I’d like to thank you and all the contributors to LewRockwell.com and Mises.org for all the work you do to promote the message of liberty. I discovered LRC, as many did, through Ron Paul during his 2008 campaign. I have been an avid reader ever since. Your work has brought voice and coherence to the vague ideas I already had in my mind and has given me the confidence to present those ideas to other people. Your work has also provided me with practical guidance, and that guidance has recently helped me in a great way.
This past weekend I was riding a New Jersey Transit train home to Philadelphia with my fiancee and a friend of ours after a day at the beach. To make a very long story a bit shorter, my fiancee went back to use the rest room and was harassed not by another passenger, but a conductor (#1) on the train. She politely asked him multiple times to leave her alone, but he persisted. She even asked another conductor (#2) for help, but he ignored her. She finally resorted to including a rude word in her request to leave her alone. He responded by threatening to throw her off the train, because, as he put it, "I have more rights than you do aboard this train." And he’s right – there are multiple signs posted on the trains and buses of public transportation vehicles from the transit, local, or state police reminding every passenger that the transit employee enjoys special protections under law. We brought the incident to the attention of conductor #2; he told us to move up to the next car so we don’t have to come into contact with conductor #1. While not a perfect solution, there really wasn’t much more he could do at that exact moment, and any complaint he took upon our behalf would not even be addressed, if submitted at all (NJTransit is especially notorious for their very poor customer service record). And it’s likely that any action taken by the company would be fought by the man’s union, anyway. We just decided to cut our losses. On our way to the next car, I spotted conductor #1 watching us from the end of the car, posing against the doorway and smirking. On my way out, I aped his pose and let him know what position he held in my heart at that moment with a simple hand gesture.
Later in the ride, I have to use the restroom. I get there without incident, but when passing between cars on my way back, I press the pressure plate to release the door and the door doesn’t move. I hear a voice from my right, in the shadows off to the side. "You the guy who gave me the finger?" This man waited for me in the shadows between cars where there are no cameras or people, prevents me from leaving by overriding the pressure plate, and confronts me. He’s got about 2 inches and 30–40 pounds on me. I turn to him and say "Yes, you harassed my fiancee so I gave you the finger." "I didn’t harass anyone; that’s your interpretation." "Ain’t no interpretation about it, man. Now let me go." I press the plate, nothing. I force the door open and begin to walk through the next car. He follows me and strikes another pose and flashes another smile. I use the exact words "You’re a big ——- man, aren’t you?" and leave to take my seat.
I tell my fiancee and our friend about the incident, and we decide that now we will file a complaint when we get home. We take the rest of the ride trying to relax after a couple tense moments. We weren’t done yet, though. As the train pulls in to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, we spot 4 Amtrak policemen on the platform. I think nothing of it – 30th Street is a major transportation hub in a major city, and as such it’s been subject to the same militarization of security that’s been implemented in all such transportation centers. I wasn’t entirely surprised, though, when one chased me up the escalator and escorted me to a bench to our left in the main atrium of the station.
It is here that the practical instruction I’ve learned from LRC became relevant and had to be put into practice. I asked the officer if I was being detained – he replied that yes I was. My fiancee and I (our friend wasn’t pulled aside – he waited to the side to observe, like a true friend) were sat down, and I find myself in front of 4 Amtrak police while one attempts to question me. He asks me why I "Told the conductor to go —- himself." Now this is not what I said to the man, but I do not protest. I remain silent and respond with only eye contact. He asks for my ID, which I could not locate and has since been considered missing. I tell him I cannot find my ID. He doesn’t seem to believe that I have no ID, but there’s not much he can do. I didn’t refuse to provide him with identifying information; I just didn’t have the document for which he asked. I made sure to remain polite and address him as "officer" at all times. There was once I addressed him as "sir" but quickly corrected myself to "officer." I wouldn’t allow myself to play into the power game that as being played – he is the supposed public servant, and I am not subservient to him. I think he catches this, because his face twisted in a way that could only be read as contempt.
He then tells me the alleged charges – disorderly conduct and something else I can’t remember but amounts to "brief use of rude word to someone who has special access to the violence of government enforcement" on state property. He asks again what I have to say. I remain silent. He places his hands on hips and widens his stance. "Nothing at all to say about that?" Again, I remain silent. It’s at this point he gets truly frustrated and attempts to intimidate me. "OK you’re doing this armchair lawyer thing right now so I’m going to tell you how this really works. You’re going to give this man (pointing to another officer) your name and address and we’re going to check you. You better hope it comes back clear." As we wait for our background checks, the officer asks me if he can take a look at my bag. This was after I had already exercised my right to remain absolutely silent – what made him think that such an "armchair lawyer" would allow a search? I politely respond (although I couldn’t help the small smile that crept out as I said it – it just felt so good to do so) "No, I don’t consent to any searches." I remained calm and polite the whole time. My fiancee, however, was having a hard time remaining calm while I was being questioned (and understandably so – she felt she was harassed by a man who then calls the cops on her fiancee when he uses a rude word after being harassed himself). She was asking questions as to why we were being held that were met with increasingly terse responses to "shut up and calm down." I move to console her, but only after asking for express permission – I didn’t want to get tased or shot for their misinterpreting my consoling embrace as a reach for a hidden weapon. We’re then told the background check came back clear. I ask "Am I free to go?" I told yes, and I silently rise and leave the station a free man.
Lew, I can’t thank you and your colleagues enough. If it weren’t for your site, I never would have come across critical information regarding how to deal with police, like the BUSTED video posted in 2010 and it’s follow-up. I learned that I must exercise my rights myself from the outset of any encounter, because the police surely are not concerned with my rights. Without this critical information, I would not have known what to say and what to expect in response from the authorities (the "armchair lawyer" response seemed to be ripped straight from the BUSTED video), and likely would have gotten myself into a great load of trouble for a non-crime. Earlier in my life, I would have "cooperated" with the police in answering their questions, confident that they would see my side of the story and know the conductor was full of it. If it weren’t for the many, many articles written by Will Grigg regarding the gross violation of the rights of innocent men and women at the hands of police, I would not have had the healthy distrust of the officer’s motives and held a naive faith in the "goodness" of the police up until the moment they placed me in handcuffs. Finally, I’d like to thank Eric Peters for his excellent recent article regarding the use of "sir" when dealing with the cops. This article was at the forefront of my mind during this incident (as evidenced by my correction of my misplaced "sir" during the conversation). Just the use of the word "officer" instead of "sir" helped to enforce in my mind that the officer was not my superior, despite his many attempts to display such superiority. It allowed me to not become intimidated, remain calm, and focus on the ultimate goal of leaving the station that evening without further detention. It is a very powerful psychological tool that I encourage all people to use when in a similar situation.
As I said earlier, I’ve been an avid reader of LRC since 2007, but my involvement in the liberty movement has been mainly academic, with the exception of a few private conversations. I had witnessed the violent nature of the state before – I was present when University and Philadelphia police beat multiple University of Pennsylvania students for not running away fast enough when they came to quell a"riot" that consisted of nothing more than a crowd waiting for entrance into an event; I saw the severe tactics used by Philadelphia police following the fireworks display on the 4th of July, pushing civilians along the street with horses and batons – but until this incident, I had remained quietly indignant. No longer. I would like to express a final thank you to Gary North for his recent series on creating and leaving a legacy. I have decided now to begin working toward my own legacy, and will work in whatever way I can to make an impact in the liberty movement. I am confident that the knowledge I have and will continue to gain from LRC and Mises.org will be instrumental in my efforts. I began these efforts yesterday when I composed a personal Declaration of Peaceful Withdrawal of Consent, which will be my personal guide as I attempt to help create free individuals and bring about the intellectual change that’s required to throw off the yoke of Leviathan.
Bill Wilson [send him mail] was born and raised in Delaware County, PA, and currently resides in Philadelphia, where he began his personal intellectual revolution in 2007. Recently, he liberated himself from an industry that receives direct funds from the United States government and has devoted his time to the cause of Liberty. Visit his blog.