Given the debate about the state of policing in this country, I was reminded of a time, probably about ten years ago, where I was the unlucky subject of some police attention. It was a scary situation. Looking back, I am very thankful.
One evening in Salem, Oregon I sat resting my legs after a long walk. I had my hiking backpack with me. I was leaning up against the wall of a building. My calf muscles and feet were tired and sore.
Awhile later, a patrol car arrived and the officer parked on the other side of the street, opposite me. I did my best to ignore him, until he shined his car’s bright, beaming light on my way.
Then, after accessing the scene, he didn’t approach and talk or anything. I just noticed that he was pointing a long gun, a rifle I think, at me. Then, he started barking orders.
“Let me see your hands!”
“Get on your stomach and crawl towards me away from the backpack!”
I did as he said. I didn’t want to become a casualty.
He kept yelling. I had no idea what the hell was happening. I’d been on that concrete face down for quite awhile, when I had enough. I slowly got up and asked him what was going on.
“What’s this all about? What’s going on?”
I was understandably confused. I didn’t make any sudden moves or threatening gestures.
Then, another officer, who I had not noticed, quickly approached and jumped up to where I was. I thought he was coming after me. But then I realized his trajectory was all wrong. I just stood and watched as he briskly moved towards my backpack.
Meanwhile, in my peripheral vision I had noticed more squad cars and policemen from where he had come. I had attracted quite a lot of attention. The response was interesting.
The officer who had joined me on the elevated concrete outside the vacant building then pulled out a lengthy black object I often stored on the outer side of my pack. Glancing at it, he dropped it immediately, with a look of incredulous relief on his face. It was my big, sturdy, black golf umbrella, which is quite handy in oft rainy Oregon.
They had thought it was a gun. That’s what they’d been told. Someone I like to call a do-gooder moron had called 911 and reported that a man was hanging out and carrying what looked like a rifle. And that kind of stupid fear and bad eyesight could have ended up very badly for me.
Thankfully, the police were very cautious and thorough, while I waited for an explanation about what was happening and why. And in the minute or two after learning that I was no threat, they packed up and left, disappearing as quickly as they had appeared.