Harassed but not arrested
About a week ago I made the decision to carry my digital camera around with me every day and take photographs. This was after I broke down my darkroom/kitchen of twenty years. I would tell people my priorities are my kitchen is a darkroom. My darkroom is a kitchen. Now I am redoing my kitchen, new tiles, counter top and lighting. I dismantled the darkroom after twenty years of making photographs. You can say I have gone completely digital except for the occasional Polaroid P/N type 55, large format image that I never plan to give-up creating. I haven't got my fingers wet in a very-very long time.
I was shooting photographs in Georgetown on a sunny afternoon and came very close to being arrested. My friends Tom and Susie were in a Shoe Store taking an extremely long time to decide if they were going to buy walking shoes, and I was shooting people out front of the store standing on the sidewalk, as pedestrians and shoppers were walking by. In the past, I almost never stay in the same spot, but this particular time, I was stationary waiting on my friends, which was my downfall because apparently some girl, or girls, called the police and stated that I was taking photographs of them without asking.
A police car pulls up and a cop jumps out as another police car arrives in seconds. The cop asks me what I am doing and I say what are you talking about? He says can I see your identification and I flash my government I.D. and he says pull it out. I say ok, I'll give you my driver's license then. He says I am more interested in your Government I.D. I say I'll give you my driver's license. He is given both I.D.s.
He says itÕs really sick people who are photographing girls and posting them on the Internet. And you work for an agency for the DC Government. What's your supervisorÕs phone number? I give him my work phone number. He asks what's in the camera. We have a complaint of you photographing girls. I say what, I was waiting for my friend outside this store for twenty minutes getting bored, so I took a few street photography shots. The cop says we got a complaint about a photographer. And further stated we got several complaints, letÕs see your I.D., now.
What have you been shooting? I show him that there are no images in the camera. I had taken out the memory chip. The other cop says he took out the memory chip. He erased all the pictures. Did you erase the pictures? The cop says what are you doing. I say I have been photographing in Georgetown for 20 years.
The cop asks me how long do I think he has been a cop. I say about 20 years. He smiles and says almost. He says I live in Georgetown, and snaps back I know where you live, you live at 4 . . . Tunlaw. He says don't ever be photographing again in Georgetown, itÕs my Area. I am humble and say ok I made a mistake. The cop says you better watch out, if I saw you photographing my wife's ass I'd break your camera. Somebody is going to break your camera.
The cop says to empty out all of my pockets onto the hood of the Patrol car. The other cop says that's my hood you're scratching. He then says he has to call for his supervisor, because he is going to arrest me. I quickly say, I didn't erase the images; I'll put the memory chip back in the camera. Can I help you with viewing what I shot?
The supervisor interrogates my two friends Tom and Susie. Susie informs the cop supervisor that I am an artist, in fact an award winning photographer having had many exhibits, even in Georgetown. The cop supervisor tells the other two cops that I am a real photographer.
The other cop that had viewed the few shots I had in the camera laughingly states that these were not award winning photographs. Only one shot in the whole lot was the head of a young woman. The other shots were posed portraits, obviously of cooperative subjects, a Rastafarian man, and two old ladies in Saturday outfits, hardly any that would be considered offensive to a young girl.
The cop then gets a clipboard and starts escalating the situation, attempting to intimidate me into doing something so he can handcuff me and take me away. He goes on to state that there are stalkers, very bad people, and people putting things on the Internet. The cop supervisor now has both of my I.D. cards and asks for my work supervisorÕs phone number. They seem obsessed that I have DC Government Supervisor I.D., and one that protects children and families. Social Workers are really angels.
I give her my work number. The cop throws the clipboard down hard on the hood of the car and starts messily scribbling on the report form.
He then tells me he is giving me a warning and that he is not going to process the report. He warns not to photograph in Georgetown. I ask him if he has a business card and he says he has none. He quickly gives me his name without his badge number. It's either an Italian or a Polish name. The other cop complains to him that he has scratched the hood of his cruiser.
I am wondering in my mind if there have been on going complaints about me and now they have caught the Georgetown photographer. I tell the supervisor that I work with a lot of Police on my job and have great respect for what we do together. Also that my friend has to catch a flight in 20 minutes and I have to be on my way. The Supervisor says that in these times, there are stalkers and harassers. I say yes everyday we are loosing our freedom and creative expressive rights.
Now I have been arrested before in Georgetown. I took a photograph coincidently yesterday of a Chinese Laundry that I had stumbled into and broke the glass front door. This was in 1978. At that time I didn't have a drivers license so I didn't have to worry about the state of mind I would end up in, because I definitely wasn't driving. The problem was, I would drink myself into a blackout. On this particular day, I was weaving so bad walking, that I couldn't walk in a straight line. I was swaying from one side of the sidewalk to the next, sometimes turning in a circle. This Chinese Laundry was on the corner of 34th and Prospect streets NW Washington DC. I had a vague memory of staggering and swaying from one side of the sidewalk to the next and as I rounded the corner, I fell right into and through the Chinese Laundry door breaking the glass and setting off the alarm.
My instincts were quick as I had several illegal substances on me. I immediately ran into the alley and deposited the drugs into a dumpster. I was soon arrested and taken downtown or uptown and given a fine for drunk and disorderly. About a week later a $350.00 bill came to the house in my name with a summons to pay the Chinese Laundry for the damage I caused. I had no recollection of the event at the time, as I was in a state of blackout most nights and recovering from vicious hangovers most mornings. I made a payment plan to the Chinese laundry paying them $50.00 a week. It was an embarrassment for me.
I rationalized it as being just a stupid accident that I stumbled in to the glass door, instead of a wall. The Police could see I was totally trashed drunk and obviously stumbled into the door by being completely inebriated. The cops did shine flashlights all around the alley where I was, because I looked like hell and was shaking as if I had something to hide. I didn't want to go to big time jail for the narcotics like I had thrown into the dumpster. It was a matter of seconds before the Police arrived and I was the culprit. I was not able to explain the situation to my mother, other than I was clumsy and fell in to the Chinese Laundry door. I actually smashed through the Chinese Laundry door.
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