It was a couple weeks before my 18th birthday. I was sitting in my car listening to music and finishing my cigarette when an LAPD patrol car rolled up. With green, 5-inch dihawks and shaved eyebrows, I was used to getting harassed.
At the officer's demand, I produced my license.
"You're underage," he told me. "I'll have to write you a smoking ticket."
"I'll be 18 this month," I told him, adding, "isn't it cool if my dad knows I smoke?"
"If your dad knows you shoot heroin does it make that legal?" he shot back.
"All right," I said.
"Where are you headed, anyway?" he asked.
"Going to West L.A. Music to look at guitars," I said.
"What kind of music do you play?" he asked.
"Heavy metal," I responded.
"Are you a skinhead?" he asked. "I bet you listen to all that white-pride music."
I told him I wasn't, and, figuring I had nothing to lose, rattled off a few bands I liked Megadeth, Corrosion of Conformity.
He responded with his own favorites, including Black Sabbath. We talked music for a few minutes, then he said casually, "Hey, who was the guitarist for Black Sabbath?"
"Tony Iommi," I replied.
He smiled and said, "I'm not going to give you a ticket today."
John Dabney, 21,
store manager, Starbucks
Back in 1982, when I was 17 years old, my friends and I were hanging out on the corner of Cherokee and Hollywood, whistling and chatting with girls as they cruised by in cars. A small fight broke out on the corner, and everyone started running because there was fear that someone had a gun.
I stood there like a dummy and was hit from behind with a billy club by an officer who knocked me into a row of newspaper boxes. A couple of officers then picked me up, ran my head into big wooden doors, then smashed my head into some wrought-iron rails. I was handcuffed and put in the back of the cruiser.
One of the officers got into the back with me and asked me what gang I was with. I replied, "18th Street." He answered by elbowing me in the stomach and chest.
Instead of going to the police station they went in the opposite direction, pulling into an alley off Cherokee. They opened the doors and told me to get out. One of the officers told me that when they took off the handcuffs I better fight for my life or run like a motherfucker.
I told them not to take off the handcuffs because I didn't plan on fighting and I wasn't stupid enough to run. They threw me back in the car and switched drivers. The new officer knocked the wind out of me and choked me.
Meanwhile, the friend I was hanging with on Hollywood had gone to my house and told my mother that I had been taken away. The two of them went to Hollywood division to get me, but when they arrived I wasn't there. My mom started yelling at the sergeant, who had no knowledge of my arrest.
When I finally arrived at the station, about one hour later, I had blood coming out of my ear, shoulders, knuckles and forehead. They sat me in the tank while my mother complained up front. I overheard one of the officers talking to a D.A., who told them to release me immediately.
Instead they took me to Cedars-Sinai Hospital, handcuffed me to the bed and washed the blood off me. They took my shirt and disposed of it. I came out with a neck brace, my ribs and chest were bruised and my left arm was in a sling.
David De La Riva, 37,
former gang member, now community-service counselor with the L.A. County Department of Public Health Services
I'd been up for the better part of a month smoking crystal meth. I retreated to the beach to escape the inanimate objects that were conspiring against me in the basin. I swerved down PCH swinging my head behind me periodically to make sure they weren't gaining. After a while I felt secure. With Spiderman riding shotgun, no harm could come to me.
Before long I was pulled over. I turned to Spiderman and told him, "Keep quiet. I'll handle this." The officer was quick to ask if I understood I was in the bus lane.
"I'm entitled to the bus lane because I have another passengers in the car," I said, then leaned back in the seat, allowing the officer to see Spiderman riding co-pilot. He claimed not to see any "Spiderman," and I told him to check the roof, that sometimes Spidey likes to ride up there.
"Listen, sir, you're trying my patience. May I see your license and registration please?" he asked.
I decided to level with him and informed him of the conspiracy and how inanimate objects buildings, trees and candy canes were trying to kill me for what I knew about Mr. Wrigley: "You know Wrigley, the guy who owns Catalina? He's planning to take over the world and has poisoned all the candy canes and wired the trees so they will emit carbon dioxide instead of oxygen."
Spiderman and I were trying to get to the beach to fill up the buckets with salt water to drown all the trees. I pointed to the buckets in the back seat.
"Get out of the car and put your hands on your head, sir," said the officer, who was clearly not impressed. I did what he asked. After he checked my registration, he looked at me, then shook his head like I was an idiot and let me go.
Eric Kessler, 23,
Occidental College student
A month after the '92 riots, I was taking a left in Marina del Rey when my passenger, Feral House book publisher Adam Parfrey, and I noticed a black-and-white tailing us. It kept following us for blocks without pulling us over. Thinking I had done nothing wrong, I decided to shake the cops by driving into the tough neighborhood of Oakwood. As we pulled up to an intersection where a clutch of black homeboys were standing, the lights came on and we pulled over.
A Hispanic officer came up to my window while a black cop came up to Adam's. "This must look good to the homies, pulling over a couple of white dudes in the hood, eh?" I said to the cop on my side.
He immediately stepped back, pulled out his gun and pointed it at my head. "Get out of the car and keep your hands up!" he shouted. He immediately cuffed me while the black cop kept watch on Adam. The Hispanic officer began tearing my car apart and pulling crap out of my trunk and chucking it into the street. Finding nothing, he uncuffed me and wrote me a ticket for crossing the solid white left-hand-turn line back on Lincoln.
Putting my junk back in the car, Adam shouted at me. "Next time something like that happens, keep your big Irish mouth shut, asshole!"
Michael Collins, 45,
freelance writer, Weekly contributor and Venice resident
Three or four months ago, I was pulled over in Hollywood for a broken headlight and having out-of-state plates. The officer who pulled me over gave me a fix-it ticket with a promise to appear. Unfortunately, I lost the ticket with the da te of my court appearance. I attempted to contact the courts to remedy the situation, but when I called the L.A. Courthouse I was given the runaround and never was able to find out just how to fix my ticket. Months passed until finally my dad called me from Connecticut to tell me that he received notice that my license was suspended for failure to appear.
Not knowing what I should do, I approached one of the officers who frequent the Starbucks where I work. The officer told me not to panic and provided me with a handful of numbers to fix my ticket. I called the numbers he gave me, and my problem was fixed immediately. If it wasn't for the officer, I would probably still be in the same boat.
Krysta Florczyk, 27,
shift supervisor, Starbucks
I couldn't have been much more than 19, and I was living in a windowless warehouse in Frogtown. It was around 1987. One day I decided to weed the low brick planters outside my front door, which looked as if they had not been touched in 50 years. Clad in work clothes and enjoying the sun on my face and the dirt on my hands, I half thought the police in the cop cruiser that pulled up were about to congratulate me for beautifying this grim neighborhood.
Instead, a grilling began.
"What are you doing?" asked one of the cops.
"'Cause there are weeds. Just trying to clean it up some."
The questions continued rapid-fire, and became increasingly personal: Do you live here? With whom? Are you married? Where do you work?
This was not friendly pickup banter.
I finally said, "What is the problem here? For what possible reason would you need to know the answers to these questions?"
"I'm a cop," he said. "I can do whatever I want." He continued: "And I am going to check and see whether it is legal for you to be living here, and if not, you are going to be out on your ass."
Shaking, I drew up all of my skinny 5-foot frame and slowly approached the car. "Sir," I said, "what is your badge number?"
He gave it to me and, still hurling invectives, drove off with his partner.
As soon as I locked my door behind me, I dialed the Northeast Division. The bastard had already contacted his watch commander, who explained that, because a census year was coming up, the police were instructed to look for illegal immigrants living in unapproved dwellings.
"Do I sound like an illegal immigrant?" I half-yelled into the phone. "From where? Canada?"
Well, no ma'am, but they have to check.
The same cops, for the next two months, would tail my '67 Cutlass all the way to the Franklin Bridge whenever I made my forays into Hollywood.
A tattooed arm leaning out a car window, a flash of green hair, or the wrong band's bumper sticker on your car was enough to get you pulled over and harassed. Or even the simple act of pulling weeds in ä the wrong neighborhood. All you had to be was different from them.
Hope Urban, 35,
associate editor, publications division, Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association and a Weekly contributor
A German woman lives in my building on Wilton Avenue, and she is a paranoid schizophrenic. I have been a manager in the building for the last seven years, and at least three or four times a year she calls the police complaining about voices she hears outside her window or people trying to break in. The last incident occurred about seven months ago. The patrol officers knew who made the anonymous call.
"It's Renata again, isn't it?" one said matter-of-factly as they walked toward her apartment.
"Yep," I said.
Even though they knew there was nobody around, they checked the second floor and the basement for her. They even let her come along as they checked around the grounds with flashlights. They are very receptive, open and kind to her. It is a pain in the butt for them, but they handle it very respectfully.
Michael Savage, 50,
When I was 15 years old, I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It was the end of the L.A. Street Scene downtown, and the L.A. Dream Team had just finished its concert when someone shot at an LAPD horse. A riot erupted. I wanted to get out of there, so I started to walk toward my bicycle. The LAPD was in full riot gear and was dispersing the crowd by swinging batons wildly at anyone who happened by. Unfortunately, I was happening by. I can remember hearing the officer's keys jingling and the sound of his leather belt just as I was turning around. I was struck in the face with a billy bat.
After the blows, the officer threw my friend and me into the back of a squad car, took us down to the station and charged us with assaulting an officer with a deadly weapon. They claimed they saw me throw a bottle.
I was in a daze and blood was pouring down my face. I passed out and woke up on a gurney at the hospital throwing up blood. I got 12 stitches to the lip and had six chipped teeth. I was ordered to appear in court.
At court, I took a plea bargain and had the original charge of felony assault on an officer dropped to misdemeanor assault. I received six months' probation.
David Bloom, 33,
Last summer, my very large, muscular friend got into a fight with three African-American guys on his block in the Venice area. They beat him with a pipe and broke his nose real bad. Extremely angry about what happened to him, he called up a few of his buddies and myself to help him find the guys. A few hours later, cruising along the neighborhood, we found the culprits standing in an alleyway just off Venice Beach. One of my friends threatened them with a gun while the other three beat them with baseball bats. I was in the car acting as scout. A few minutes into the beating, a cop car, with two white officers, pulled around the corner about 20 feet away and started cruising towards us. I honked the horn to alert the guys, but they just didn't want to stop. I thought we were in big trouble. Instead, the cruiser rolled up real slow and looked to see what was happening; the officers smiled and kept rolling on.
Santa Monica resident
On June 29, I was performing "the art of not doing" or stationary art in the front of Hollywood & Highland, right next to the Gap on Hollywood Boulevard. I paint my face silver, wear a full-bodied silver costume and stand completely still on a 1-foot-square black box. In front of me is a bucket for tips.
I arrived at my usual time, around 7 p.m., and shortly afterwards was approached by an officer who told me that I couldn't stand there because I was being a nuisance to pedestrians and local businesses.
I told him that I had been performing in the same location for a few months and hadn't been a nuisance to anyone. The officer told me to leave.
I went for lunch, then decided to resume my art. A small crowd was around me when the same officer returned and told me he was giving me a ticket because he had warned me to leave. The crowd started booing the officer. I asked the crowd in front of the officer if they liked what I was doing and if they wanted me to stay. They said yes. The officer then said, "Why don't you ask them if they want tickets for blocking the sidewalk?" The crowd dispersed. I left a few minutes later myself with my notice to appear.
Victor Cretella, 26, performance artist
I was on Moonstone and Huntington in El Sereno in the summer of 1999. My two friends and I were heading to a friend's house with beer when the cops pulled up beside us and asked us if we were on parole.
We said no.
They told us to get on our knees. We followed the program and they called in for backup. They asked us about gang incidents that happened in the area and wanted us to give them information about what was going on in the neighborhood.
We said we didn't know anything, but they insisted. One of the officers grabbed my friend Manuel by the seat of his pants. They maced us, handcuffed us, then threw us into their squad car.
My friend kept saying that his eyes were burning. They ignored him and drove us to a secluded area at the top of Paradise Drive. They took our handcuffs off and said if we left now it would end quietly.
We started walking away, but my friend, who got beat up, wanted their badge numbers.
They began the assault again and knocked him down. They had us lie on the ground. They didn't mess with me until I told them to leave my friend alone. They started beating on me with their flashlights and boots. They busted my nose. One of the officers then said to me, "Do you know why you are getting this beating?"
"No," I said.
"Because of Rampart," he said. "Your homeboys get away with a lot of stuff, so you guys have to pay for it." They dropped us off about a quarter of a mile away.
Manuel was bleeding and had a gash on his head that needed stitches. I called my mother and she took all of us to the hospital.
Art Quesada, 29,
furniture mover/former 18th Street Gang member
It was five years ago, and I was living on Third and Mansfield on the second floor of a garage apartment. I had just gotten home from the late shift at Café Luna on Melrose. I hadn't been at home for more than a few minutes when I heard sirens, tires screeching and helicopters buzzing above. I went outside on my balcony and immediately had a light flashed on me. I heard a cop yelling for me to get inside and lock my doors and windows. I ran inside and locked everything up and pulled my blinds down.
A few minutes later, I heard whispering and sniffing. (I later found out that there was a SWAT team and K-9 unit in my backyard.) About 40 minutes later, the helicopter and cars went away. I wanted to know what was going on, but I didn't know what to do because I had been told to not go out.
I sat there for another 20 minutes, when I got a knock on the door. It was the LAPD officer who had yelled at me to stay inside. He let me know that they caught the guy. They had arrested my next-door neighbor's son for a carjacking. The cops had chased him to his mother's house, and he had run to hide in my back yard. I was very relieved. The police officer could have just left, but he didn't, he came back and made me feel really safe.
Susan Morris, 35,
International Film Program, Sundance Institute
Six months ago, my dad, my two friends and I were dropping off six antique chairs at a lady's house near L.A. High. My father owns an upholstery business, and we were helping him out. After we brought the chairs into the house, my friends and I sat back in the van while my father settled the bill. He came out a few minutes later and told us that he had gotten into an argument with the woman, who said she had already paid. She finally agreed to pay the bill and told my father to wait outside while she wrote out a check.
A few minutes later an LAPD helicopter started buzzing over us; three cruisers pulled up and the officers jumped out with shotguns. One of the cops ran up to me on the passenger side and pointed a shotgun in my face. He told us to get out and lie on the ground. They handcuffed my dad, then pushed him up against the car. Another officer dropped down on my friend with his knees.
Another officer dropped down on me, too. My face smacked against the cement. The cops told us that the lady said we tried to rob her and threaten her with a knife. The cops frisked us and didn't find a knife.
They finally let us go two hours later.
Danny Ortiz, 17,
student, Marshall High School
Back in 1994, I was 14 years old and walking down Huntington Drive on my way home from a friend's house. I was carrying a can of spray paint my friend asked me to hide in my house. A car raced toward me really quick. It was dark and foggy, so I couldn't see it was a cop car. I was already running away when I realized it was a cop. They started chasing me, and they looked like they were really mad. I thought if they caught up to me, they were going to hurt me.
I jumped off a 9-foot concrete bridge to get away from them. One of the officers easily caught up to me and slammed me against a fence. He kicked me in the face with his boot, then asked me why I ran. He accused me of tagging.
I told them I wasn't tagging and that my late uncle was an LAPD officer. They both looked at each other and asked me who my uncle was. I told them. They said that I better not tell my mother or anyone about how I got the black eye or they would fuck me up and plant dope on me.
They also threatened to drop me off in a gang area. They said that if any officers asked me how I got the black eye, I should say I fell off the bridge.
I said okay.
About half an hour later, the sergeant showed up at the scene and asked me how I got the black eye. I lied and told him what the officers told me to say.
He said, "Are you sure?"
"Yes," I said.
The two officers agreed that is what happened.
The sergeant asked if I was sure.
I said yes.
The two officers who beat me up took me home and warned me again to keep my mouth shut. Once at home, the cops told my mom the same story. I agreed.
About a month ago I was sitting on the sidewalk on Argyle Street smoking a cigarette and reading a book when two officers pulled up. They told me to stand up and lean against a fence. They kept asking me where I kept my gun. They said that they had received a report about an African-American man fitting my description brandishing a handgun at the Tommy's on Hollywood Boulevard.
I told them I hadn't been in the area and that I was just trying to get some shade from the sun. They asked me to dump out my backpack so they could search for the gun. After they searched it thoroughly and found nothing, the male officer patted me down three or four times, paying particular attention to my nuts.
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"Why don't we cut to the chase," I said. "We can drive over there so they can ID me."
"Oh, that will be all right," he said, then left.
A week after the incident, about a block up the road, the same male officer came up to me just as I was throwing away a cigarette butt on the sidewalk and gave me a ticket for littering on a public highway.