Patriot Acts - Freedom flees America
© 2001, Iron Butt Association, Chicago, Illinois Please respect our intellectual property rights. Do not distribute this
document, or portions therein, without the written permission of the Iron Butt Association.
* * * * * *
Reprinted from the August 2005 issue of On The Level (the BMW Riders Association newsletter) - permission from the author.
View from the Bunker
by Bob Higdon
Part 130: Patriot Acts
It had been an unusually boring day, right up to the point where the cop bounced me onto the hood of the patrol car and snapped the handcuffs on my wrists. Twenty-five years to the day earlier, Mount St. Helens had blown its top. I was about to blow mine.
At 6:11 p.m. last May 18 I rode my bike into the parking lot north of the Nueces county courthouse in Corpus Christi, Texas. I know the exact moment because one minute later my digital camera recorded a photo of the courthouse along with the date and time. One minute after that I had stuffed the camera back in the fanny pack and had slung a weary leg over the K75. It was at that point that I heard the short, sharp growl of a siren behind me. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the dizzying lights of the patrol car. Glancing up, I saw four black, angry SUVs in front of me, obviously blocking my only other escape route. I'd been swarmed.
"Get off the bike and stand away from it," the disembodied voice on the car's bullhorn behind me ordered. I did. A moment later I was face down on the hood with my hands behind me. The leader of the pack - whom we'll call Patton, since I'm still not sure whether I'll sue his feral ass - clamped the handcuffs down, immediately cutting off most of the circulation to the tops of my thumbs. The Spanish word for handcuffs is las esposas. It also means the wives. Who says it's a humorless language?
"I'm going to search you," Patton said, dragging me off the car. "Are you carrying a weapon?" I shook my head. "Is there anything in these pockets that can stick me?" Another shake. If I'm the felon that he believes me to be, does he seriously think I'd tell him about the water moccasin in my pocket?
He started rummaging through the Darien jacket. From time to time I'd show him another zipper or interior pocket that he'd overlooked. He located the cell phone and handed it off for inspection. Same with camera. No explanation. Search. Find. Hand off.
"Do you consent to having your bike searched?" Patton asked.
"Sure," I said, as if consent meant anything. They'd otherwise just keep me there until they'd secured a warrant. Probable cause? Hell, I'm a biker; I must have done something.
After a while, most of them drifted away, leaving one cop, Mad Dog Coll, standing in front of me impassively. Ramirez, the rookie, stood behind him. Two of the others were working the bike over, dumping the contents of the saddlebags and roll bag all over the lot. Another was checking the phone for recent calls, micro-WMDs, or encoded text messages from my Serbian agent. Yet another was looking for porn shots among the stored images in the camera but finding nothing but pictures of courthouses along the Gulf coast. Two or three others stood around, vacantly shuffling their cloven feet. I passed the time by trying to keep blood flowing to my hands and memorizing name tags.
Growing weary of this stupidity, I stared at Coll coldly. "If you'd taken ten seconds to ask me what I'm doing here, I could have saved us all a lot of time and trouble."
It clearly was the wrong thing to say, even though not one of the words had mattered in the slightest. It was the tone that Coll's single-helixed, pre-limbic brain recognized. Not only was I not being appropriately submissive, I was actively taunting him. And this is why people like Rodney King get the merciless crap beaten out of them. They compound the underlying crime with an even graver offense: Contempt of Cop.
Coll took two steps toward me and launched himself from bottom dead center into orbit in a matter of milliseconds. "You shut your [expletive deleted] mouth or I'll haul your [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] up to that [expletive deleted] jail until you [expletive deleted] wish you had [expletive deleted] died and gone to [expletive deleted] hell. You got that, you mother [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted]?"
I glanced at Ramirez, who remained planted nervously a few feet behind Coll. He was giving me the palms down sign that third base coaches use to signal the runner to slide. I nodded imperceptibly.
"I got it," I said quietly.
After about 20 minutes Patton returned and unhooked me. He said that someone had phoned in a bomb threat. Not me, I said. He asked me why I'd photographed the courthouse. I told him it was what I did, traveling from one county to the next, taking pictures of the courthouses. I wanted to see all 3,069 of them. It may not have been his idea of how to spend time, but to my way of thinking it sure beat being a cop in Corpus Christi.
"You shouldn't be taking pictures of courthouses," he said.
"You'll just cause trouble, like today," he said with the iron logic of a self-fulfilling prophecy. "Things have changed since 9/11."
"Yes, they have," I agreed.
I left Corpus Christi, where the Tejana singer Selena had been murdered, and headed south to Kingsville for the last courthouse of the day.
* * * * * *
Just as generals incompetently plot strategy based on the last war, so too do hack security officials combat tomorrow what terrorists did last week. A thug with dynamite in his shoes tries to blow up a plane, so you and I will be taking off our boots at airports for the next 50 years. Twenty young men, all Arabs, hijack four airplanes, so now Swedish-American grandmothers in wheelchairs are yanked out of the boarding line and strip searched. A deadbeat punk, unwilling to face a child support hearing in Corpus Christi, phones in a bomb threat, and the investigation soon focuses on a Social Security pensioner who rolls into the courthouse parking lot on a motorcycle.
Maybe that isn't unreasonable, cop imagination being what it is, but my suspicions about the episode remain dark. Would the police have acted any differently toward me had I shown up astride a shiny Sebring convertible instead of a bike? I don't have the slightest doubt about it. The car is an acceptable symbol, denoting social responsibility; the bike is a red flag, advertising a crime in progress. We are outcasts with a serious image problem. More than 50 years ago it was Brando in The Wild One; today it's the moron with the drag pipes. The public doesn't like us, with good reason. The cops like us even less, since we're not entirely compliant.
But it's even worse than that. Patton was right: Invoke 9/11 for whatever reason that strikes your perverse fancy and, if you're a person in authority, you can do anything you want. Anything. Since I'm not only a suspicious motorcyclist but very likely a Saudi bomb thrower as well, my liberties on that May afternoon had dwindled to not much more than the right to be shot at dawn.
If my analysis of this is correct, I can make a big dent in eliminating this problem of future courthouse cop confrontations by selling the bikes and buying a Sebring convertible. But, to vary an idiot's motto, if I did that then the terrorists would win. No one wants that, of course, unless you're a terrorist and think there's a good chance you can recycle the world back to the eighth century, A.D. But on that hot afternoon in Corpus Christi, exactly who were the terrorists I was supposed to be worried about, and how exactly are the events of 9/11 even remotely related to the events of that courthouse parking lot? I keep forgetting.
No, Patton, I'm sorry. I won't stop going to the courthouses. I won't stop taking the photos. I won't sell my bikes and buy the Sebring. I won't kiss your furry ass and I won't genuflect the next time some hypocritical politician wraps himself in a flag and announces a plan to gut the Constitution even further. I'm tired of taking my boots off in airports and I'm tired of September 11 being used as the justification for all manner of restrictions on civil rights. I'm not changing; I just can't do it, not for you or anyone else.
"I yam what I yam," Popeye said. So yam I, brother.