My Police Brutality Story
First I’ll start with a trigger warning. I include bloody details. But please remember: I did not get a trigger warning before watching this.
Certain details have been changed so that the exact time and location can’t be identified.
The quotes are certainly not precise. I did my best to recreate my experience as accurately as I could but I am well aware of the problems with human memories, particularly with intense experiences. That’s all I can offer.
Around the year 2000 I went to a regional burning man event. Hippies, tie-dye and vegan burritos as far as the eye could see.
I was still a minor but had some marijuana and a little alcohol hidden in my pants. A few months earlier I had been charged with marijuana distribution but had not yet been to trial.
I was walking down a road with a big crowd of people when I saw four naked men in the lettuce farm just off the road. As I walked past them, the police started showing up. The men tried to run at first, but they were careful not to step on any of the crops so they had to run straight down the rows. The police on the other hand, just ran straight through, trampling the lettuce without concern. They easily caught up to three of them and arrested them.
The fourth naked man, a tall, skinny pale white guy, made it to the road. He ran straight to the police car and climbed on top. He danced, shouting something like “To serve and protect! Don’t worry about the rapists or the murderers because I’m naked! Don’t chase after thieves! Don’t look at corporate greed! Don’t worry about those things because I’m naked! I’m the evil one because I’m naked! These are your priorities, society!”
The police made it back to their car a moment later and attempted to grab the man’s ankles and rip him from the top of their car. Instead, the man leapt straight over the officer and hit the ground running.
He ran straight toward me. I tried to move out of the way but there were people right behind me. So the naked man, now trapped in the crowd, stopped immediately in front of me, put up his hands and shouted “Okay, I give up!”
But the first officer continued charging. This was a huge policeman, likely 250 pounds or more.
“I give up!” the man screamed as he realized the officer wasn’t stopping.
The cop tackled him and in a split-second, highly deliberate, perfectly-timed, practiced movement, the officer grabbed the man’s wrists and forced them in front of him as they fell so that when they hit the ground, they were wedged underneath him.
“Put your hands behind your back!” the cop screamed.
The man struggled and replied, “I can’t. I can’t move my hands.”
The cop grabbed the man by the hair and smashed his face into the pavement. “Don’t talk back to me you piece of shit! I told you to put your hands behind your back!”
“I can’t! Please, I can’t move my hands!”
The officer responded by smashing his face into the pavement again, screaming, “Do you want to die, you piece of trash! Put your hands behind your back!”
The man started sobbing and pleading, “Please no I don’t want to die, please don’t kill me I can’t move my hands. I’m trying, please God no, please don’t kill me!”
But the officer continued smashing the man’s face into the road, over and over again, screaming, “You are worthless trash! Do you understand what a worthless piece of shit you are? Do you get it? Worthless! You’re such trash that I can kill you right now and your mother will suck my dick to thank me. That’s what a piece of shit you are. Your mother will thank me for killing you, you fucking garbage person! Your mother wishes she had an abortion! Do you hear me, asshole? Your mother wishes she had an abortion!” And with each beat of his screams, he pounded the mans face into the pavement. In the end, he just kept screaming, “Your mother wishes she had an abortion!” over and over and over again.
The naked man begged and sobbed and pleaded for his life until going silent and limp. Even then the officer did not stop screaming and smashing.
Meanwhile, as I was watching all of this play out in one eye, I was trying to find my voice to scream, but when I tried to scream I found I had no voice. It was just gone.
A couple other officers ran up to the scene. I thought they were going to pull the violent officer off the naked man and stop the beating, but that’s not what they did. Instead they surrounded the two and started screaming at the onlookers. “It’s all under control! That man is high on PCP, highly dangerous and resisting arrest! Everyone move on. Anyone not moving on will be charged with obstruction of justice and sent to prison! Move! Get the fuck out of here!”
Standing right next to me were two young girls, maybe 16 or 20 years old. They both stood frozen, watching the violence, both repeating the words “Oh my God,” over and over.
By now there were five or six officers all dealing with onlookers while the beating continued unchecked. One officer stepped in front of the two girls. “Move on!” he shouted.
One of the girls pointed at the scene and cried something like “This isn’t necessary!”
The officer lunged forward and brought his face right down to hers and screamed, “Get the fuck out of here you stupid cunt!”
Still the two girls were just kind of frozen in shock. The officer raised his fist and as I saw him about to punch this girl in the face, that’s when I finally got my voice back and I screamed as loud as I could possibly muster, “He can’t move his hands!”
The officer suddenly forgot about the girls and turned toward me. His hand slammed against my chest and closed around my neck. He clamped down and I gasped for breath.
He raised his other fist. I saw the sweat beading and the veins popping out of his head. Everything went surreal, like this was all a dream, that moment when your brain is triggered into accepting the likelihood of your immediate death. I tried to breath and simply couldn’t.
The cop pulled me closer by my throat and spat in my face as he screamed, “Get the fuck out of here or that’s gonna be you!” Then he threw me backward. I stumbled. I remember someone shoving me angrily when I ran into them.
I caught my footing but the officer kept his eyes trained on me. A blankness of mind overcame me, a cold lack of concern, like my survival instincts had suddenly switched off my compassion.
I overheard a couple saying, “Can you believe some people? All he had to do was put his hands behind his back. It’s like he wanted to get hurt.”
“Yeah, PCP will do that to you. Stupidity knows no bounds. I mean, that’s what you get if you’re gonna be an idiot.”
I would say the fear overpowered me, but I don’t remember being terrified. I might say I felt nothing, but that state of mind is impossible to describe. I just turned and walked away.
I looked back once to see an officer lifting the naked man by his hair. He was bloody head to toe, his face mangled beyond recognition. Whether he was dead or unconscious, they held him there, his entire weight dangling by his hair.
But I just went with the crowd and walked away like a mindless zombie.
I walked half a mile before stopping to wake up and realize that I had just seen something real. That actually happened.
I never found out if that man survived or what happened to him. I told a friend about it later that night but he just shouted, “That didn’t happen!” without letting me finish my story.
A couple months later I tried to tell one other person about it and he replied by shouting “I don’t care what you saw! Police are the good guys, no matter what!” without letting me finish my story.
So I let this fester in my soul for years. I started watching police brutality feeds and rapidly learned that I was not alone in this experience. Far from it. This is more common than anyone could imagine.
Sometimes it feels like I haven’t had a single day where I haven’t thought about this incident and heard that man in the back of my head, crying and begging for his life. In the early years, the only thing that could block out those screams was large quantities of marijuana.
But I can’t say it tormented me. It wasn’t miserable or depressing. It’s not as pressing or overwhelming as you may think. It’s just a fact of life that’s always there.
I knew no one would believe me. I was a marijuana dealer and line cook at a redneck dive bar. I had no credibility. So I went on with my life. I became an anarchist and started a marijuana legalization website, but I will gloss over those stories to stay on topic.
I knew enough about psychology to know that things like this lead to depression and drug addiction, so I chose a different path. Over the years I used this to push myself. I channeled my rage into my career and my writing. I started writing my first novel a month or two after this. I knew I had to become successful. Financially successful people are automatically trusted more for some reason. I had to prove that I did not hate society. I’ve spent the last twenty years of my life building my career, working hard, staying ethical, just waiting for that time when I felt respected enough by society to finally be able to talk about this.
But despite meeting my career and life goals and so much more, I still could not bring myself to write this. Many days I would sit in my cubicle, telling myself this would be the night I would tell this story, then I would get home and the nagging feelings would crush me: no one will believe you. No one will care. They will scream at you, calling you a “bleeding heart”, tell you that he had it coming and that it’s all necessary to maintain order in society. Or the police might kill you. Or they might hurt your family.
But now things are different. People are finally waking up to see what’s really going on. For the first time in twenty years, I don’t feel alone in this.
So to the people opposing the protests, I know you don’t understand why the protesters can show such anger and rage. Their actions make no sense. They are counter-productive. But please try and imagine what my story would do to a person’s psychology over time. Please understand what it is that we’re up against.
My story is not unique. Countless people have been through things like this and had their core personalities altered. Most of us do not talk about trauma. Instead, the emotions come out in other, often unhealthy, intensely political, ways. So please be patient with us. You have no idea what we’ve witnessed and had to go through to get to this point.
And if you are a protester, I want to thank you. You helped give me the freedom to talk about this huge part of my personality that has been locked away for two decades.
And if you are like me and have a story to tell, now is the time. This is it. Don’t skip a beat. Please, just turn on your word processor right now and write your police brutality story, with or without the trigger warning. One way or the other, society needs to hear this.
Thanks for reading. Here is a list of my other articles about criminal justice and police brutality here on Medium.
Kalin Ringkvist is a queer, atheist, web developer, science fiction author, real estate investor, and police brutality survivor. In 2020 he is taking a break from the personal data organizer application he’s building to write about current social issues, particularly the call to defund the police.