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News :: DNC : Environment : Organizing : Politics : Technology
experience with cop harassment in cambridge
08 May 2006
so yesterday, i was at the porter square commuter rail station in cambridge, mass, when two mbta cops approached me allegedly for walking on the rails. this is something i do to practice balance almost every time i am at any commuter rail station anywhere, including porter, where ive been probably hundreds of times in my life and never had to deal with cops because of it. (i honestly didn't even have any idea it was illegal and i'm still not entirely sure it is.)

so, they ran my ID and started asking about previous arrests. i told them i was arrested in nyc in 2004 because its the only time i've been arrested since i turned 18; juvenile records are supposed to be sealed. in that cop way of sliding casually from the kind of basic questions they're supposed to be able to ask you to things they really arent, they asked what the "circumstances" of my dis/con arrest in nyc were (a protest). they asked if i had been arrested in mass, before or since 18, and i said yes when i was 13 or 14. while this was going on he was talking to his radio, and also 4 more cops came out of the station and surrounded us.

then they asked "what happened in pennsylvania?" i was arrested at the RNC protests in philly in 2000, when i was 16, so that shouldnt have come up if they had sealed my records like i'd been told they would. apparently the feds, or somebody, had considered relevant to preserve it in some kind
of political file or something. (they didn't bring up my non-activism-related juvenile arrests.) they asked if i had been at the DNC, if i had ever been "interviewed" by the fbi, and if i was "affiliated with the black tea party, the ALF or ELF" (!) there were also questions about where i lived, what i did with myself (i told them about volunteering in louisiana hoping to score some good-samaritan points...) what my tattoos meant etc. the cop who was mostly talking to me said at one point "all these cops aren't here for you" of the other 5 cops, although he declined to mention why they were there, and i am pretty sure i heard some of the other cops saying something to each other about watching me enter the station.

after about 30 minutes (and i had missed my train) they left me alone without a ticket or anything. this wasn't the fbi coming to my house, but it was being suddenly surrounded by cops in a fairly crowded public place and asked about my political inclinations and activities for no apparent reason. i answered, carefully as possible, in an attempt to avoid being detained for further questioning. i suppose it is even possible that i really was being detained for walkingon the rails. at any rate, THIS WAS REALLY CREEPY, i am putting this out there so that people know this kind of stuff is happening. since a main goal of state repression is silencing us one aspect of resistance can be forming networks of people who share information about what is going on.

solidarity yall.

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Re: experience with cop harassment in cambridge
08 May 2006
Next time ask them, "Am I under arrest?" If they say no, then walk away and don't say another word to them.
I wouldn't assume this story is true.
08 May 2006
I wouldn't assume it is false either. I would classify it as "potentially true" and "potentially psyops" until the author comes forward and identifies himself/herself. I am especially suspicious because FLIPSIDE is the first person responding to it. He has a history of making false posts and then following them up with the interpretation he hopes others to make.
Re: experience with cop harassment in cambridge
08 May 2006
Am I free to go? works better than am i under arrets? because the less you brnig into the pcitrue th e better "
Re: experience with cop harassment in cambridge
08 May 2006
If you talk like you type, they'll probably arrest you for OUI.
Re: experience with cop harassment in cambridge
08 May 2006
wow, g! thanks for bringing this up! that's SUPER creepy... i feel like the police state is closing in on us. i was just talking to my roomate about how they're probably currently planning how to steal the elections in 2008...

seems like you handled the situation well under the circumstances. i probably would've done the same with 5 cops around.
Yo Hop Dat Rail
08 May 2006
Yo, man. you don't think you can handle that situation? You can man. Slug dem pigs.
Re: experience with cop harassment in cambridge
08 May 2006
when cops harrass you like that, the best thing to do is keep silent as much as you can, especially when they talk about your history. you're only required to show them your id (i think, i'm not even sure about that)- and the anarchist black cross and the national lawyer's guild recommend refusing to say anything else past that.

the proper procedure is:
1- "am i free to go?" if they say yes, leave. if they say no, you're being detained.
2. "am i under arrest?" if they say no, repeat step 1.
3. if they ask any other questions, "i'm invoking my 5th amendment right and would like to speak to an attourney."

personally, i think it depends on the situation and on the cops. if you think smiling and being as friendly (which means talking a little) will not get you arrested, i suggest doing it- but if they start interogating you, definitely stand up for yourself and assert your rights. just showing that you know your rights scares cops quite a bit. if you can get away with it, and you have a cell phone, it'd be a good idea to call someone (someone with ABC or the NLG preferably, but any of your friends will work) and tell them you're being detained and what the situation is. you can tell the cops that you're talking to legal support and that scares the hell out of them too. try to write down / memorize their names and badge numbers, so in the future you can file complaints against them if that's what you want to do.

but yeah, being interrogated and threatened by cops sucks. cops like to go on power trips, and they're so used to getting away with it that demonstrating that they can't get away with it with you is a powerful tool. good luck.
Re: experience with cop harassment in cambridge
08 May 2006
Definitely a creepy experience, and I'm glad that you're feeling good enough afterwards to share the experience. I'd echo what others have said about asking if you're free to go, though as one mentioned, it's a judgement call--you may decide that it's better to cooperate and hopefully get away sooner. But in this cse, it sounds like you didn't get to go too soon! Asking if you were free to go when your train came could have been a good move--if you are, then you can get on that train!

A question--did you take note of the cops badge numbers? i'm not sure how easy those are to see with MBTA cops, but it's good to take note of. These officers don't sound like they were breaking the law, as you hadn't asserted your right to a lawyer and they didn't put their hands on you. But still, given the extra creepy fact that they knew about juvenile arrests, you might want to talk with a lawyer about seeing how sealed those records really are. If you don't have the badge numbers, no problem, but if you do, it helps to have details about the what happened when they apparently accessed those records.
Re: experience with cop harassment in cambridge
08 May 2006
I'm sure the NLG would have been happy to represent you if the police had decided to really harass you by using the law which would have been appropriate.

M.G.L. C 160, s 218 makes "track walking" a crime for which you may be arrested.

Sounds to me like the officers had more important people to harass.
Re: experience with cop harassment in cambridge
09 May 2006
yes. this was real. im not putting my name because i've been harassed by the state enough this week already. thanks. (those asking for my name, do you want my address, phone # and social security too?)

thanks for the advice, those who gave it. i know about the "free to go" thing. it isn't a magic trick! it was pretty clear that i was being detained although not entirely clear why. yes, i was walking on the tracks, but when 4 more cops suddenly appeared it occurred to me maybe some kind of "terrorism response" thing was going on, if it wasnt somehow designed to intimidate me personally. i mean it was the mbta not the feds so... basically it was just wicked weird. i thought "smiling and acting friendly and talking a little" was the best course out of it, i really was hoping they would just let me get on the train -- in fact they almost did -- it being sunday and there are only trains every 2 hours! in hindsight i should have said even less than i did which was not very much.
Re: experience with cop harassment in cambridge
09 May 2006
Just remember not to stare up at the black helicopters while you're walking the tracks. I was stopped by the Transit Police once, and when I asked them, both of the officers told me that their badge numbers were "666". Coincidence, I don't think so.
Re: experience with cop harassment in cambridge
09 May 2006
Ugh.

So, to clarify: you never asked them if you were being detained (meaning they can completely deny ever detaining you at all)? You continued to speak with them, providing them with information about both yourself and your associations with others, including even information about your home life and your politics? And then, after all of your helpful behavior talking to these cops, telling them all about yourself (which is stupid but your choice) and information about other people, too, (who had no choice about your choosing to tell the cops all about them), you write about it on IMc and call it harrassment?

Let's get some things straight here:

A) Anyone, cop or otherwise, can come up to you on the street and ask you anything. They can ask you for money, to see your ID, where you are going, or what time it is. You CHOOSE whether or not you respond to any of these requests. As much as I abhor the cops and as many times as I have personally given the "Know Your Rights" trainings, your case simply isn't harrassment. You CHOSE to talk to the cops (the first violation of security culture), then you chose to give them your driving ID while not driving (another violation of basic security culture), then you chose to tell them about your associations, potentially implicated people who thought you were their friend (another violation of security culture), and then you chose to continue speaking with them about completely unrelated matters (yet another violation of basic security culture) for the intended purpose of gaining some sort of brownie points with the cops (not just a security culture violation but also blindingly, painfully stupid).

B) Despite your assurance that "it was pretty clear" that you were being detained, unless you asked and were explicitly told that you were, then the cops can (rightfully) claim that you were not.

C) The self-righteous hubris of saying that the advice of the local legal counsel and the response pattern to pedestrian stops "isn't a magic bullet" is nothing more than a (rather craven) attempt to try to excuse the egregious, dangerous, and patently stupid violations of security culture which you have admitted to in this report of the incident. Someone who isn't talking to the fucking cops in the first place doesn't need a "magic bullet" and a pedestrian almost never has any reason to talk to a cop at all and it is clear from your account that you had no business speaking with the cops in any other fashion than the response pattern. Instead, though, you demean and discount the legal advice offered by some of the best civil rights attorneys in the country on the subject of stop and search law despite the fact that you never even fucking tried to use it! You never even got confirmation that you were even being detained in the first place!

I am not at all surprised that you posted this anonymously, not because of state repression (any complaint you filed against the officers would require you to identify yourself legally), but because all of your acquaintances who you potentially implicated would and should not be at all happy with the fact that the person whom they believed was their friend has been choosing to hang out and talk to cops about them.

The most disturbing thing about your response to the comments in this thread so far is your claim that you knew what the legal experts advised you to do (not talk to them other than to follow the response pattern set out above by "dealing with cops") and yet wilfully chose to ignore it, putting yourself and any supposed associates in greater danger on purpose.
Re: experience with cop harassment in cambridge
09 May 2006
whoa, where did you get the idea that i implicated anyone else?? i certainly didn't. i didn't tell them anything the state doesn't already know about me.

the cops had my ID, and when the train rolled up a few minutes into this, they told me i COULDN'T get on. doesn't that mean i was being detained?

i appreciate your good intentions but maybe read a little more carefully before aggressively haranguing and belittling me this time.
this summer let's bring it on
09 May 2006
This is all great advice, and I would encourage people to do their own research as well as a general good habit of info-sharing. That said, we should not let reports like this dissuade us from our political activities. I'm not accusing you, g, but sometimes stories like this serve the purpose of making activists worry. The only thing we should be worried about is getting the people in power right now out of power and into jail cells. It should be done peacefully, but if civil disobedience is required to defend the constitution then so be it. Let's all turn the heat up this summer in advance of the elections in November. Respect the police but don't fear them. And make sure your message is seen and heard by as many people as possible. We've been growing in numbers and organization--it is time to show the world what American democracy SHOULD look like.
re: bringing it on
09 May 2006
right on. i am trying to sprend info not fear. as i realize and as some have pointed out, i didnt handle this perfectly. hopefully other people can learn from this as well as myself. i posted this to spark discussion not to freak people out.
Re: experience with cop harassment in cambridge
09 May 2006
could you explain a bit more about what "walking on the rails" means? you mean, at the porter red line stop? i think the cops should definitely stop anyone who went off the platform in the path of the subway... or are you talking about commuter rail?.. if you're a commuter rail passenger, btw, the treatment you got was too good for you.. die suburbs, die!
Re: cop harassment
10 May 2006
“g” I think it is good that you posted your experience being detained by the police. We can all learn something from this incident. I don’t know how old you are, but it’s time you outgrew the habit of walking on railroad tracks. If you are any kind of supporter of working class people you should know that rail workers live in fear of hitting people walking on tracks. It takes a long time to stop a train. Innocent train drivers often suffer a lifetime of guilt when a train they are driving hits someone. If your own regard for your life is small, at least think of them. Go practice balance on a fallen tree in the woods.

The police looking up your name is not the same as the information the ‘state’ has on you. A political demonstration arrest may just show up as an arrest. Don’t give them any more information about yourself. You are just another face in the crowd to them - don’t make yourself the “face of the enemy.” I have friends who put ‘political’ tattoos on themselves and I can not understand why. It’s as if you are daring the enemy to catch you. They often can not figure out who we are, don’t make it easier for them.

You don’t have to use your name to report this story, your words ring true. Why someone would criticize you for taking a commuter train to where you live is baffling. Many people have little choice were they live.
Re: experience with cop harassment in cambridge
11 May 2006
um chaz, you know that poor and working class people live in many of the suburbs of this city, don't you? where do you think everyone displaced by gentrification goes?
The Woeking Class are in Tears!
12 May 2006
As I said in a previous post g, here are my thoughts on your childish behavior. But first, and again, I say this with full disclosure. I am what you would refer to as a "pig." I also monitor this site daily. So here are my thoughts. If you don't want to gain a spot on the darwin list, don't walk on train tracks. If you do, it tells me, and those who are like me that:
1. You are crazy and don't realize that you are walking on train tracks. You will be hit by a train causing a mess to clean up and loads of paperwork. You will be arrested.
2. You are simply stupid. Same results. You will be arrested.
3. You are making a statement. Unfortunately, that statement is "I am an idiot." You will be arrested
4. You are flipping off society. Good job. You will be arrested.
5. You have not grown up. You will be arrested.

Your poor mother must be asking herself, "where did I go wrong?"