I’m not particularly fond of the cops. Not sure if there has been any confusion about that specific point around here on the Hell World newsletter we all read and know. Sometimes people will ask me they’ll go Luke what do you make of the cops thumbs up or thumbs down and I’ll say to them I’ll go Not a big fan of the cops mate. That’s due to the whole thing where they were established as a means for capitalists in burgeoning cities to protect their profits and property at the expense of the poor, minorities, and immigrants in the north and as a slave catching and freed black people terrorizing group in the south which is surprisingly just about what they still are to this very day!
Here’s one thing I didn’t realize until just recently did you know the first police force as we think of it in America wasn’t established until 1838 in Boston and then 1845 in New York? Prior to that policing was a lot less formal and either done by voluntary community watches or private for-profit policing according to a fascinating history of the fucking cops I just read by Dr. Gary Potter of the Eastern Kentucky University.
“The night watch was not a particularly effective crime control device,” he wrote. “Watchmen often slept or drank on duty. While the watch was theoretically voluntary, many ‘volunteers’ were simply attempting to evade military service, were conscript forced into service by their town, or were performing watch duties as a form of punishment,” he wrote which doesn’t sound too far off from the reasons people become cops now lol sorry to any cops reading this.
Here’s another passage I quite liked:
More than crime, modern police forces in the United States emerged as a response to "disorder." What constitutes social and public order depends largely on who is defining those terms, and in the cities of 19th century America they were defined by the mercantile interests, who through taxes and political influence supported the development of bureaucratic policing institutions. These economic interests had a greater interest in social control than crime control. Private and for profit policing was too disorganized and too crime-specific in form to fulfill these needs. The emerging commercial elites needed a mechanism to insure a stable and orderly work force, a stable and orderly environment for the conduct of business, and the maintenance of what they referred to as the "collective good" (Spitzer and Scull 1977). These mercantile interests also wanted to divest themselves of the cost of protecting their own enterprises, transferring those costs from the private sector to the state.
I was thinking about this after a conversation I had with a friend who has been navigating his way through the system after getting done up for a DUI. He had come to some obvious-seeming realizations about the nature of control that the criminal justice system subjects us to and the dehumanizing feeling of being ensnared by the law.
Here’s a weird thing though: As someone who despises the carceral state and the war on drugs and all of the other sundry abuses of power, I also happen to think people shouldn’t be driving wasted and should suffer consequences for doing so and I’m not really sure how to square that. Is policing the streets from drunk drivers the one good thing cops do? Can I post emojis on this thing? Not sure so imagine a chin-stroking emoji here.
Weirdly, despite having broken the law too many times to count in terms of drug purchases and having driven a fair number of times when I probably should not have, I’ve had very few encounters with the police in my life time. Much of that is owed to my privilege as a white man from a stable background of course. Some of it is just dumb luck. But I was fascinated hearing about all the extra shit that someone who does get arrested for a DUI or for possession has to go through, so I asked my friend and a couple of other people — a woman arrested for coke possession (at Coachella lol), and a black man arrested for possession and for a DUI — to explain what it’s like. Is it good? Probably not but let’s find out buddy.
Black man, 39, California
You were arrested for possession? What happened there.
Yeah when I was younger. I had a white female officer in San Francisco slam my face into the hood of her cop car because she didn’t like my tone. She ended up arresting my Korean friend for an ounce of pot, but the DA threw it out. She knew he would but arrested us just to ruin our afternoons and make us deal with the system as a punishment for not being friendly enough with her. We were twenty year old college students in San Francisco who wouldn’t play along with her and her partner’s Officer Friendly bit. So she got mad, and when that didn’t work to properly scare us, she flexed all her power physical and systemic.
When was your DUI?
In LA in 2016 I got a DUI after a car wreck. It was caused by a rich prick white guy in a black BMW. He drove me off the freeway after he lost control of his car on a curve and I avoided him and hit a tree. When the CHP arrived I blew a .10. The legal limit in California is .08. It was after a bar trivia night. Obviously it was my fault. Clearly. But when the CHP and EMTs arrived the cops wouldn’t let the EMTs come over and treat me until I agreed to a breathalyzer. I had slammed into a tree at sixty or seventy miles per hour. Never touched the brakes. I had five broken ribs and a ruptured spleen I later learned. At the time I just felt like I was dying. I told the CHP I couldn’t breathe and it felt like I had a rib in my lung or heart. The cop said blow and we’ll get you help. Afraid I’d die before help would be offered, I blew, knowing my lawyer friends would’ve advised against that. I blew and got a DUI. It’s kinda bullshit to quibble but if I could have done what I knew white friends had done and waited until we got to the hospital, I doubt my BAC would have been so high. But that’s an aside. Once I blew, the cop let the EMTs treat me. Another cop who saw what was left of my truck said I must have a guardian angel. An EMT said the same.
So then you had to go to court?
It lasted for eight visits over twenty months due to paperwork mistakes on the court’s behalf. My black judge also didn’t like my tone, my constant problem with the law, so he sentenced me to eighteen extra days of community service.
I asked my lawyer to attend court with me, since they kept fucking up my paperwork, and when he heard what I’d been assigned without him present, he said that’s bullshit and made sure to attend my next court date. He got my community service reduced to three days after I’d performed six. Cut in half just because I had a lawyer. It was always the same black judge. He didn’t even talk to me in court when my lawyer was there, and that’s after he’d fucked with me on previous court visits when I was alone. I also saw, during my many visits, how he treated other POC versus white kids with DUIs. How much community service he assigned wasn’t the same. Some were so rich they could pay to avoid such service. It felt like he was punishing us for being dumb enough to not avoid obvious classist/racist traps that ensnared us in the system, like getting a DUI. It seemed like he felt like being a dick and assigning extra service days was tough love. That was his idea of justice: extra punishment for us.
The thing my buddy who go jammed up for a DUI recently was saying was how much fees and paperwork and all this shit they make you go through that most people probably don't think about add up big time. Was that the case for you?
For sure. Constant fees. Court fees. Rescheduling fees. Payment adjustment request fees. Waiting in line to pay yet another fee so I could go back to court to hear about new fees. It’s all people talked about: missed work, babysitter money, partner missing work. Well, that and the Lakers.
Did you have to see a parole officer or attend meetings?
I attended weekly meetings for an alcohol program that took sixteen weeks. They were three hours per meeting at night. Plus court mandated AA meetings, another sixteen. Luckily those were only an hour on average.
Was there any flexibility in terms of accommodating people with work schedules or kids or whatever?
Nope, and if you missed more than one alcohol meeting you had to start over and pay $400 to rejoin the program.
Do you think you're an alcoholic or was it a case of you had a couple beers and were probably technically drunk but it’s the type of thing almost everyone does?
I come from a drinking culture in a small college town. I know alcoholics and drunk driving. I also worked construction and saw how men got popped. This was me not waiting long enough to drive home and maybe should have ordered fries at bar trivia. That said, I have driven home when I definitely shouldn’t, and this was not that
How is everyone in LA not just constantly getting DUIs?
Uber and Lyft have been game changers. By the way my alcohol class were heavily POC, but it is LA, so that may mean nothing.
Did you learn anything in the classes or come to think about anything differently or change your behavior?
The classes were helpful, ultimately. It was like forced group therapy. It helped me see people that I knew in new ways, and to see myself in new ways, like, how I can’t excuse my behavior even if it was never a problem before. The fact I was in that alcohol class was undeniable proof I had some kind of problem, so it was beneficial. I haven’t ever got behind the wheel intoxicated since then. And I have had to be more honest with myself about the fact that I may be able to perform inebriated in a way that would avoid detection, but if some rando comes in and jacks me up, then I’m fucked. I could have killed people, and that would have been on me. So I have to be better able to account for the influence of randos. I can’t be above the law because I could avoid detection.
It was humbling, and an awareness that I’m in a community, always. No man is an island, that sort of thing. It’s not always the lions in the jungle that fuck you up, sometimes it’s the mice. So, I can’t drink and drive, not because of avoiding cops and getting away with it, but because I owe it to my community not to risk their lives due to my ego that says I’m fine.
White woman, 29, California
How did you get arrested?
It’s so embarrassing. I was at Coachella. Did you know they have plainclothes cops just chilling around like concert-goers? Well, I did not. So now I’m in a class twice a week where I have to sit with meth addicts and whatnot while an old woman disjointedly talks to us about not getting AIDs and Trump for an hour. But it’s cheap, quick, and it’ll be gone from my record.
What happened, you did a bump out in the crowd or something?
They saw me taking something out of my shoe and rushed me. Like three people in regular clothes all at once ran up to me. I almost ran away thinking they were just robbing me or something. Fuck, that place is hell. Anyway, they are so aggressive with this that they even set up a little police station next to the entrance so they process you and then drive you back into the festival in a golf cart. The mugshots from all their busts must be great. Everyone is in festival gear.
And then did you have to go to real jail or just get a summons or something?
I never had to go to real jail. After they tested my coke right there in front of me in a tent, they did my fingerprints and mug shot and then drove me back to the show. I met up with the group again and everyone bought me beers.
How did you feel? Were you embarrassed? Did you have to come down?
My group made it worse by seeing DJ Kahled. Arguably worse than getting busted.
The cops gave me my weed pen back, so that made it better. It’s so wild to me that they did that. Coming from [another state], wow I’d have been in real jail real quick.
Were you worried at first you were in deep shit?
Yeah, I thought I was in real trouble at first. But then I remembered that a lot of my friends have way worse shit like DUIs and they are fine. I mean, I wasn’t putting anyone else in danger or anything. And the cop told me coke possession is just a misdemeanor so that helped, too.
Were the cops shitty or reasonable?
The cops were so shitty. Just openly mocking me for tearing up. Like “haha why are you so upset. Haha you’re crying?” I wasn’t even really crying! Just some anger and embarrassment tears with no boo-hooing or anything. But I guess you have to be extra shitty to be on that kind of beat. Who dreams of being that kind of cop? Just busting people on private property who are contained and partying in a designated area for partying? I get cops being shitty about DUIs and whatnot, but this is another level of being a shitty narc.
Obviously I don't support arresting people for drugs but I'd imagine it's a liability thing or something. Overdoses and such.
Well, I get the liability angle. But I also don’t. Like, I’ve been to so many festivals and have never heard of this. Not at ACL, not at Bonnaroo, not at Sasquatch.
How much did they take from you?
I don’t know for sure, actually. Not much. More than a gram, less than 2 grams maybe?
Did you have to get a lawyer and everything?
I got a kind of pre-trial situation. I agreed to take these classes instead. PC-1000 is the program. If I fail to do all my classes by the deadline or if I get kicked out of the program, then I agreed to automatically plead guilty and then I’d actually get sentenced.
My lawyer says the cops at Coachella are so, so bad. He routinely gets cases dismissed because the cops are so aggressive and dumb. They honestly often use “being at a concert” as probable cause, which is ridiculous and not legal. My lawyer gets a slew of Coachella cases every year, he says. He has a flat-rate for it and everything. $1,500 flat rate for everything
Yeah, the program has some fees too. I think I’ll end up spending about $500 on it.
What is the program like? How long does it last?
One hour. I go twice a week just to speed through it. Your time is determined by the number of classes, not months. The length is determined by the court so everyone’s is different. I’ve had two instructors. The first one was good. An ex addict and ex con—he really tried to help the people who needed it without condescending or punishing. The lady we have now is in her 80s, can barely hear what people say to her, and mostly wants to rant about hating Trump. But she also likes to talk about AIDS because she thinks people don’t take it seriously these days.
They don’t! And what is the format? Like a lecture or do you all share?
It’s open. The teacher asks us to check in and then after that she gives us a topic. Usually “just talk about current events.” It’s the most tedious and useless hour of my day. Although I have leaned a lot about how gangs work in jails, which is interesting. I also have to go to 8 AA classes. I haven't done those yet.
To be honest I feel like an asshole in these classes. I come in from work in office clothes and I've never had an addiction, really. Maybe adderall for a year in college. But the rest of the people in my class, they’ve got real life problems.
Do you think being a young white woman helped you get off relatively easy?
Probably in some way. But in this case it's not immediately obvious where that came into play for a few reasons: 1) everyone at the Coachella cop tent that I saw was put back into the festival, 2) I never saw the judge and they never saw me unless my mug shot was shown during the hearing that my lawyer attended on my behalf, and 3) there's only one other white woman in the class. So, clearly, this PC-1000 program is giving a lot of people a second chance who aren't just young white people.
Have you partied again since then?
For sure. The program drug tests but that’s why I stick to things that disappear quickly. No weed, for example. Coke is water soluble and so, unlike weed, doesn’t stick around in your fatty tissue. I only have drug classes Mondays and Fridays. And I can miss a few as long as I don’t miss two weeks worth in a row. So I can time it out if I need.
White man, 42, Massachusetts
I take it you did not come away from the experience with a great impression.
I was always vaguely aware that the justice system was a device to control society, but I was never fully aware of just what a money-making scheme it is and how once you enter it its sole design is to ensnare you and keep you trapped there for as long as possible. Throughout this entire process my one thought has been, Jesus fucking Christ imagine if I didn't have the support of my friends and family, a flexible steady job, money in the bank, the ability to live in the city. I mean, this process is hard enough for a person with all that. Without those things it would be so easy to get overwhelmed and swept away to spend the rest of your life in a cage.
All of which made me realize for the very fist time that almost every aspect of the state is designed to control its citizens. It is never about justice or reform. It is always about money and control, but because those in power are mostly exempt from its tyranny, it is depicted as a benevolent creature. Politicians and police and judges and parole officers and social workers are all out there keeping society safe is the bullshit they tell us. Once you experience it for yourself it's too late because now you're on the wrong side of it all and any complaint you might muster is viewed as suspect because shouldn't you have known better than to do whatever you did to put you on the wrong side of things? Isn't it really on you that you're getting ground to dust?
Don't get me wrong, I know I fucked up and broke the law, and I owe a debt to society. but this is not about paying a debt to society and it never was.
What are the hurdles people have to jump after getting arrested for DUI?
On your day in court you have to have enough money for a lawyer, because if not you will be fucked even harder, so you sure better have a fucking lawyer boy. $3000. My lawyer showed up to the court house, knew the DA, sat in the court room for thirty minutes having done zero prep work or anything other than utilize his connections developed over the years of working in the field, and the case was continued without finding, preventing me from having a conviction on my record. First hurdle passed.
You got parole?
On TV parole officers are always checking up on the criminals they're assigned, making sure they're not up to no good or else Lenny Briscoe will pay them a visit to see where they were on the night in question. I'm sure those parole officers exist, but that's not what this is. This is I sit down with a woman who I will never see again as she outlines the conditions of my parole. Which are: fill out a piece of paper stating my name and address, who I live with, whether I'm employed, if I've been arrested again, and then mail it in — because you cannot fill it out online because that might decrease the likelihood of you getting it in on time — by the 15th of the month every month for a year. I also had to sign up for and take the mandatory driver alcohol education classes, my license was suspended for forty days, and I can't leave the state until my parole is over without written permission. That will likely take up to two weeks to obtain, so you better hope you don't have to travel for work or no out-of-state emergencies pop up in the next year, because if so you'll likely have to risk violating parole and hoping you don't get caught.
The fees really start to add up right?
Yeh, most importantly it’s: pay us your money, bitch. And pay it on time or else you are in violation of your parole which will mean another court date and associated fees, another lawyer's fee if you can afford it, or the possibility of jail time if you cannot.
All of the fees, roughly a few thousand dollars, cannot be paid in full, and must be paid monthly, because again this increases the likelihood of a missed payment thereby sending you back into the jaws of the system. Also, if you don't want to mail a paper check in every month and risk it not getting to the court house on time then there is an additional fee for paying online.
Getting to the classes without being able to drive can be an issue too?
If your license has been suspended good luck getting to the place to do so and to the job that you need in order to pay all the money you owe in order to stay in good standing and not getting shot back to the beginning and starting this process all over. You better hope you have the luxury of an understanding job, the resources to pay for transit, or someone to drive your ass around.
Before you can start your alcohol class you need to go for an evaluation. What that means is you have to sit down with a social worker type who works for the state and not you but is disguised as a health care professional. You should probably not let that fool you because at the end of the evaluation they will make a recommendation to the court re: how to deal with your criminal ass. So you fill out the paperwork on your history of drug use, alcohol abuse, criminal acts, depression and mental health, but you might not want to fill it out too completely for obvious reasons. After you fill that out, you make an appointment to see said social worker. When you get there you need to bring a money order because you can't use a credit card to pay for some reason and you can't use a credit card to buy a money order either, so you’d better have access to $200 because you're going to need that to keep this court ordered appointment or else — you guessed it — you violated parole and will be returned to the beginning of this Kafkaesque process.
This is really making me not want to drive drunk maybe the system works! What’s the interview consist of?
I’d already sat for an interview with a substance abuse professional in this same building you have to go to who worked with me to find a treatment plan that I’ve been adhering to and is working and has kept me sober for the last couple of months. But this other person works for the court so you have to do it all over again and sit there while they tell you that you're a pretty sorry human and they're going to recommend you take the two hour class for sixteen weeks for $800.
The classes only meet evenings so if you work nights that's too bad you're going to have to make it work and you can't miss more than two classes during the sixteen weeks or you've violated parole. The only night I can attend this class conflicts with the support group I’m currently attending on my own volition and has helped tremendously with my mental state and efforts to stay sober but that doesn't really matter to them because you don't have to pay the state to go to that group. Treatment or reform isn’t the goal of the system, that would be crazy. The goal is to keep you trapped here forever until they can bleed you dry.