So my partner’s delicate civil liberties were trampled upon Wednesday night. At about 11 PM, after Shamus picked me up and we were heading into the office, we were pulled over by New Orleans finest. Actually, we literally got pulled over at our office by New Orleans finest.
As Mr. Rohn took signal and performed a legal right turn into our parking lot we were immediately engulfed in flashing blue lights. I looked at Shamus and he looked at me. My first response was, “Should we get out? I mean we’re at the office.” He quickly expressed that it was probably in our best interests to remain seated. I reluctantly concurred. At that moment a rather husky (read: overweight) officer with a stereotypical cop mustache asked for Shamus’ identification. He handed it to him promptly and without question. Apparently, this is where my colleague and I have divergent views on interactions with law enforcement. I sat there smiling, thinking it a little ironic getting pulled over at work. This is when the officer brashly informed me that he would also like my identification. No problem officer friendly! Right away!
It was obvious to me that this patrolman had eyeballed us a little wrong. I get it. The outreach office is located in one of New Orleans’ most historically drug infested neighborhoods with some of the city’s most violent streets. It’s 11 at night. We get it. Officer friendly gets it. Officer friendly just wants to know what two white guys looking like us are doing there. He asked if we lived here. Shamus said no and explained that we we’re going into work, thus the matching yellow shirts, backwards baseball caps, flashlights and gloves. Duh, we’re obviously social workers! He looked at Shamus. He looked at me. He couldn’t figure it out. That is when I seized the opportunity to express my 1st amendment opinion that I believed that Shamus should go to jail. Officer Friendly didn’t think it was funny and stated, “That has yet to be determined.” I handed him my I.D., but with a little lagniappe. I also handed him my New Orleans Police Department Employee Crisis Technician id. He had profiled one of his own! Now he was really confused.
Thirty seconds later, without informing us of our violation and with his backup just pulling up behind, he said everything was fine. I immediately jumped out and grabbed my bike and headed into the office. Shamus immediately began contemplating a civil rights violation lawsuit.
What did we learn? What was accomplished? Nothing really, except Shamus wants to write a letter to the paper and apparently my belief that Mr. Rohn would benefit from a more structured environment like jail is not shared by the average patrolman. Ironically, today I’ll get my wish. Mr. Rohn has to go to jail to pick up a client we’ve been searching for and has gotten released to our custody. She’s in jail on an old attachment, probably for panhandling. (The picture on the blog of Shamus over the mattress is actually her bed.)
When looking for specific clients, jail is one of the first places we search. Our clients don’t get the benefit of doubt with their interactions with law enforcement, they often don’t have id’s to hand over and never have a partner who possesses an NOPD badge.
Their daily survival on the street of New Orleans, their personal freedom, is always in jeopardy when stopped by law enforcement. This can mean lost jobs, lost housing opportunities and a continuation of the hopelessness of homelessness. It is one more challenge our clients and we have to surmount in ending the cycle of homelessness. Today, we’ll win. Shamus gets to go to jail.
Erin JacksonOctober 17, 2009 5:36 pm
This is a great blog. I saw your article in the Times Picayune and I admire what you are doing.