Lessons in New York policing: ride a pedicab, speak with an accent, and you get yourself arrested. Drive a Mercedes, and sounds like you’re ‘from here’, and the NYPD will help you with your parallel parking.
This is what I saw riding home yesterday:on my side of the street, a police officer having a nice chit-chatty conversation with a big, slightly less than middle aged guy who says he’s from New Jersey. Across the street, there’s another officer standing in the street, obviously looking for a particular car – after a minute, I hear her yell to the two folks near me: “I think I see her! Is that her car?” The two men next to me look down the road and smile, seeing whoever it is they’ve been waiting for.
It takes me a moment, but I realize at this point that the police officer standing across the street from me stood in the street to save a parking spot, not to get a vantage point. On a congested street already plagued by police parking problems, I daily see drivers struggle to find parking, I realized this was a fine gift on the part of the officers involved.
After a few moments I see the car pull up. A late model Mercedes, looked like a station wagon of some kind, very large and curvy as expensive cars tend to be. The officer opposite me steps out of the parking spot and then directs the driver into the spot, laughingly helping them back up without hitting the car behind. There’s a joking back and forth between the two about the difficulty of driving in New York, etc. etc. The two men next to me smile and greet the driver as she steps out – a buxom blonde, of course, with visibly white teeth and fake tan to match. They walk across the street to meet her and the folks riding in the car with her.
Thus begins the unloading. The officer standing across the street from me helps with unloading, lending a hand to the various kids and such making their way out of the car. More jovial conversation. The officer previously standing next to me stands aside impatiently, waiting to move on from the scene. At this point, I figure little else real will happen, snap some quick pictures (taking photos next to cops still unnerves me), then go to sit on my steps.
A favor is never just a favor. While listening to the two men standing near me, in the voice of the civilian you could hear the jaunty confidence of someone who has never felt vulnerable near police, someone able to act with almost total certainty that they will never be the victim of police harassment or abuse. Watching what came afterwards made me realize the absurd disparities of class and race in our city. If this were a favor extended uniformly, or even without the simultaneous harassment of people of color driving cars, or what I saw in Central Park with the pedicabs I might feel a little warmed by the kind gesture. Without that guarantee of equality, the episode felt collusive and corrupt.