It was a rough few days since we picked up the van, and all we wanted was a place of peace to reflect on our day. We knew of an open field right behind the softball fields and Secret Beach. The moon was bright, illuminating our view of the quiet landscape; at approximately 9:30, our night had just began. I’d give it about 10 minutes after we set our new home in park, when suddenly we were bombarded with cherry lights and an extraterrestrial beam. Immediately, I jumped to the driver’s seat and cracked the window so one of APD’s finest could hear me clearly. The officer requested I step out of the vehicle. When I asked why he wanted me to leave my van,  he replied, “Because I can’t see your hands.” I gladly placed my hands on the steering wheel so he’d be able to view my hands just fine. He then asked for me to turn off the roaring Diesel engine and hand him my I.D. I asked DANE, whom was still in the back of the van, to hand me my wallet. DANE leaped to the passenger seat when the officer asked if there was anyone else in the vehicle, we both slid him our I.D.’s through the crack of the driver window.

The officer proceeded to ask us both to step out of the vehicle. Again, I asked him why and he continued with, “Because I need to further my investigation.” The officer and I repeated our questions and answers like a broken record. The officer was obviously through with talking in circles and attempted to open the driver door; fortunately, the door was locked. Agitated, DANE insisted he know what the problem was and stated we weren’t there to cause trouble. With great surprise, officer 2 appeared on the passenger side of the van and succeeded in opening DANE’s door, demanding Dane step out of the vehicle with his hands behind his back. DANE complied and made his way out of the van with his hands held above his head. “I said put your hands behind your back!” snarled officer 2. DANE then asked, “Are you about to cuff me?” Officer 2 replied, “Yes, I am,” and he sure as hell wasn’t lying; he then escorted Dane to sit on the hood of his squad car. At this point, my heart begins to race and my skin turned cold. I looked back at officer 1 only to be blinded by his mighty, battery-powered torch. He and I went back and forth again as to why I should get out of the van, followed by him informing me that he’ll “give me a few moments to think about it.”

All I could think about was Where’s Dane? Maybe I should close the passenger door and lock it. Call 911? Where’s Dane? Are these even real cops? Will I get shot tonight?  I could hear officer 2’s soft-spoken  voice asking DANE questions, making it difficult for me to hear. DANE was very distinct in his responses to officer 2, which made me feel I should be listening intently. Interrupted by officer 1, I was forced to dance around why he needed to “further his investigation.” He pressed on  to let me know that he’ll now give me one time to cooperate and step out of the vehicle. At this point, I wasn’t sure what to do. Do I keep going? Will they try to pull me out? How do I defend myself against their weapons?

I decided to open my door and stood in plain sight of his squad car’s recording camera. Officer 2 swapped places with officer 1, and began asking me absurd and unnecessary questions such as, “Are you under duress? Do you know this man? Who’s vehicle is this?” Before I knew it, he was asking me if I could tell him where the registration papers were so he may retrieve them from the van. I wasn’t ready to let my guard down and told him I’d be happy to get what he needed, but neither he or officer 1 were allowed in the van. Officer 2 then told me our new paper plates did not match the identification of the vehicle and needed to run the plates to see if it was stolen. Although I stood firm in not letting the officers search the van, officer 1 had no problem shining his flash light in our windows.

Now, keep in mind the van is not under my name, information in which DANE relayed to officer 2 when first placed in cuffs. That didn’t seem to matter; every time DANE, the owner of the van, spoke up to ask the officers why we were being harassed, he was quickly cut off by officer 2, demanding DANE remain quiet.The was a game to both officers, and on that hot sumer night DANE and I were their prey. “Plates are good!” shouted officer 1. Officer 2 looked at me with a smile and tried to comfort me by [stating] it was necessary for them to take precaution; they didn’t know if we had weapons, more people in the back of the vehicle, drugs or if I was some sort of victim of DANE’s sick ways. “I’m sure you can understand our concern with so many people shooting up back here and acting crazy.” No, I didn’t understand. “I feel like you both came here to intimidate us and I don’t feel safe.”

Officer 1 released DANE from the cuffs and DANE stood next to me as both officers insisted on talking to as if they were parents. They finally let us go, but not before saying, “Hey, if you wanna live in a van and not pay taxes on a home that’s your business. I wish I could just let go of everything and have no responsibilities.” The two squad cars sped onto the windy road and were gone before DANE and I hopped back in our home. As if our days aren’t already filled with high stress and tension, we knew dealing with the cops is only going to get worse. Both os us didn’t sleep easy that night as our nerves boiled with anger, especially DANE.

True, the events of that night could have been much worse, but everything about our encounter with the ones who “protect & serve” was completely illegal… and we had absolutely no control. We were helpless. We didn’t pull out a phone to record the entire incident, but what if we did? How would the officers of reacted?

Catching officers break the law is flooding the internet, making civilians more aware of what’s occurring throughout the nation. But what good does that do if you don’t know the law? Would it even matter, because at that very moment the officer is in complete control and it will be your world against the officer’s. The most recent shooting of an unarmed man has people across America in distraught, left with Ferguson experiencing looting and rioting due to questions unanswered. The midwest city’s uproar has hit close to home and I’m frightened about if/ when I or someone close to me is next. Another reason to always keep cognizant.

-S. Elise