Last Tuesday, I was in my dorm stalking a nuclear wasteland in a PlayStation game with my roommate, when I heard a gentle tapping at the chamber door. When I went to investigate I saw my suitemate with strangers.
I opened the door to their squabbling and two plainclothes cops, later joined by a uniformed officer, who wanted to guard my bathroom so I couldn’t destroy “evidence” of some crime.
Watching the situation involving my neighbor and the Eastern Michigan University police made me realize how judgmental we as a society really are.
The cops required a warrant to search my neighbor’s room, but had probable cause to keep guard over the front door and the unlocked bathroom. After half an hour, my other neighbor returned and locked the bathroom door. I was free to sleep peacefully while the neighbor under suspicion stayed in the hallway with the cops.
The next day, I asked my neighbor what happened. He said the police accused him of a crime someone else committed, so he was preventing the police from entering in order to vex them as retaliation for their false accusation against him.
As I recalled the advice given to me by the more paranoid members of my family, I told him he should stop making fun of the police, stop saying anything and call a lawyer before he was charged and put in jail.
I assumed, unfairly, that my neighbor was guilty. The police officer guarding my toilet assured everyone that he knew my neighbor was the culprit and I believed him. I don’t know if it was because of the clothes my neighbor wears or because he might hang out with some tough customers, but he was being put on the spot by the EMU police department.
Eventually the warrant was processed and they searched the room. I heard them tearing it apart, but they found nothing. My neighbor was telling the truth.
I’m still in the dark about many details, but this made me think about our notions of guilt and innocence.
In this country, one should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Sadly, that doesn’t happen often. People look for quick solutions, they look for guilt by association, they assume you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.
Well you do have something to fear: Your freedom being taken away due to mistaken identity, error and laziness.
Ideally, until both sides can present a clear, rational argument, no one should be quick to condemn either party.
If you find yourself in a situation like my neighbor, decline to say anything beyond who you are and other basic information, and demand access to a lawyer. You can easily incriminate yourself, guilty or innocent.
Don’t yell at the police or call them pigs; most cops are just nice people who are simply doing their job. All insults do is prove you are a jerk.
As for me, I’ll wait to judge my neighbor until the smoke has cleared. Of course, the real moral of this story: Always lock the bathroom door in a dorm.
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