Wednesday, July 22, 2009
An Open Letter to Officer Joe
Inspector William Matusiak
306 W. 54th Street
New York, NY 10019
An Open Letter to the 18th Precint
Dear Inspector Matusiak:
A couple of months ago, I had the unfortunate opportunity to step inside of your precinct. It was unfortunate in that the situation that prompted the need to go to the police was difficult. For the second time in a month period, the same individual verbally attacked me in my home.
There was no danger of physical violence; indeed, if it ever came to that point, this particular man would be calling you for support, as the difference in our physicality is such that I could easily and heartily defend myself. Thank God my Mother raised me right.
I am writing to you because the choice to walk the few short blocks to the precinct wasn’t an easy one. I am a person of color, and I am gay. Every aspect of my life, for my basic survival, has been influenced by a rule: steer clear of the police. While elementary school taught us the men and women in blue are there to help us, life taught me that more often than not the men and women in blue were enemies, people to avoid. As I grew older, I realized, of course, that for every Amadou Diallo incident, there were a thousand incidents of good cops doing the right thing, unfortunately, the bashings and beatings and Oscar Grant shootings are stories that make the news. And the stories happen frequently enough, and are substantiated often enough, that to err on the side of caution is to err towards a course of survival.
Let me be clear, I present to the world as a well educated, well groomed, individual. I have never been subject to harassment by the police. As a matter of fact, my one run in with the cops was leaving a bar and making the stupid decision to drive. I received a DUI, and I have to say that through the entire incident, from the arrest to the police house, the deputies on duty were not only kind but extremely supportive. Never before and never since have I had any violation on my record. My personal, direct experience with the police has been quite positive.
Yet not all of my indirect encounters have been quite so upbeat. I quite literally have been walking down the street, in between two black men that presented “thuggish,” and though these two men did not know each other, based on their appearance, they were called over and harassed by the police, while I was waved on.
My little brother, who is engaged with Hip Hop culture, was regularly targeted by the police as a teen for doing nothing more than looking a particular way and standing on our front porch.
So to choose to make a complaint, against a white man, as a person of color, and as a queer person in a domestic dispute (the man was my partner’s former partner), I was nigh on terrified to make a complaint that I had a legal and moral right to make.
Then I met Officer Joe.
In hindsight, I should have asked for Officer Joe’s last name and badge number. All I can tell you is that this particular evening, he was working at the front desk when we came in. I was with my current partner, and we approached the officer to ask him how to file a complaint. Officer Joe asked what happened, and I told him the story. Not only was he emphatic but also he directly asked my partner how the heck he could get away with having his current partner and ex-partner living together. He added a moment of levity to a difficult situation, and my assumption is that Officer Joe is straight, has received great training, and is comfortable in his skin. Officer Joe’s demeanor, engagement, and respect did more to change my perception of police than all of the posters hanging in the precinct that, frankly, come across as slightly condescending in their attempts to downplay the role of police violence.
Police violence against people of color and queer folks, particularly trans folks, is real and has a long history. Posters will not change the minds of those impacted by the actions of a few, rotten cops. The thoughtful, jovial, and forthright actions of individuals such as Officer Joe will.
I worked on a political campaign, once, for Deputy Chief of Police Lucy Gerold. Lucy was the first civilian Deputy Chief in Minneapolis. She then chose to go to the academy and now serves as the Third Precinct Captain. I once told Lucy that she was the first and only cop that I had ever met that I trusted. I now trust many more. I have confidence, at least, in the 18th Precinct. I appreciate the training that your officers have obviously received, and I apologize to you and your men and women for the fears I have had related to police, generated by the actions of a minority of officers, yet none the less projected onto folks that are just trying to do good work in our community.
I appreciate you all, and the work that you do. Please note, I will be posting this letter to my blog, www.myfeetonlywalkforward.blogspot.com. My blog receives roughly 2,000 to 3,000 readers per month. I am happy to be able to offer a story of cops doing good in a time when most of the news about people in uniform isn’t the best.