Innocent and Assumed Guilty

This morning I had a taste of what it feels like to be questioned by police and I have to say it certainly didn’t feel good!

Here’s the story:

I woke early to take Arielle to the airport. After having her home for a glorious month it was time for her to return to college. Obviously, I wasn’t feeling very chipper. I said good-bye, watched her wheel onto the plane and then put my head down and left the airport before anyone saw me blubbering like…well, a mom who has to say good-bye to her baby.

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On the way home over our beautiful Cape bridge I noticed the little park on the Gulf that I’ve seen for years but never stopped to explore. It was a gorgeous day, cool, sunny, not a cloud in the sky. I parked my car and took pictures of the water. Next to the park was an empty lot. I was curious so I walked around the lot and took more pictures of the Gulf and the for sale sign with the phone number of the real estate agent. That’s when I heard some young men on a boat taunting a pelican. One of them was flicking his cigarette ashes at the bird and blowing smoke towards its beak. I stood there ready to yell at them, looking out for the bird like a mama who just said good-bye to her baby, when they spotted me and stopped harassing the pelican. They began posing for the camera. I took a picture of the pelican.

Then I realized that the house next to the empty lot was condemned. I ventured over to explore because it seemed strange that all of this property could be available right on the water. I took a picture of the street signs for the address. A little boy on his lanai had a telescope pointing at me. I didn’t think anything of it. He waved. I waved.

As I headed back to my car I saw a man in a grey sweat suit walking a pit bull. I’ll admit, I started thinking maybe it wouldn’t be such a good place to live–next to the park where men walk their pit-bulls. It was a fleeting thought. Little did I know he was spying on me. I got back in my car and decided to drive around the neighborhood to see if there was any more land for sale. As I pulled out of the parking lot I noticed two police cars. One was parked and the other was driving in the direction I was going. Again, I thought maybe it wasn’t a very safe neighborhood after all. The street came to a dead-end. I turned around and ended up back at the stop sign next to the park. There were one or two police officers, the man in the grey sweats, his pit-bull and another man standing there talking. I had my windows down. Suddenly, the man in the sweats says, “There she is!” What–me?

The officer yells and comes over to my window to question me. All the while I’m thinking, no way! The neighbors called the police on me? This is ridiculous! Of course I didn’t say that. I knew I was innocent but the officer didn’t and his tone was harsh and accusatory. I explained why I was there. I was scared and still a bit numb from saying good-bye to Arielle. I told the officer exactly what I had been taking pictures of: the park, a vacant lot, and a condemned house. He told me the house wasn’t condemned and he knew the owner. I was confused. I had proof the house was condemned. I took a picture of the sign on the door that said it was uninhabitable. Perhaps I was using the wrong word? Lucky, for me I kept quiet and didn’t argue. I was feeling extremely vulnerable and I didn’t like it. I knew I was innocent. Why couldn’t he see that? Still, he took my license and called in to see if I had any priors. The officer told me there had been some house and car robberies in the Cape. He assumed I knew. I didn’t. Finally, I asked him if he’d like to see my pictures. He did. There was the pelican–my proof that I wasn’t casing the neighborhood in order to rob men in grey sweats with pit-bulls.

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I left feeling rattled. Angry at the man in the sweats. Can you tell? Why didn’t he just try to talk to me instead of assuming the worst? Upset that the officer automatically assumed I was guilty without talking to me in a kind way. He came right at me. I think those men in the neighborhood must have built up the drama drawing the officer in on their witch hunt. I felt betrayed because I’ve been part of this community for 19 years and was specifically looking for land here in order to stay.

The police officer was doing his job. I understood that. I suppose I have my answer as to the safety of living next to a park. If the neighbors are that freaked-out over a woman dressed in sneakers and a jean jacket walking around taking pictures of the Gulf of Mexico at noon on a Sunday then maybe there have been some scary incidents at that park. The whole situation has gotten my writer brain thinking. I’ve learned what it feels like to be on the opposite end of an officers accusatory questions. Not good! I’ve learned that some people live in a state of panic and see others as a threat before they’ve even taken a moment to say hello. Not proud of that in the city I’ve loved for so long.

I’ve tried to think of the situation from the officers perspective.  Once years ago, I was told by an officer I met at the gym how teenagers often talk back to him. I couldn’t believe it! Who in their right mind would get mouthy with a police officer? If going to jail isn’t a big enough threat than I would think a gun would be…maybe not for some. Perhaps officers are always ready for battle? That would explain his tone. However, he was dealing with an extremely sensitive, animal loving (even pit-bulls but maybe not men in grey sweat suits) writer. I was two breathes away from tears especially because…wait for it…I had just said good-bye to my daughter.

The officer wished me luck on my search for land. He told me if it happens again I should do what I did and simply explain why I’m there. If it happens again? I think I’ll stick to online shopping for awhile. Wanted: Lots of land for animals, a view of a lake or the Gulf would be nice, and kind, welcoming neighbors.


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