Friday, November 07, 2008

When Euphoria Melts Away on a Westchester Morning

This post is not running related except for the fact that the path of the incident has been part of my runs when I visit Valhalla, NY. I am sure I'll always be reminded of this event when I run there.

Westchester Times Tribute, Letter to the Editor, Page 3

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Dear Editor Westchester Times Tribune,

On Tuesday night I was filled with euphoria as I listened to President elect, Obama’s victory speech. I was living in a nation where finally people were not “judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” These feelings dissipated on Friday when I was harassed by the Westchester police for no reason other than the fact that my skin was brown.

On Friday morning, November 7th, 11am, I had missed my train from Valhalla to Grand Central so I decided to appreciate the beautiful fall day by walking to the North White Plains train station. I had a broken leg so I was walking slowly while taking pictures along the way. As I crossed the street to enter the Bronx River parkway trail I saw four police cars. To my surprise the police officers asked me to stop. They indicated that they had a report of a suspicious person taking pictures of the Kensico dam while hiding behind trees! I was amazed at how someone could file such a ridiculous report in a part of the country that is fairly cosmopolitan. Or is it? Sounds like someone returning from a Sarah Palin campaign rally.

Within the first two minutes the officers examined the pictures on my camera and had realized that I had no incriminating shots. There was just one shot with a very distant and remotely visible view of the dam, covered for the most part with foliage. At this point the police should have realized their mistake and let me go on my way. However, they continued to harass me with questions and treat me as a criminal for the next thirty minutes.

Some amongst the gamut of questions that I was asked by the police left me astonished. In a free country I was asked why I was walking with a broken leg. I was asked whether I broke my leg in NY or before coming here perhaps to insinuate that I was involved in a terrorist encounter. Like a criminal, I was asked to show the contents of my book bag to prove that I was carrying no weapons.When I showed my Washington state drivers license, I was asked if I had gotten this from the DMV. The validity of this document has never been questioned anywhere. In spite of showing my Microsoft Employee badge, an identity document from the world’s largest software company, I was asked if I had immigration documents to prove that I was in this country legally.

I have tried to forget this incident since then but it keeps getting replayed in my mind. My vacation has been ruined and I keep asking myself several questions. Why did I have to go through this experience if I did nothing illegal? If the Dam Plaza is such an important resource, why wasn’t there a single police officer stationed there or signs clearly indicating that photography is not allowed even from a distance? Is this the way the Westchester police treat everyone taking pictures in the Dam Plaza? Terrorists would not entrust photography to a person with a broken foot and a point and shoot camera. Will the Westchester police be ready to apprehend people who intend to do real harm to the country when they are busy harassing innocent civilians?

I was relieved when my plane landed at the Seattle Tacoma airport yesterday. I had returned to a part of the country where people do not use the tragedy of 9/11 to justify racism. We have a long way to go to realize Dr. King’s dream, when the people in a supposedly progressive part of the country are not able to look beyond the color of a person’s skin.


Subhasish Bhattacharya
Redmond, WA 98052


Blogger Nuke Runner said...

That's awful Sub; I'm so sorry those Westchester cops put you through that hassle. I think there will always be people like that, but I really hope we can change the tenor of our society with the new Obama administration.

12/01/2008 7:12 AM  
Blogger Sub said...

Thanks for your post Kevin! I am optimistic that with time (perhaps it will take as long as a couple of generations) there will be a mindset change...

12/01/2008 10:22 PM  
Blogger Billy Burger said...

Jesus, what a crock of shit. While I ordinarily support my local law enforcement, chicken shit moves like this (and hiding to give out speeding tickets) are a waste of tax payers money. I'm sorry this happened to you and while I cannot relate to this experience, you have my utmost respect for not flipping out (like I would have).

I realize this was awhile ago, but I'm a little late to the game here!

9/19/2009 9:54 AM  

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