By Tim Murphy:
I have had a brush with the police. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have had two of them—three if you count the fire in the prairie, but the prairie fire was a gross premature misjudgement. I was preforming a heroic deed, but due to chronological profiling, I was treated as a no-good misguided youth.
The second first time was in high school when I drove my car to an away basketball game at Rich Central High School. My car was a $200 Ford that could not go faster than 40 miles an hour. I actually once lost a race in this car to one of my buddies who beat me running on foot. My parents were very clever when they got me that car. The floor in the back seat had rusted out, so we smashed an old metal sign down to cover the hole. It worked really well . . . unless it snowed.
My high school had a very bad reputation for picking fights with other schools. Actually, we fought with each other, too, but when somebody outside our school presented a challenge, we were quick to unite. Blacks, whites, greasers, jocks—we were together on this—except the smart kids, but I tried to avoid them at all costs. Now, presenting a challenge really just meant wearing the other school’s letter jacket. That was all it took for somebody at my school to pick a fight and have it erupt into a melee. I thought it was that way everywhere, but by the time I was a senior in high school, the athletic conference threatened to kick us out if we had another incident. We had a mandatory assembly where anybody who played any sport was called into the gym to hear all the coaches tell us that the conference was done with us if we did it again. All the other schools were going to boycott us; we would have no one to play.
Prior to that warning, we were still building our reputation. Rich Central was considered the rich-kid school, partly because of their name and partly because they trimmed their bushes and didn’t have weeds in their yards. We were at the opposite end of the economic spectrum, and it showed.
So on the night in question, eight of my buddies jumped in the car. It didn’t have seatbelts, so packing bodies in made for a safer trip. True to form, a fight broke out in the parking lot—a big one. The rich kids were no match for our school, not because we were tougher but because we didn’t fight fair. We had learned about gang tackling in football and transformed that into gang ambushes.
I myself was not much of a fighter, but showing up to support was required, and I didn’t want to be mistaken for one of the smart kids. So, after the post-game festivities were over and everyone was going to their cars, all eight of us piled into mine just in time for a Cook County squad car to come flying up and skid to a stop right in front of my car. You could hear the cop throw it into park even before it stopped. Cook County cops were scarier than the Chicago cops because they were in good shape and you would not be able to outrun them. The Chicago cops were mean as hell, but a lot of them back then were fat and could be outrun. That was the theory anyway; I never tested it because they had a reputation of being very good shots. I don’t know if they are still fat, but it sounds like they are still good at shooting.
Two troopers jumped out the car. One went to the passenger side and made everybody get out of the car on that side—except me. The other trooper ordered me out of the car on the driver’s side. He had a blackjack in his hand and started asking me questions, and with each question he jabbed the blackjack into my ribs. It hurt.
“How many people are in this car?”
“Have you been drinking?”
“Open your trunk.”
I had not been drinking. I didn’t drink that much in high school. I made up for it in college, but that’s another story. Anyway, when we did drink, we weren’t so stupid that we drove around with liquor in the car. We hid it in the prairie and drank it there and then drove around, but on that night, we hadn’t been drinking, and I was pretty sure nobody had any alcohol with them. The other trooper searched the car and the trunk while the blackjack trooper kept popping me with questions. Finally, the other trooper walked up with one dusty, rusty old smashed-up beer can that he found in the trunk.
“Smashed-up beer can, sir.”
“Are you getting smart with me?”
"No, sir, I am not one of the smart kids. That beer can keeps water from coming up from the floor of the trunk because of the holes in the floor."
They couldn’t find anything else. Nobody was drunk and nobody had any blood on them. So, he gave me one more pop and told us to get out of there.
On the way home, all of my buddies were yacking about if he didn’t have a badge and a gun they would have kicked his ass and stuff like that. I was too busy shaking to say anything. Besides, I didn’t think I could kick his ass—he was really big. Did I tell you that Cook County cops were really big and in very good shape?
My second run-in with the law was when I worked for a firm based near Chicago. I was leaving our home office heading to Midway Airport. We had a regional meeting, and I was late getting out. The drive to Midway on a Friday evening was not good. I knew I would not make the flight. Cell phones hadn’t been invented yet. Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet either, and we didn’t even have laptop computers. So I pulled off at a convenience store on Lake Cook Road; that was the road that divided Lake County and Cook County. Convenience stores usually had pay phones in them, usually phone booths in the parking lot. This store had the pay phone on the outside wall, so I went and called my administrative assistant. We called them secretaries back then, but I don’t think we can call them that anymore.
As I was talking to Jennifer about the flight choices, I heard some noise in the parking lot and turned to look over my shoulder.
"That’s weird," I said to Jennifer. "There are a bunch of cars in the parking lot, and they are kind of parked in a crazy way. Oh, wow, they’re cop cars!”
I recognized the Cook County insignia on the doors. I turned back the other way to look at the convenience store entrance just in time to see a skinny old guy wearing Bermuda shorts and sandals with socks walk out the door and get lifted up from behind by one of the cops and slammed onto the hood of a car.
“Well that’s—,” I started to tell Jennifer, but before I could say anything else, I looked back over the other shoulder and there were two cops with really big guns pointed at ME. They were in the ready position—both hands on the guns, wide stance. Really big guns, really big cops.
“Hang up the phone and get up against the wall.”
Other than my high school experience, I had not had any other training on how to handle a situation like this. I had seen stuff on cop shows where you stand and face the wall with your hands up and spread your feet. So, I did that. I had both hands on the wall up over my head, with my pen in one hand and my clipboard in the other. I was wearing a suit and tie, because it was a big meeting, but the Cook County cops apparently hadn’t heard about it, and I assumed that based on the way they were looking at me, they were not interested in knowing about it.
One of the cops came up behind me and kicked one of my ankles out to spread my feet further apart. I could see the other one still in the ready position with his gun pointed at me. He didn’t move or say a word; the other one told me not to move and not to say a word. Then he started to grab at my pen, my clipboard, my shoulders, my suit coat pocket. He grabbed at the extra pen I had in my shirt pocket and pulled and twisted on it. He patted down my back, grabbed and twisted my wallet in my pants and did the same with my keys in the front pocket. He kept telling me not to move, and I could still see the other cop with the gun pointed at me, and I remember thinking, I hope he doesn’t move either. I hope he doesn’t sneeze or cough or hiccup or anything, because I might not survive it. The cop doing the frisking continued down to my ankles, and I thought I was done.
With the one cop still pointing the gun at me, all of a sudden the cop doing the frisking reached up between my legs from behind and grabbed my Little Timmy.
I don’t know if you have ever had your Little Timmy grabbed in the parking lot of a convenience store, but I can tell you it is memorable; and if there is a gun pointed at you while it is going on, you may not remember it fondly. I kept telling myself, “Don’t move . . . don’t move . . . ,” but I have to say that was a challenge.
This cop was big, and his hand was big, and I thought he was trying to snap it off. He twisted it and pulled it and squeezed it, and it was really hard to hold still. I'm guessing that they get taught how to frisk people in cop school, that would make sense, and I suppose that they teach them to identify objects by feel without looking at them. So, I guess it was like:
"Cocaine in a balloon?"
No, Little Timmy.
No, Little Timmy.
"Bag of pot?"
No, Little Timmy.
Trying to separate it from my body I suppose was part of the technique and evaluation.
He was very thorough.
As he finished, he stepped back and said, “What are you doing here?”
“Meeting . . . going to the airport . . . changing my flight.”
“Have you seen anything unusual going on here?”
Well, yes . . . yes I had, a lot; the cars parked all jagged and the guy in the Bermuda shorts and socks and the big guns and getting yanked around—all while standing there in my business suit. But even though I had not been coached through this particular kind of encounter, my instincts told me to just say no, no, I had not seen anything unusual at all.
So, they told me to get out of there. They didn’t have to say it twice. I jumped into my car and took off for Midway with my mind racing all over the place. What was that? Did that just happen? Who was that guy with the sandals and the socks? Those were really big guns! What was going on? I was too scared to ask or look back, though. I drove straight to Midway, changed my flight, and headed to the bar. I remember trying to drink my glass of beer, but my hands were shaking so much I spilled some. Nobody seemed to notice; I was in Chicago.
Looking at the news and watching the things going on today makes me wonder why my experiences didn’t escalate. Would it have been different if I had been Black? Maybe. Would it have been different if the policemen were not two of the good ones? Could be. Would it have been different if I took a swing at the cop who was hitting me with the blackjack or if my friends decided to take matters into their own hands? Probably. Would it have been different if I tried to grab one of the big guns? Most likely.
Do we need to teach people what to do to keep the situation from escalating out of control?
I don’t know what it is like to be a cop; I have never had that kind of power. Nor have I ever lost a colleague to an ambush. I was thinking over Labor Day what the reason for that holiday was all about: how the unions had raised the outlook and conditions of the workers in America; thinking about all the positives the unions have accomplished. Is it time to ask the police union who it is that they serve and protect when they defend the bad ones with a history of abuse and allow them to keep that position of power? By doing so, they have lowered the quality of the group instead of raising it up.
So, there is a group defending the police and another group talking about defunding the police—I am not sure what to think. The only parallel that I can draw on was the nuns in Catholic school; they had that kind of power and reputation. They were always looking to pounce on us boys because they “knew we were up to no good.” They were more proponents of emotional abuse, though. I don’t know of any movements to defund the nuns. They did get de-frocked, though. I thought they may have gotten defunded, too, but I am told that they are still around, you just can’t tell who they are without the penguin outfit. The thought of them being dressed as civilians is pretty scary; they could be among us, and we don’t know it. It was bad enough that they could sneak up on us without making a sound, but at least we knew them when we saw them. Maybe we should be careful what we wish for.
Bad stuff never happened when the nuns were around, though, except for the bad stuff they did to us anyway. Nobody did anything bad in the classroom when they were there, so I suppose that was a good thing. We waited until we got out of school and went over to the park by the public school to do our bad stuff. The nuns couldn’t see us over there; they could see a lot of things, but not over there. I guess the Holy Spirit didn’t go to public school. I don’t think the nuns were taught the frisking technique. They worked us over, but it was just emotionally. Some priests might have been taught the technique, though. I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of that, just stuff I’ve heard. Maybe the priests’ union should go look back up above to make sure they get the right message as well.
Tim Murphy grew up on the south side of Chicago in a home filled with Catholic Irish traditions. He has kissed the Blarney Stone and been given the gift of storytelling. He attended Catholic Grade School, public high school and a Lutheran College—which perhaps has shaped his somewhat irreverent style. In his sixty-four years, he has received many blessings, and despite his misbehavior, they seem to keep coming.