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allow us to detain you

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ah, i think to myself yesterday, i have an hour to kill, and what a beautiful afternoon it is, i think i'll walk around town and take some photos of cool stuff. i take my usual path down lexington avenue and decide that i will take more pictures of the very cool new building under construction. neato. snap snap snap.

i take some okay pics, but nothing really drastically different from what i'd already captured. i move on. there's a cool church across from the citicorp building. snap snap snap.

the citicorp building is very cool, total concrete, characterless monolith. i try to capture the perfect, most interesting angle to shoot this grand bland slab of steel and concrete.

a tap on my shoulder.

officer 1: sir. what are you doing.

me: taking a picture of this building.

officer 2: why do you need a picture of this building.

me: it looks cool.

1: you think you can just take a picture of a building?

me: i'm a photographer.

2: what makes you think you can just walk up here and take a picture of this building?

me: i'm interested in architecture. i've been doing this all up and down the street.

3: you've been what.

2:(into his walkie talkie) suspicious person here. taking photos.

3: do you even know what's going on? how the hell are you gonna take a picture of this building when there are terror alerts on it?

me: i didn't know that.

1: do you have id on you sir.

2: do you live in new york city?

3: you didn't know that?

1: sir i need to see your identification. do you have id on you.

me: yeah i live here, i've worked at rockefeller university for three years.

1: id sir, i need to see your id immediately.

3: well, you're gonna know it now, aren't you.

i take out my wallet and fish for my employee id and my driver's license, which are snatched from my hand.

3: are you from here? how can you not know what's going on?

1: sir, we are detaining you. we need to run these through. if you're on any of our lists, or if you pop up on any of our scans, we'll know what's up.

me: (pause) ..okay.

3: how are you gonna just walk up here and take a picture with all these cops standing around? huh? did you not see that there's all these police here?

me: dude! i live here, there's cops on every street, how am i gonna notice anything!? everything looks exactly the same! this block looks just like the next one!

1: take his camera. you're not going anywhere buddy. we're detaining you. you just hold tight right there.

and i am surrounded by six police officers, one of whom has a machine gun. my camera is taken from me and handled like it could explode at any moment. and the grilling begins. it's quite a sight for passers by to see. it would have been awesome if someone tried to take a picture of the scene, and then got 'detained' themselves.

1: i need you to open your bag for me.

2: do you have anything on you?

me: what?

2: sir, do you have anything in your bag we need to know about before we open it?

3: any sharpened knives?

me: i don't think so..

1: you don't think so?

3: you need to tell us now before we find something and you regret it.

2: sir, do - you - have - any - thing - in - your - bag - we - need - to - know - about?

me: not that i can think of!

2: open it up for me sir. step back. one pocket at a time. what's this?

me: pair of glasses.

2: and in here. open that up. okay close it. just have a seat right there.

1: stupid move man, stupid move. takin' pictures. what an idiot.

i wait for several minutes. officer 4 holds my camera.

3: we're running you through now. once that's done, and if everything is okay on your check, then you'll be free to go.

me: i'm an actor. i'm in a play that starts at 8:00. am i going to make it?

3: i'm not even going to answer that sir. it will take as long as it takes. i'm not gonna lie to you. i'm not gonna say something to you and then have it be a lie. it'll take as long as it takes.

me: i just need to know if i should make a phone call and let them know.

3: i think you'd better make that phone call.

me: great.

i still have plenty of time to get to the theatre, so i decide to hold off making the call. 3 goes away. several minutes pass.

4: sorry about the captain. he gets a little overzealous sometimes.

i think to myself - ohmygod. they're doing good cop bad cop on me.

4: hey, you'll have a good story to tell your friends.

me: yeah, guess so.

4: this is a nice camera.

me: thanks.

4: you like it?

me: yeah. i take headshots of actors. it's made me some money.

4: how long have you had it?

me: about 2 years.

4: has the quality gone down at all?

me: no, it's been good. though i did notice that in the highest resolution there are two pixels that don't register. but i can fix it easily in photoshop.

4: nice.

time passes.

me: (to officer 4) so, um, how are you realistically enforcing this photo ban? i mean, everyone on the street has a cell phone camera. how do you even know what's a camera and what's not?

4: it's tough man. we gotta try. we're not even usually out here, we got called in from queens.

tick tock.

4: hey, can we get a look at the pictures you took?

2: um, do you know how to use that camera?

4: no..

me: i can do it.

2: sorry sir, we can't risk you deleting evidence.

4: yeah, not a good idea. i don't want to accidentally erase anything either.

3 returns

3: did you make your phone call.

me: no, i thought i'd wait.

3: you better do it.

4: (to 3) let's see what's on the camera?

3: you know how to work it?

4: not really.

3: better not.

me: i can talk you through it.


3: okay.

and so i instruct him on turning it on, and accessing the picture files. once the pictures appear, i find myself in the awkward, but also kind of fun position of having to explain the artistic merit of each image. four cops are crowded around the tiny screen on my camera.

3: where is this?

me: just up the street.

3: why would anyone take a picture of that.

me: because, um, well.. gee. i thought the windows looked cool? i thought that the colors were interesting, and um, well, something about the grid of the windows broken up by the reflections.. i thought it was neat.

3: hm.

3: what's this.

me: it's the top of that church over there.

3: why are you taking pictures of that church.

me: well.. because. um. well, the design of the crown is ornate. and it caught my eye, and i wanted to see how well the digital zoom would work and um how much detail i'd be able to pick up, and i was trying to capture the sunlight coming from behind but i wasn't able to find the right shutter speed for that.

3: hm.

then we come to my scaffolding pictures. they seem to make everyone uncomfortable. like i'm surveying for the best place to put the bombs.

3: where is this.

me: up the street. it's that building that's been under construction for awhile. you can see the top of it, there. i've taken a lot of pictures of it before.

3: why.

me: i think the design is neat. and the scaffolding, um the scaffolding is really detailed, has a cool repetition, and the blue masking on the borders - well that also looks neat, plus i just like the intersection of the lines.

3: you've taken pictures of this building before?

me: yeah. plenty of times.

he shakes his head as he flips through, and then past the scaffolding pics.

me: that's bryant park. on wednesday.

3: who's this. (pause) friend? (pause) roommate?

me: um. well. he's uh. a.. a friend. an actor.

3: why do you have pictures of him?

me: well, i uh, i uh, take pictures of actors. there's about um 100 pictures of him on there.


3: uh huh.

and he flips through, looking at the pictures, which thankfully, are not scandalous, though they easily could have been. then i sort of find myself wishing they -had- been scandalous, just to make him queasy for having violated my privacy. he goes through about 30 pictures.

3: rest of this guy?


me: pardon?

3: rest of this guy?

me: the rest of him?

3: the rest of the pictures, are they of this guy?

me: oh. haha. most of them yeah. there's some pictures of my roommate's cat. you wanna see those?

3: no. i don't want to see your cats. here.

he hands me back the camera.

3: he's just gotta take down some information. here's your id's. once he's done with the paperwork, you're free to go.

3 leaves.

4: you're not in any trouble, nothing is going on your record. we just need to make note of who we stop and question for legal purposes. there've been a bunch of lawsuits.

me: ah.

i really wanted, at that point to ask all six of the cops if i could take their picture. i should have asked. 4 probably would have let me. 4 probably would have gone on a date with me. ah well. i was just glad to get the hell out of there.

10 responses to “allow us to detain you”

  1. Blogger bloggerdude 

    what a story man. i wish you would've taken their pic. too bad you didn't have any scandalous photos for the dudes. especially if #4 was ready to go out...

    later dude

  2. Blogger V. 

    yeah, that makes a lot of sense that they should detain you - what with al qaeda loving gays and all, you're a prime suspect.


    crackheads, one and all.

    love, jdo

  3. Anonymous Anonymous 

    (Coming here from a link over at herself_nyc's Livejournal.)

    God, that's *funny*. No, really, it is. I think you should mail that to Michael Moore. I'm sure he'd love to use that in some way or other.


  4. Anonymous Anonymous 

    I came over to your blog from herself_nyc's LJ too. Thanks for sharing this encounter...but let me tell you it scares the bejesus out of me, random stop and detention for taking pictures. Is this America?

  5. Anonymous Anonymous 

    As a photographer (just relocated to chicago from nyc) this shit pisses me off to no end. I mean, sure, they can detain you in their freaky fascist way, that's sort of (sort of) their job, but to give you shit and call you names, to characterize your actions as dumb? Who the hell are they to judge your actions' relative merits? Boils my blood. I had a similar thing happen to me on a train platform in queens... and even though it was clear that the cops were wrong (making statements about the relative illegality of my actions, all of which were and continue to be legal) they just sat around and told me to stop what I was doing, not to do it again, and what was I thinking, anyway?

    (I was thinking... "If only I didn't have to move to chicago in a couple of days, I should really just have them arrest me. for... uh... doing nothing.")

    Just got back from shooting the lakefront of chicago with my 4x5, tripod, etc., and thinking "If this were new york, I'd have been harassed half a dozen times by now"... frightening to realize how much their thuggery has made me hesitate before shooting.

    power-drunk idjits. i want my country back.

  6. Anonymous Anonymous 

    To quote the song by EMF "Unbelievable. What the fuck
    was that?!" The pictures were gorgeous,by the way.

  7. Blogger oo 

    What's the matter guys? You're living in America, so get used to it. You could be living in North Korea, Russia or Tibet and would be surounded by paranoids all the time. So be happy to live in the US.

    You could, however, relocate to Switzerland. Here, our president travels by public transport, and this without bodyguards.

  8. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Yo dude, Was that a "Hoover" vacuum you were living in?? (kidding!) Just shortly before your "venture", it had been all over the news that financial institutes in NYC, Newark and DC had been threatened and so there'd be extra security around them. This news, combined with a nearly concurring story of the arrest of (I believe) an Arab guy down in one of the Carolinas for photographing major landmarks in the area, was enough to make anyone think twice before "shooting!". I'm glad you were cleared of all suspicion. And thanks for the reminder that at least for now, our liberties ARE being curtailed. Hopefully, this too shall pass - but without a return to the over indulgent complacency we left behind on 9/10.

  9. Blogger j 

    well see now, the taking of a photograph from the street of any building, no matter what the intent, should be legal and protected. i'm not sure if you live in the city, but you must realize the idiocy of trying to enforce any kind of photo ban here.

    part of 'feeling safer' definitely does not include 'being treated like a terrorist.'

  10. Blogger The Answer Man 

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