Friday, August 15, 2014

The Ferguson Police warned me I was committing a federal telephone offense. I did not.

This story of my unpleasant encounter with the Ferguson Police Department is minor compared to the militant assault the people on the ground have suffered. I would like to document it here nevertheless to confirm that their stories about the Ferguson Police are real. I am typing from memory 12:30 am Friday, not yet in bed since the incident.

Earlier Thursday evening I called the phone number for the Ferguson Police Department as listed on their website. I asked to speak with their media relations officer. The woman answering the phone politely transferred me to his voicemail. He did not answer and his inbox was not taking messages, so I called again hoping to leave him a message with a live rep. (I had already recorded a phone interview with the consent of the St. Louis County Police Department media relations officer. He was very cooperative. Listen here.)

The next time a man answered the phone. He asked me if I had an emergency. I said no. He said I was calling 911. I told him I did not call 911. He said he was a 911 representative.

I checked the number and called again. I was sure I was calling 314-522-3100. I heard the same voice. He said I was being recorded and he warned me that "tampering" with 911 is federal offense. I told him what number I was dialing and as soon as I said, "314," the call disconnected.

I called the number at the Missouri State Highway Patrol website for the Public Information and Education Division. Since it was after hours for that division, a representative answered who was not working in that office. I told her what happened. I asked for an alternate number. She didn't answer that request, but she asked why I was calling. I said I was a writer looking to speak with their media relations officer. She took my name and number and said she would email his Ferguson office and I should wait for a reply. Her tone of voice was matter of fact, a good way to respond to an emotional caller. I was upset by what seemed like a falsely implied accusation of a federal offense.

Was there a glitch in the telephone network? I doubt it. My Google Voice history shows three calls to 314-522-3100 between 6:38 and 6:45 pm Thursday. It shows no dialing of 911.

To me it's not a big deal. It's just one more drop in a river of examples of a misguided police department, but the USA is running amok in the world. Our punishment is a contagion. It feeds on itself and it escalates. It is not necessary. The police are capable of rewarding citizens who comply with the law. That would be a better way for them to behave and it would accomplish the same goal of a law-abiding citizenry by way of mutual trust, friendship, and dignity.

Furthermore, if the police feel like they must wear riot gear and hide their faces in masks, then the law should require them to wear identifying numbers all over their uniforms. Thanks to courageous photographers and videographers such as the true patriots of Ferguson, abusers of power would more easily be held accountable.

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