In May 2014, a fellow Fordham Ram and I decided to attend a free concert at the now defunct House of Vans venue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. A free show with unlimited free beer that gave no shortage of tickets out, you had to get on line early to secure admission. I can’t remember what artist we saw, or really anything about the show, but I do remember everything that happened after, as it was my first and only experience being arrested.
My friend, who we will call Lexi, was a petite white woman somewhere between 4’10-5’0 tall. We were close friends at the time, spending countless hours hanging and discussing art. We were both the children of police officers. My parents were long retired NYPD and her father was an active Sergeant or Lieutenant somewhere in New Jersey. As anyone who is related or close with law enforcement knows, we are often given small gold shields, PBA cards, DEA cards, or other signifiers saying we are theoretically “different” than the average “civilian.”
Lexi and I left the concert very drunk and began to walk aimlessly throughout Brooklyn until we came to an above ground train. We were honestly lost and drunk, though definitely not belligerent. We needed to get back to Fordham in the Bronx and it was late, around 11:30PM. Not knowing if this was the train we needed and wanting to avoid paying just to head in the wrong direction, Lexi hopped the turnstile without much thought at all. With a slight hesitation, but a drunk courage, I made the same mistake. My first mistake.
I knew instantly that something was wrong. Eyes from across the platform landed on us. My instincts that had been suppressed by the free beer kicked into hyperdrive. I suddenly recognized every single plainclothes cop all around us. I sat down on a bench with Lexi, warning her to prepare for what was about to come. I made sure my hands were on my lap in plain sight. Lexi was aloof and called me paranoid before three men dressed as construction workers approached us. Her face froze with fear and looked down. I never took my eyes off the cop who spoke first.
I wish I remembered their opening line, but I don’t. I usually do. I’ll chalk that one up to the drunk haze enveloping me, but I remember exactly how the scenario played out. Lexi explained that we were Fordham students, lost, drunk, and eager to return home. She claimed it was her idea to hop the turnstile cause she couldn’t afford to pay to go the wrong way. She showed her father’s golden shield and felt secure in her connection to the police. I knew better.
The cop asked me to confirm the story and I did, also mentioning my family’s connection to the police. This is when things went left. Despite both having our IDs and cop family connection information, the cop handed over only my information to another to do a quick search to confirm that I was not lying and had no warrants. The cop sounded apologetic and understanding, wishing to help us get home as long as everything came out clear. This was SOP (standard operating procedure) and if I knew I had nothing to hide, I should be good. Their first lie. Knowing I have never been arrested before I began to relax. My second mistake.
Very quickly information came back that Joshua Ramos from Brooklyn had a warrant out for his arrest. I protested that my ID says Bronx and I have never lived in Brooklyn as my arms were quickly placed behind me and cuffs were thrown onto my wrists. I argued, but did not resist, asking the cop to call my father whose number was on the back of the DEA card. He said he would when we got to the precinct and began to walk me off the platform. Their second lie. He promised that if the warrant information was not true, I would be let go without a ticket for the inconvenience. Their third lie. Lexi got upset and asked where I was being taken. She told me she would meet me there. When I released she was not there.
After traveling in a packed van of all black and brown men who had seemingly all hopped a turnstile that night, I was left in a holding cell for hours. I was never able to call my father, for some reason had to take a mugshot (that I wish I had access to, just for the story), and was told that despite not having a warrant I would be given a ticket for theft of service. Two months later I went to court and the judge gave me an ACD. An ACD states “if the person is not arrested during the agreed time period — usually three to six months — the arrest is dismissed.” This would later be a major cause of stress as I had to take a background check for criminal behavior when applying to become a teaching assistant.
Before writing this piece I tried to find my arrest record on Truth Finder to discover the exact date of arrest. Sadly (or thankfully) the arrest record is not there. Shout out to Mark Attanasio for paying the $28 that Truth Finder charges and Melissa Ingala for offering. Some things have changed since this incident: plainclothes undercover police officers will no longer exist and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office is no longer prosecuting turnstile hopping. But so much still remains the same. Subway fare evasion fines and arrests disproportionately affect lower income black and brown residents. My experience is an example of this, as Lexi was neither arrested nor fined for the same theft of service we both committed.
I was told I needed to be arrested because of a warrant that did not exist. I was told that if the warrant did not exist I would not be given a ticket. I was told I would be able to make a phone call to my father, a retired officer, who could vouch for the lack of warrant. The experience of being caged has not left me. My 4 hours in a holding cell is nothing compared to 4 days, 4 years, 4 decades, or a lifetime. I have never considered hopping a turnstile since and will never follow the whims of a white person when considering even the smallest deviation from the public norm, as I know they will be treated differently than me in an encounter with law enforcement as a result of a racial bias.
I have told this story before, when I wrote and directed Rough All Around in my senior year for the Fordham Feminist Playwright Festival. Despite the review that “storyline was dragged a bit”, I believe the play could and should have been longer. I should have put the audience in the cage. I should have made them feel what I felt, if only in the theater. No one should have cops lie multiple times during an interaction. No one should have to question if the information they are being told is truthful or not. I believe only some people have to and those people look like me.
All credit in the article photo goes to Andrew Beecher of the Fordham Observer. If you have the funds please consider donating to the Bronx Freedom Fund who has been disrupting the injustice of cash bail in New York City since 2007!