A Suspicious Character!
Let's have some drama in this week's story ... time for some police action!
Time and again in these stories I've mentioned that I ride around town on my bicycle, using it for all my errands. After so many years of doing this, it seems that I'm pretty well recognized by most people in town, and I guess as I zoom by heading this way and that, I prompt thoughts of 'There goes that foreigner again ...', or 'There's Dave again ...' from those people who actually know me.
The other day though, when I was on my way back home from the stationery store, with my backpack full of envelopes and shipping tape, it seems that a couple of people who saw me fly by had different thoughts. It was a pair of policemen, and they decided - for reasons of their own - to stop me for questioning. They were also riding bicycles, and the first I knew of any problem was when they rode up beside me, one on each side, and told me to 'pull over'.
They asked who I was, and what I was doing, and of course, I told them. I then produced my government-issued Alien Registration Card - which I am legally required to carry whenever I am outdoors - and one of them wandered off to the side and used a communications device of some kind to 'run a check' on it.
From my point of view, I can understand why they did this - it's their business to keep an eye on the affairs of our community, and because I am indeed a bit 'different', I can sympathize with their desire to see if I was 'on the level'. Running my ID through their system must have instantly shown them the situation - that I have been in Japan for more than 20 years, that this was my own neighbourhood, and that I have never been in any trouble at all with the police. That should have been the end of the episode.
But it wasn't. "What's in your pack? Open it for us." was their next request, and that's where I dug in my heels. I refused outright. "No. It's none of your business. I'm a law-abiding resident, heading home from shopping."
Why did I refuse? Consider my position; here I am, a completely normal member of the community, standing on the sidewalk 'surrounded' by policemen. Imagine how this appears to people passing by! And the next step - a policeman digging through my pack while I stood there. Anybody who saw such a thing would instantly assume that I was an object of suspicion for some kind of criminal activity. Wouldn't you?
So I crossed my arms, looked him in the eye, and stood my ground. "I've done nothing wrong. Your ID check must show that. I'm going home, OK?" And I started to move my bike forward ...
He gave in. They stood aside, as I swung onto my bike and rode off, without looking backward.
And then, just as I approached the next corner, a car pulled to the curb, and a friend - a local artist - got out. He had seen this episode while passing, and had quickly circled the block to see if I needed assistance. I was glad to see him, and especially glad to see that he hadn't simply driven off, thinking to himself, "I wonder what Dave has been doing ..." So maybe I had 'worried' too much about the negative ramifications of being seen with the policemen. Perhaps I have built up enough goodwill in the community by now to overcome such things.
I have mixed feelings about this entire episode; of course I am glad that we don't have the kind of police force that would have thrown me onto the ground and drawn their weapons because I resisted them, but I was quite surprised how easily they gave in. The more I read in the newspapers about our police, and considering my own experiences (this is far from the first time I have been stopped), I can't help avoid having the impression that they are weak, confused, and ineffective. I wish that they would be able to find a good middle ground somewhere ...Story #121, April 20 2008