Tuesday, October 11, 2005

"Are you familiar with the Fourth Amendment?" "I don't listen to hip-hop."

"Society had a crime problem. It hired cops to attack crime. Now society has a cop problem." -Tom Robbins

My Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search was explicitly violated for the first time Friday as I drove up to Nashville. A local Mississippi police officer pulled me over on Interstate 55 because I was apparently swerving slightly within my lane. (If that's true, it was probably largely because I had to keep constantly checking my rear view mirror wondering why this cop was just sitting right behind me.)

Once on the side of the road, he did the usual ask for my driver's license jazz. Shockingly, when he called it in, he discovered there were no unpaid tickets or outstanding warrants. He had absolutely no probable cause to search my car. But he asked to anyway. I really should have asked him why, but in the heart of Mississippi I wasn't exactly loving the situation I was in. (Early scenes from My Cousin Vinny were racing through my head.)

So I got to stand by the side of the road with the guy's backup (yes, backup showed up) while he searched my car. He asked me if I'd had anything to drink that day. I said "No." (I should have said, "It's 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and I've been on the road for 6 hours, what the hell do you think?") He asked me if I ever drank. "Only on special occasions." (A little white lie, especially since I was wearing my Guinness t-shirt). He asked me if I had any marijuana in the car. "No." Have you ever used marijuana? "No." Have you ever been around anyone who used marijuana? "Only at rock concerts." (I should have said, "All the time, you moron, I went to college. Which is more than I can say for your dumb ass.")

All the while, I'm watching him like a hawk to make sure he doesn't try to plant anything or steal anything (these were legitimate concerns, very real in my mind at the time).

Ultimately, the cops were friendly enough and they let me go as soon as they didn't find anything. But still, it pissed me off. It was fifteen minutes of my life that I'll never have back. It was fifteen minutes they could have spent catching an actual criminal. And mostly, I just felt like my privacy was being invaded with no damn good reason.

Now, I really do respect police officers for the most part, but (if I haven't made it obvious in earlier posts) I'm not a particularly huge fan of traffic cops. To me, they contribute more to the problem than the solution. But then again, I don't think this guy even qualified as a traffic cop. Probably just some local boy who was bored on a Friday afternoon.

I suppose the one positive note to come out of all this is the knowledge that Mississippi cops don't target black people exclusively. Whee.

Song lyric of the day:
"Do no wrong, so clean cut
Dirty his hands, it comes right off
- Pearl Jam, W.M.A. (White Male American)


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