Authority Figures - My Personal Experiences

It is sometimes hard to figure how one is supposed to behave in America! I am a white man, slightly tall at 6'2", average weight at around 195 pounds, fit, and most importantly, quiet and virtually always very easy-going. The fact that I have been a Pastor of a Christian Church since 1996 might also describe my personality as being pleasant and easy-going. I have NEVER been in any trouble with Police or any other authority figures at any time in my life, with my worse offenses having been around three parking tickets and roughly the same number of having driven around 12 mph over the speed limit. Yet, I have certainly been threatened and or harassed by a surprising number of authority figures in my life. It mystifies me why they had each chosen to pick me out for such behaviors on their part.

Here is a listing of all the interactions I remember ever having had with any authority figures. Of all of them, only two or three were actually positive experiences, even when I was the one who called them!

  • Around two months into First Grade, the Teacher accused me, and got mad at me, for allegedly "somehow cheating" at solving an extended addition problem. It was wonderful when, after my parents had to go to the Principal's Office that evening, that the Principal actually asked ME how I got the answer so fast. My solution had apparently not occurred to the Teacher! The next day I was in Second Grade. There is this whole anecdote described in the presentation of my background at Author Background - These Public Services.

  • Shortly after I entered the University of Chicago, having to commute every day because my parents could not afford the cost of housing, one morning I was driving my father's 1954 Ford station wagon, a block from the University, stopped at a stop light at 59th Street in Chicago. When the light turned green, the car next to me in the fast lane bolted ahead and cleared the intersection. As I was entering the intersection, a car came from my right which ignored his red light and hit the very front of my car. When the Police came, they immediately assumed that I was the one who caused the accident! They were quite accusatory, insisting that I had started out from a red light to hit that car that was shooting across the intersection! I could not get them to believe that the car next to me had already completely gone across the intersection once we had green, and that the reason I had such a slow start was due to the old and slow nature of my father's station wagon! Nothing eventually came of that, though, and it turned out that I was able to take a length of pipe to bend the fender away from the tire to be able to drive it the 20 miles back home. Still, it was annoying to have been assumed to have been guilty when I had actually been totally innocent. It was my first experience where I saw that the alleged American position of being innocent until proven guilty is untrue. The other incidents listed here show dozens of times when that was not true. In fact, it has virtually never happened to me in my entire life that any authority figure has treated me as being "assumed innocent!" Instead, in virtually every one of these incidents, I have been assumed to have been guilty, of things which I have never done! It is immensely frustrating, when one tries to find cause for believing in American values!

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  • October, 2005: In mid-morning, I had gone (two miles) to a nearby town (Homewood) to their Home Depot store to try to find a small part to repair a rain gutter on my house. As I came out, a Homewood Police car came across the parking lot at fairly high speed and stopped right along side me. The Officer inside was amazingly nasty, and he immediately yelled at me and told me that "He had caught me dead to rights." I had no idea what he was talking about and said that. I mentioned that I am a Christian Church Pastor and that I had just been trying to find a repair part for a house gutter. He clearly did not believe any of that. He had gotten out of his Police Car and it was obvious that he was keeping his hand on his gun, even though he had not taken it out. If his intention was to scare me, he accomplished that! After around 15 minutes of constant accusations, without actually ever saying what I was being accused of, his backup showed up in a second Police car. No one had yet even told me why I was being harassed so severely! But he kept repeating that I was "guilty" and that "he had caught me". I suspect that he did not want to be seen as being so threatening and harassing to me by the other Officers, so he definitely reduced the accusations and threats once they had arrived. I again asked all of them what I was being accused of, and pointed out that a peaceful white Christian Pastor is rarely treated so poorly.

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    It was only then, nearly 25 minutes after he had first stopped me from walking across the parking lot, that he finally said that he KNEW that I had been trying to sell illegal materials. I remember laughing at how ridiculous that was! As I generally do for much of the year, I was wearing a tee shirt, swim shorts and flip-flops. If someone was intending to sell ANYTHING, I would think they would wear clothing that could hold much more than my clothing could. But now that I at least was given that tiny bit of information, I asked "Do you think I was trying to sell weapons?" If so, where would I have carried them? Then it occurred to me that maybe they thought I had been trying to sell drugs, and I asked the same thing. It later occurred to me that that comment probably then permitted them to do a full body search of me, because of my statement. But they would only have found my car keys on one pocket and my money and driver's license in the other. However, since I had just gone to the Bank a few minutes earlier, and withdrawn $500 for the Church, I suppose they would have decided that I had too much money in my possession for someone in swim shorts and they likely would have taken me to jail! Even though I still had the Bank receipt for the withdrawal for that $500.

    It was only then, after maybe 35 minutes of being publicly harassed in that Home Depot parking lot, that I was told, very quickly and quietly, that an "eyewitness" had seen me, what I believe I heard "selling baseball cards". I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. First, even if I had, is it actually illegal to sell baseball cards? Second, I had done nothing like that, and not sold anything, or even TALKED to anyone other than the cashier as I walked past and out of the Home Depot store. Third, it started to seem clear that HE had not seen anything, because he had just spent the last 40 minutes accusing me of something that never remotely happened! Around then, he finally admitted that "SOMEONE" had CALLED IN to the Police to make this claim! This apparently anonymous person had identified the color of my tee shirt and shorts and the fact that I am tall and slim and that I had a beard. So he had no doubt whatever that I was "guilty" as he had repeated to me at least 30 times.

    Do Police receive anonymous phone calls and immediately accept everything said as being absolute fact? Apparently so, in this case.

    I sent a complaint letter to the Chief of Police of that town of Homewood. I received a very nice phone call from the Assistant Chief, who apologized to me several times, and who told me that Officer would be refreshed on proper behaviors. He also confirmed to me that the complaint call had come in from a cel-phone, so the Police had no record of who had made the complaint against me! Until then, I had not realized that their Caller ID did not work for cel-phones, and in fact that the public assumption that the Police can always precisely locate a cel-phone in an emergency is simply not true. The Homewood Police apparently had no way of actually knowing who called in that complaint against me. He only knew that it was a woman's voice. (They erased the tape of that call soon afterward.) When he said that, I realized who it was, that same woman who has constantly been harassing me, at least every few days, for five years now, a part-time secretary in the tiny Offices of the Thornton Village government, who happens to be related to the Mayor of Thornton and who also is a part-time secretary in the Thornton Police Department Office.

    She clearly knew that Police cannot track cel-phones, and she clearly knew what she needed to say to get the Homewood Police to believe that I had done some sort of crime. A Thornton Village Trustee had told me around two years earlier that she had personally filed over 40 Official Complaints against me in Thornton, in a bizarre way, WITH HERSELF, as she is the one who receives and types up such Complaints, just during the year 2003. She was here merely proving that she was still at it, now STALKING me to other towns and trying to get other Police Departments to harass me! And there is absolutely nothing I can do about it, because she is related to the Mayor, and I had learned far earlier that there is absolutely NO Jurisdiction on Earth that feels they have any authority over this Village government! Not the Illinois Attorney General. Not the Illinois State's Attorney. Not the Governor. Not State Congressmen or Senators. Not US Congressmen or Senators. Not any of a dozen Officials in the Cook County government. It IS essentially a "kingdom" where they are free to do anything they wish without any oversight by anyone else!

    And this is America???

  • April, 2007: In mid-morning, I was walking back home a few blocks after having walked to the Post Office in Thornton to mail some letters. A local Police car drove up along side me to tell me that I was trespassing on railroad property. As the Post Office is adjacent to the rail line through town, I sometimes walk maybe 8 to 10 feet away from the rails as the shortest path to get back to my house. The Officer did not really know for sure how wide the Easement was that the railroad has, but he was insistent that I was trespassing. He finally said that he THOUGHT it was 10 feet, but didn't know if that meant 10 feet from the centerline of the track or 10 feet from the nearest rail. I think he eventually realized that he probably did not have proper cause to arrest me or give me a ticket, so after a 20-minute lecture, he gave me a warning.

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    C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago