I Went Camping, And All I Got Was Harassed By The Police

There is a saying by artist Barbara Krueger Jenny Holzer that “abuse of power comes as no surprise,” and wow, was that true this weekend, when my friends and I went camping and got harassed by cops not once, but three times.

Contrary to popular opinion, bullying isn’t something that just happens to kids on a playground — adults can bully, too. You may have run into a bully in your office, or in your apartment building — someone who feels the need to suppress and oppress in order to feel better about themselves. Sometimes those people are your coworkers, or neighbors.

But sometimes those people are cops.

On Saturday evening, as my friends and I were sitting around by our campfire enjoying a p0st-dinner conversation, two police officers strode into our campsite and — without saying a word to anyone — walked over to me. I happened to be sitting next to a bottle of tequila, which the cop (who was wearing a bulletproof vest — at a campsite) picked up and examined.

“Huh! Alcohol.”

“Yes,” I started to explain, “according to the campsite rules, responsible drinking is permitted.”

“The rules have changed. You’re not allowed to have alcohol. Dump it out. Get rid of it.”

By now, all 20 of us were staring in bewilderment.

“But that’s not what the sign out front says, it says …”

“Are you going to make this difficult? ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE THIS DIFFICULT? I can revoke your camping permit and write you all up!” he barked at me. The other cop stood by, totally silent, and watched as his partner shouted at me, a five-foot tall woman. He grabbed the bottle of tequila and began pouring it out, holding the bottle at crotch level. The cop then grabbed another bottle — an unopened bottle of vodka — and poured that out, too, holding it (again) at groin level.

“Why are you speaking to me like that? I’m trying to have a conversation with you,” I pleaded. Neither the cop nor his partner acknowledged me, or the other campers who were trying to find a viable solution to their problem.

Eventually, after pouring out every last drop from our patriotically-themed bottle of Stoli, the cop told us we had an hour to get all the alcohol out of our campsite. He would be back to inspect.

As my boyfriend — the campsite permit holder — attempted to straighten things out with the officers, I felt a deep well of anger rush through me. My friends and I were all — more or less — law abiding citizens. But maybe it’s because we were a group of largely tattooed people in our 20s and 30s. Because we were camping without kids in an area with families around. Maybe because we looked different than what the park perceived as the ideal customer, we were targeted.

We weren’t trouble makers, and we certainly weren’t confrontational. So it was mind-blowing that a park police officer, ostensibly there to “serve and protect,” would treat us all with such blatant disrespect. And we were just following the rules — the rules posted not only on the camp’s property, but on the park website, too.

My friends and I dutifully removed the alcohol from our campsite (despite, again, the fact that all signs said we were allowed to have it there) — but we all felt shaken and upset.  I was so angry and traumatized by my interaction with the cop, I started crying. We had been bullied by a guy with a gun, and a badge, and a bulletproof vest who somehow believed that those totems imbued him with the right to treat other people like shit.

I hadn’t been radically anti-authority before, but the experience of police harassment left us all feeling distrustful and angry. I suppose that’s what bullying does — it takes away your humanity and makes you feel completely impotent.

Ironically, after experiencing cops behaving badly, treating us without respect and common human decency, I now feel more likely to completely disregard the law. Obviously, logically I realize not all cops are power-tripping shit birds, but having been barked at by one, my whole perspective on police has shifted. If you assume that I’m going to be a problem for you, well, I’ll live up to your worst expectation.

And I’m pretty sure that’s not what those who “protect and serve” had in mind.

Tell us: Have you ever been bullied as an adult?