other Post). Why would this be any different? And, as a favor to my friend who I almost got killed, I would try to retrieve the gun. I pled Not Guilty and waited for a court date.

          Sitting in the courtroom with a variety of other petty criminals was an interesting experience. Waiting to be called I heard some amazing stories, some silly stories, some stories that really make you root for one side or the other. How could you not cheer for the Mom and Two Kids who got a Summons for selling her kids outgrown toys in a tag sale in the park? Dismissed. Or not believe the hard working Livery Driver who had his license suspended, but picked up a fare on his way to seeing his wife who had just given birth at the hospital? $250.00 fine. Not sure what to think about a Schoolteacher who had a small amount of Marijuana planted in his briefcase by a jealous student. Effect on career destruction: priceless.

          As these stories played out, I also noticed a few other interesting things, like those around me and sitting next to me were not all savory characters, like every defendant has to take an oath to tell the truth and faking it is not as easy as it looked. I also noticed the officers who testify are well rehearsed in a testimony that scripts all the legal touchpoints, and the Judge… the Judge does not stand for any nonsense at all!

          My hearing went something like this. The ferocious officer spoke. I spoke. I could hardly deny I had the gun (the little matter of 10 police officers at the scene), so I pointed out the Summons stated “Possession of air rifles and pistols” which made it seem like I had a cache of arms which simply wasn’t true. I was merely a lone gunman. The Judge interrupted and asked me if I wanted to make a motion to dismiss. I heartily replied “Yes.” Denied.

          I think the ferocious officer may have even let slip a smirk at that little bit of formality. The ferocious officer spoke some more. The Judge asked him if he wanted to put the BB gun in evidence. The officer explained that it was in the station house evidence room. The Judge looked at him, then looked at me. He asked me if I want to make another motion to dismiss for lack of “prima facie evidence.” I didn’t have a clue what that meant and I had already been burnt, so I hesitated. Then hesitated some more. The Judge said “Say yes…” So, I took a chance. Granted! The ferocious officer exploded in exasperation. The Judge explained to him that he should have known to bring the BB gun as evidence.

          I saw my moment and asked the Judge if I could possibly retrieve the gun and he actually took a moment to fill out an evidence request ticket for me. I called the evidence room but was told that BB guns are illegal anywhere in New York City, so they could never return the gun to me. Someone later told me they routinely take these confiscated BB guns home to their kids. My friend was disappointed but appeased somewhat when he heard about the ferocious officer’s frustration.

          If it had been a parking ticket I never would have got off.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

All Time Worst Tickets #4 (Part 2 of 3)

          If you missed it, here is Part One.

          In the dead calm of night, in the dark side of New York City, only our laughs revealed anyone was about or how comical our BB Gun competition was. We both stank. I did manage to knock my bottle over. My friend’s bottle fell over in a gust of wind – at least that’s how I saw it. Turns out BB guns require a little practice, but we were having a good time comparing each other’s incompetence to infamous sports teams, and were bothering no one on this dead end street with its complete lack of cars or people. The day had cooled down nicely, we had all the time in the world, and this was as safe a place for our childhood competition as we could ever find. There was no one to endanger. We were shooting toward the water.

          For Round 3 (or 4 or 5), I held the gun as my friend climbed up on the rocks to reset the bottles. Hearing something, I wheeled around and suddenly saw, appearing out of nowhere, the shadow of a car, its high beams in my eyes, hurtling down the street toward us. An unidentified car speeding toward you down a dead end street in a totally uninhabited part of town does not instill a feeling of security so I instinctively moved behind my friend's pickup truck. This was my first mistake. At one point I remember I actually hoped it was the police but as there was no siren or police lights, I realized that these were some serious bad asses that knew they had us cornered.

          That shadow of a car was getting huge in just fractions of a second, and I didn’t have to think to put the pickup between them and me, I just did it, preparing for what would happen next. Just as I made my move, the car braked to a sudden halt, the overhead police lights began flashing and two dark shapes jumped out like silhouettes of police officers with guns trained on us and began yelling to "freeze, put your hands up, drop the guns!

          Then came my second mistake. Having never had a life or death police confrontation and coming from a relatively safe neighborhood on the upper west side, I had apparently become immune to years of the media drumming up graphic, everyday NYC criminal atrocities, not to mention the realities of a besieged and understandably paranoid police force. Because as I put my hands up, I still held the top of the barrel of the BB gun (a non threatening posture, I thought) and pointed to it with my other hand while I attempted to explain over the roar that it was only a BB gun.

          There is no decibel meter that can measure the volume and intensity of trained police officers yelling full tilt to "put your gun down or I'll shoot!" Add to this the two other police cars that just sped down the block, their doors flung open and the four other guns that were probably trained on us and I quickly abandoned my attempt at reasoning and dropped the gun. For a moment everything went quiet as you could hear the BB gun clatter on the street. After that I did as ordered. When I came out from behind the pickup, I instinctively came out on the side of the cop that seemed to be yelling a little less loudly. I placed my hands on the hood of the truck. I kneeled down. I put my face down on the black pavement and put my hands behind my back.

          There were police everywhere, guns drawn, and shouting mad, but as soon as those handcuffs snapped shut, the first jolt of that death terror went to ground, liquefied into the still, hot tar of the street. My friend and I were finally handcuffed. We were no longer a threat. Then somebody picked up and identified the BB gun and a new escalation of anger and shouting began. "Where was the other gun?!”

          “Why didn't I drop the gun immediately?!" I tried to answer as the less loud, but still adrenaline angry officer searched me, spilled out the contents of my pockets on the street, turned me over and searched some more. I kept repeating that there was no other gun, but he just kept yelling and demanding I give it up.

          None of them believed my friend’s claim that there was no other gun either. I heard him on the other side of the truck saying it over and over the same time I was and one time I heard him cry it out in the kind of pain I had never heard from him before or since. His cop yelled with a ferocity above all the others, "Where's the other gun?! I saw you throw it! Where is it?"

          His pained cries that there was no other gun and the violence of confusion all around us provoked even more desperate denials from me. Someone yelled at me again, "Why didn't you drop the gun?" I tried to explain that I didn't recognize [they were police] and one of the roving officers shouted in my face before I could finish that I was going to "fucking well understand what was going to happen to me now!"

          Finally, the moment I had been waiting for arrived and one officer said that it was only a BB gun. His concession infuriated some of the officers and instantly two officers were exhorted to, "Search the truck!" They threw everything they could find out on the street for inspection. They took out the seat. In their frenzied search they found such incriminating items as my friend's son's miniature baseball mitt and his brother’s Gameboy. About the time the rubber Spiderman was uncovered, the officers became disgusted and called off the search. It was becoming unanimous, if unpopular; it was only a BB gun. One seasoned officer even shot the gun in the air and joked,"Duck everybody!"

          Each officer cooled down at a different pace, but for the first time there was the calm of normal conversation. A captain said that five police cars called to the scene meant they had to write a report. Nobody was too interested, but finally the most ferocious officer volunteered to write me up. Since I was the one in possession of the gun, I was taken to the police station to be "summonsed.” In the car, the officer driving told me, “You are lucky we’re not nervous people!” He was finally a little amused at the whole thing. The ferocious officer next to him was quiet. When we entered the station, the driver incredulously told another at the desk that I had not dropped the BB gun when they told me to. His angry, unflinching response was, “Why didn't you shoot him?” This and the Desk Sergeant's yelling at me without knowing any of the story I took to be a genuine display of police comradery and their extreme vigilance of each other’s safety.

          I waited handcuffed in a chair for an hour or so as they called around various prescints to find the code number for unlawful possession of an air rifle. The bureaucratic bouncing around these officers endured to find this one bit of information seemed comically all too commonplace given the importance of their work in our lives.

          It was during this time, as I listened to the officers relate the incident to others in the station, that the events of the evening were put into perspective. It seemed that a night watchman in the area had seen us in a security video of the street. He called in to the station saying that two men in a pickup truck were firing a rifle across the river. The police had not happened upon us, or gone in as a routine check, but had arrived in force expecting real firearms. When I instinctively moved behind the truck as they bore down on me, they thought the one with the gun is taking cover. They were about to have a shoot out. Holding up the gun, even in a non threatening posture, was about all their trigger fingers could stand. I was lucky to be alive.

          Later, I found out that while I had been lying face down in the paved warmth of the summer street getting a methodical gun search, my friend had been forced down on the road's edge, face first into the broken shards of concrete, discarded rubbish and cement, with an officer's knee pressed hard against the back of his neck. That knee excruciatingly drove his face into the dirt and the dirt into his mouth as the officer demanded at the top of his lungs to tell him where he had thrown the other gun. Other than that serious bit of extreme vigilance, this episode could be seen as a police response worthy of commendation. After all, we were alive.

          But, I am white and fairly non threatening looking at that, and I can't help wondering what might have happened if I had looked more like a TV version of a criminal type. What if the pickup truck had been mistakenly related to a violent crime? What if I had been black or hispanic? On the other hand, what if my foolishly threatening yet innocent response causes one of the officers involved to pause or relax in a similar but actually dangerous situation? We rely on these officers who work every day on this brink where matters of life and death weigh on the interpretation of split second human responses. I want to thank them, especially the ones that are not nervous.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Canceled Bus Stop Are Legal Parking!

The city recently closed 570 bus stops but the ghosts of those Bus Stops have been haunting New Yorkers as if they have revenge on their minds. Any optimistic souls who saw "another door open" when the MTA slammed its door on these Bus services, are having a rude awakening. The city has been writing tickets for "Parking in a Bus Stop" in these spaces, even though they are no longer bus stops. Hmm. These new methods for increasing city revenue are truly creative. Who knows where the innovation will end? Maybe they can ticket people, mistakenly waiting for a bus at these closed stops, for loitering, or maybe the city should try to collect '01 - '10 business taxes from the World Trade Center? Whatever they come up with next, we do have some watch dogs on our side.

Sometime right around the moment when the the Wall Street Journal inquired about the fairness of these tickets, the practice has been miraculously stopped. The city has had a moral re-centering. But, if you do get such a ticket, be sure to contest it: "a spokesman for the city's Finance Department said the city will dismiss all tickets that were issued for parking at the discontinued bus stops. But the recipient of the ticket must first contest the ticket."

Check out the Wall Street Journal article for more info.

Monday, July 5, 2010

All Time Worst Tickets #4 (Part 1 of 3)

          Ever had a ticket that almost got you killed? I’m not talking about the occasional shoving match and drawn weapons with the officer who tells you they’ve already started writing. Who hasn’t been there? I’m talking about an actual life and death moment where one false move (or, for us white guys, 2) will get you killed and turn you into another justifiable shooting story. This is a story of just such a ticket, a ticket that some years back literally almost killed me.

          Nothing rounds out New York City's diversity tour like the Greenpoint and Williamsburg bank of the East River. In between the deserted warehouses and pier shaped brick and concrete bunkers that house factories of unlabeled obscurity a few dead end streets will take you right up to the edge of the river. In the midst of that black and white wasteland that is often used for gang film movie sets or for a lovers lane, you can view across the river spectacular views of Manhattan's skyline. From the Chrysler Building to the shining crystals of Wall Street, there is a man made beauty that causes one to forget the next door power transformer station or sugar refinery or that Joel Rifkin dumped at least one body here. The Macy’s fireworks VIP boat anchors right out there, but here on shore parking signs were as scarce as people.

          So when late one hot summer evening a friend and I drove through the tar and brick isolation of these factory deserted streets, we figured the complete lack of people made the place safe. We had no sense of the cartoon silliness of this stark lunarscape just half a mile from Oz, or that the towering emerald city whose magnificent glass lights reached across the river would grab a hold of us in a clutch of coincidences that only the wicked witch could have plotted.

          It begins earlier in the day when my friend's son had been playing irresponsibly with a BB gun his uncle had given him. Why his uncle had given him a BB gun in the first place is its own sad story. It seems the dog out back that barked all night keeping his uncle awake, and whose owner was as deaf to his dog's noise as he was to neighborhood complaints, had finally been trained, so he no longer needed it. So now my friend’s son was jumping out of corners search and destroying the planet with this unexpected “gift.” It was after he pointed it at his brother, my friend took it away from him and hid it behind the seat of his truck. The aiming the gun at his brother had been too close a call and my friend decided to throw it away for good, gift and all.

          That night, riding in his pickup along the river in Greenpoint looking for some remote dumpster to toss the thing, we turned the corner into one of those sun softened tar streets that dead end at a heap of rocks that bank the East River. No one around. Nothing but the long buildings that line the street and they were well secured behind barred steel doors. There was not a sound of life. Across the river, the great city shimmered.

          We jumped out of the pickup and walked toward the concrete fragments and bizarre collection of city debris that gathers at the river's banks. I was never allowed to have a BB gun because my parents considered it the most dangerous of guns because it was often confused with a toy, so when I spotted among the abandoned children's toys, odd shapes of lumber and a discarded motorcycle, some bottles, I couldn’t resist the idea of having some last minute fun. My friend and I set a couple of bottles up on the rocks for a friendly marksman's competition with the confiscated BB gun (intending all the time, of course, to pick up the broken glass and properly discard it along with the BB gun). First one to break their bottle wins. Well, my parents were right about one thing.
To be continued...