It’s sometime after midnight in late December, 2015. I’m standing on a public sidewalk in the commercial part of the Annex, photographing some industrial equipment for a photo essay.

A few minutes after I’ve begun to shoot, a police car pulls up, lights flashing. An officer steps out. He asks what I’m doing, doesn’t believe my answer, asks for ID. Taking photos on a public sidewalk is perfectly legal, I say, and because of his distrustful approach, I decline to identify myself. He insists. I refuse again and keep photographing.

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The conversation continues like that as a second car pulls up, lights flashing, followed by another, and another, and another. I’m completely surrounded. Fear is rising in me, but so is defiance. I scoff, shake my head, say this is a waste of time and police resources. “It’s not a waste of my time,” the officer replies. “I’m getting paid.”

At some point, he declares his suspicion that I’m a threat to homeland security, that I’m taking photos of the Q Bridge in order to plan an attack. I tell him I’ve already explained what I’m doing. Also, it’s the dead of night, and you can’t even see the bridge from here.

He deflects, says he’ll have my name and information soon enough, as his colleagues run a computer check on my license plate. Maybe I’ve got an overdue parking ticket I don’t know about; maybe my car registration has lapsed; maybe I or someone with the same name has found their way onto a secret watchlist. Anything, no matter how small or arbitrary, could be used as a pretext for detention or worse.

The officer walks away to confer with another officer, then comes back. I sense the computer search has come up empty. He steps in close, his body maybe a foot from mine. He stays there for a slow minute. I ask him repeatedly to back away. He refuses. I accuse him of harassment and intimidation. He smirks, backs up a few feet, stays there awhile.

The other officers haven’t just been idling. They’ve been edging their cars closer, tightening the perimeter. They’ve taken turns shining their spotlights at the sides of my face while I’m photographing. Eventually, two of the squad cars surround my vehicle, making it impossible for me to leave.

Sometime later, I’ve gotten all the shots I need and start walking to my car. I insist that the two blocking officers move their vehicles. They take as long as possible, slowly shifting into gear and inching out of the way. I drive as carefully as I can away from the scene, watching for any followers.

Once home, I begin to process what happened. I’m angry, but I’m also aware it could have been much worse. What if the officers had been even less ethical? What if I’d lost my temper? What if the national security thing hadn’t been a bluff? What if the computer search hadn’t come up empty?

What if I’d been black?

* * *

Daily Nutmeg is founded in part on principles of decency, fairness and respect—standards that have been denied countless people, especially black people, at the hands of police and other authorities. Powerful calls for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s killing have compelled us to consider how DN’s coverage might better reflect the racial, ethnic and cultural makeup of this city.

To that end, we pledge to more actively seek out the stories behind the lives and accomplishments of black and brown New Haveners, and we encourage capable, experienced writers who believe they can help us do so to send in an application. We also encourage readers to send us great story ideas we may be missing.

Our commitment to bringing you insightful feature stories about New Haven and its people must include a deeper relationship with our community as a whole. We look forward to meeting that commitment.

Written by Dan Mims. Image by Motortion Films/Shutterstock.com.

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