Monday, February 14, 2005

every bus needs a public defender.

I had some more interviewing today. It's pretty clear that I've lost all
confidence in myself after Tuesday. For instance, at one point, I had
absolutely no idea what I was doing in a cross-examination, froze,
flashback to Tuesday, froze, stammered, and then inadvertently blurted out
a question that hung my client out to dry. Even the interviewer visibly
recoiled. Sweet.

I'll continue to poke fun at myself because it's the best way of getting
over utter shame and embarrassment, but truly, I'm deeply traumatized by
these experiences. It sucks to feel like you are eternally stupid and not
good at anything, even the thing that you thought you might be good at if
you worked really hard.

I was on the bus home, frantically biting my fingernails and alternating
between not caring that I suck and really, really caring that I suck, when
I finally decided that maybe these people are right and I'm not public
defender material, and I should just suck it up and move on. I'm
convinced that Allah himself intervened right about then, in the form of
the drug task force of Boondocks Bus Depot. This 'force' consisted of a
cop, a cop in jeans with a hat and badge, and Fido the Drug Sniffer. I
saw them hanging out as the bus pulled up. As they were standing right
outside my window, I glared at them menacingly. They didn't seem to
notice. After sitting there for a while, everyone was ordered off the
bus. The Task Force entered the bus as soon as everyone was off - they
were adamant about no one being left on the bus. I watched with my eagle
eye, trying to see whether they were searching anyone's bags (namely, my
own). They rustled around for quite a bit in the bus, in the luggage
compartment, in the bus again, and some more. Fido was pumped. But
clearly they weren't finding what they were looking for. All this time I
was getting more and more angry, thinking, can they do this? Really? And
shuffling through random crim pro bits in my head I think the answer is
yes. But if it were my client, the answer would absolutely be no, for the

After about 15 minutes of this nonesense, we were permitted to reboard the
bus. The Task Force, sans Fido, reboarded the bus, thanking us for our
patience and letting us know they were expecting someone to come through
with something. Then they asked the young man behind me if he would mind
speaking to them outside. I started shaking my head no and trying to
telepathically advise my bus friend NOT TO SAY A DAMNED WORD. He agreed
with the cop and asked whether he should bring his bag. NO YOU SHOULD NOT
OFFER TO DO THAT. The cops said it would not be necessary. They were
outside for a few moments and my bus friend reboarded. My bus friend was
not my friend until he was approached by the cops, at which point in my
head we became best friends. My bus friend is probably 20 years old, I'd
guess of Dominican descent, he was wearing a large puffy jacket, the
baseball cap with the straight brim and sticker on it (as is the style now
apparently) and his Timbs. He sat back down behind me and after a few
moments, I threw etiquette to the wind and I turned around.

"What did they ask you out there, if you don't mind me asking?"
He replied in a shy, soft-spoken manner that surprised me. "The dog
smelled the plaintains that I have in my bag. They asked me if there was
anything in my bag, I told them no. But I guess the plaintains made him

He went on to tell me that they asked, "Are you sure? Not even a little
marijuana or something?" He assured them that there was nothing in his
bag and offered to let them search it. DO NOT DO THAT. They declined.

"I'm so embarrassed," he said softly.

I remember the attorney for whom I worked this summer, when teaching
street law, would always tell the youth that they had to do what they
needed to do to keep themselves safe. For instance, if the cops are going
to beat the shit out of you or shoot at you for walking away, then maybe,
even though you believe you have the right to walk away, it isn't the best
idea to do so. My bus friend was in the same position. If I were him, I
can't say I would have done differently - I've got nothing to hide, let's
get this over with. But on the other hand, there is a large part of me on
the inside screaming to challenge this bullshit. Had he been following
the advice I was giving him in my head, he probably WOULD have been patted
down, bags searched, and maybe even taken a gratuitous ride in a cop car.

We chatted for a while longer, as the bus was still going nowhere, and
neither were the cops (who were no longer on the bus but lingering
outside). Many minutes elapse and the cops reboarded the bus again,
announcing that they had found what they were looking for. They showed us
what they called a substantial amount of cocaine. I'm no good with
weights and measures. Don't ask me to judge distance. But this cocaine
looked exactly like the round handsoap you would get in a hotel - wrapped
the same way and everything. I was psyched that the cops were showing me
cocaine, and I'm certain that one cop mistook my smirk of public defender
snarkiness as, 'Thank goodness you were here to save me from that soap! I
mean, substantial amount of cocaine!'

I was on a bus in college once and also had the occasion to observe the
cops at work. We stopped, people had boarded, and then we didn't go
anywhere. The cops started poking around the luggage compartment and then
boarded the bus, asking who got on at that stop. They informed us that
the car dealership next door had been robbed at gunpoint and they
suspected the perpetrator might try to flee via bus. Snazzy. Well, the
cops looked around at who got on at that stop and must have decided that
all those people LOOKED nice enough. Until they came to the guy that
could not speak English. They asked him several times if they could look
in his bag. He could not understand what they were saying, so they took
the liberty - literally took his liberty - of searching his bag. The
man's voice and words grew increasingly agitated. The cops thanked him
and returned his bag. I remember FUMING about that.

I told my bus friend that I don't trust cops one whit. He said that they
just wanted to show everyone that they were doing their job. Funny, that.
The white woman in a suit with a briefcase being the nosy cop-hater bitch
on wheels and the young hip-hop Latino man being shy, soft-spoken, and
embarrassed. He knows how to fry plaintains though. I'll be looking for
his face out on the town this weekend.


Lewis E. Moten III said...

It's a fine line between defender and victim.

Michelle said...

i couldn't agree more!