Friday, September 2, 2005

Homeland Insecurity

Post 9/11 Paranoia used to justify Veteran Abuse

I did something kind of stupid recently. I had a 9 AM appointment here in Sanpete. I haven’t been driving since mid July for economic reasons, so I asked a friend for a ride to my appointment. He was leaving about an hour earlier for his own meeting up north so I arrived a good 45 minutes early. All I had with me was a tote bag and my dog, Phil. The office didn’t open until 9 so I decided to take my dog for a walk. I left my bag by the front door with a note that read: “Back at 9 AM - Joe Puente.” I wasn’t worried about it being stolen nor was I worried about any kind of misunderstanding because of the note.

When I returned, I was told that my bag caused a little scare among the arriving staff and they had called the police. I gladly opened my bag to expose its harmless contents and asked if anyone had read the note. The response: “Grace did.”

Grace (not her real name) was the receptionist at this particular office. Grace and I have history. The first time I had an appointment at this particular facility, I called to ask for the address. Grace gave me an address that was in the middle of an empty field causing me to be late for that particular appointment. Grace is also generally rude and condescending to me whenever I come to this office and her attitude is contagious. The previous week, Grace decided that my appointment that day was invalid. That appointment wasn’t with Grace, it was with the professional I came to see. She didn’t care, which made me angry, then Grace threatened to call the cops.

One week later, representatives of the Sanpete County Sheriffs Department arrived in response to the “suspicious bag” that was left out front. Instead of telling the officers about the misunderstanding, Grace decided to cry on their shoulders about the last disagreement she had with me.

When I came out from my appointment, eager to leave because yet another friend was going into work late so he could give me a ride back, the officers (there were two of them. At five feet, four inches, I can be very intimidating) took me into a room and started to lecture me about post 9/11 etiquette. I told them that it was a mistake on my part and it wouldn’t happen again, but their lecturing didn’t stop. They treated me as if I was a terrorist or an enemy combatant with a room at Guantanamo Bay. I was then lectured about the disagreement I had with Grace and was accused of “dropping the F-bomb” (a metaphor for saying the “F-word”) which I didn’t do. It wasn’t even “Good Cop/Bad Cop.” It was more like “Bad Cop/Worse Cop.”

Since Grace was the one who read the note that I left on my bag, which clearly had my name on it, I believe she saw this as an opportunity to get me into trouble for the little spat we had the week before. For the record, I apologized to her for having such a short fuze, but I also pointed out that she was rude to me. Of course, she didn’t own up to it and offered no apology in return.

When I was in the Navy, I took an oath to defend this country and the constitution of the United States which guarantees Grace’s rights. To be implicated as, essentially, a terrorist is insulting to say the least. But for members of the Sanpete County Sheriffs Department to respond to a call that proved to be incorrect and then stay on the premises to interrogate me, make false accusations and treat me like yet another bomber who missed his flight on 9/11 is SHAMEFUL.

It’s bad enough that our federal government has created this culture of fear and suspicion in the aftermath of 9/11. But when local law enforcement uses it as an excuse to try and intimidate the people they are supposed to be serving, acting like modern-day Gestapos and justifying their behavior and attitudes by hiding behind the convenient excuse of “homeland security,” it makes me want to give up hope that there’s any decency left in this world.

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