My experience with the Thin Blue Line

Preface: Obviously my experience is nowhere in the same league as those we saw this week., but I think it illustrates some of the problems that lead us to where we are.

A couple of years ago, I was at Katz Delicatessen in NYC with my brothers. They use a bizarre ticket system. When you go in, you are handed a ticket. They write the items you order on your ticket. At exit, they use the ticket to total up your tab.

I ordered roughly $10 worth of food. I managed to misplace my ticket before I headed to the exit.

They had a sign in fine print at the entrance that if you misplaced your ticket, you had to pay something like $50. (Which would be really hard to spend there.) I consider this a contract of adhesion, because no one would reasonably expect that kind of requirement in a restaurant.

They refused to let me leave and physically blocked the door. A large man physically restrained me as I tried to exit. I considered this assault and called 911, saying that I was being unlawfully imprisoned. (Which I was.)

The staff laughed. “We do this all the time, the cops won’t do anything.” They were confident.

Before the 911-dispatched officers arrived, the staff managed to flag down the beat cops in the neighborhood. The cops gave me the same story.

I explained my rights. Clearly, one of the cops understood that I was right. But he wasn’t going to say so in front of his partner. I insisted they call a supervisor. When they got someone on the radio, they confirmed my rights. At best, Katz could only file a civil case against me for $50. I hadn’t committed any crime.

Three issues here:

  1. The beat cops were basically in the pocket of Katz and defaulted to what Katz wanted.
  2. At least one of them didn’t understand the basics of the law.
  3. The one who did refused to say anything.

I should note that I doubt I would have done any of this if I were African American or in a non-public place.

We see such intransigence among law enforcement and others with authority all the time.

Cops generally refuse to stand up against other cops.

The TSA will refuse to acknowledge when their agents step over the line.

Airlines almost never apologize when their flight crews clearly discriminate against people of color by refusing to let them fly. (I have been pulled off aircraft twice; fortunately, in both cases, I was able to re-board.)

To the extent that there is ever anything close to an apology or recognition of wrong doing, it is blamed on bad “apples.” How are we going to root out bad apples if the ones closest to them won’t say anything?



About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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