Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What happened in April 1968

I have a story today about an incident that happened to me in April 1968.  I mentioned this to Melivina Germain and she said she would love to hear the story.  I found the photo that goes with the story. The photo was taken just hours before the incident. 

Photo of me on the right with my brother Mike and his wife. You can see my red pants and blue US Navy ‘P’ coat - Spring 1968 

What happened to innocent until proven guilty???

I was 18 years old and was with my Dad,  brother and his new wife.  Mike and his wife had gotten married two months prior. 
I was graduating from high school and Dad drove us for a short week’s vacation to scope out the college campus a few states away. My brother drove when Dad needed a break. 

On our way back we were driving through Nevada.  I was very sleepy and I heard my brother say: 
“Dad, what is the speed limit here in Nevada?” Dad says: “Its’ over 70 MPH with good conditions. Because the roads are straight and flat you can go in excess of that.” Dad had bought a 1965 Pontiac Le Mans, which is referred to now as a muscle car. I had driven it to learn to drive and it was smooth and capable of 90 MPH safely.
My Dad was a professional truck driver and driver trainer for ‘Big Rigs - 18 wheeled trucks’ and he knew all the rules for driving in many states.

A bit later my brother says:  

 “Dad, there is a police car following us and one in front of us!”

Pretty soon all these police cars - three or four of them, were going slower and slower, forcing us to go slow and ultimately boxing us in, just like in the movies!

     They came on the speaker and said:    
     “Drive slow and follow us into town.”
So Mike continued to follow them which was a very short drive.

I was still very sleepy as I did not sleep well the entire trip.  It was cold and snowy and I was not used to the cold or snow living in California all my life at the time. 
Although I had a heavy wool coat that was a US Navy “P" coat and the red wool pants that my sister in law loaned me, I was cold.  Mike's wife had been to the snow many times and had the wool clothes. 

So next thing I know they force all of us out of the car. They did not handcuff me or Mike's wife, surprisingly.  I did not see if they handcuffed my Dad or Mike.  They quickly separated us so I could not say one word to my Dad which really frightened me. I was in a daze and being rushed at and bodily forced along. 

They put me and Mike's wife in a cell. A room that had a locked door, not looking like a jail cell with bars. Later, I come to see on TV it is a holding room that is locked and they can see you through the two way mirror.

So me and Mike's wife
doze off. 
become bored.

What seemed like hours. I have no idea I did not wear a watch then.  Finally they let us out and rejoin us with my Dad and Brother. 

They then ask to see my ID and my Dad’s ID as well as Mike and Mike's wifes' ID.  Mine was in the car with my purse.  So we go outside get my purse while they are hovering over me like a cat on a mouse and I show them my ID...
Back then if you were under age 21 in California, your driver license had a black and white photo of yourself. It also was a side or profile view.  The day I got my license my hair was long as I wore it in those days and covered up my face pretty much from the side. 
All you could see was my nose sticking out. I wore contacts then and not glasses.

Mike's wife did not have a drivers license or an ID which was not mandatory then. She had a school ID it may have had her photo on it. 
Mike and his wife had this issue with her ID before so he had a photocopy of their marriage certificate.  
The police looked at our ID’s:
Dad: John E Smith 
Brother: Michael A Smith
Me: Sherry Smith
Mike's wife: _____ Smith

So they are even more suspicious because all of our ID’s had very generic names.
We are shoved back into our separate holding cells again.

We Pray.  
nod off.  
bored out of our skulls.
Hours pass...

It dawned on me that at one of the gas stations I recall a police officer really giving me the eye.  I hate when men stare at me. I had a very good figure, large breasts and long pretty blonde hair.  I got looked at a lot at the time...
I tried to ignore him and lower my head. Rolled up in a ball was what I did, a lot!

Finally what seemed like days they let us out.

They showed us a paper that had a bulletin on if for the state of Nevada, Idaho and Utah. It had a description of four people, wanted escaped criminals. Two women: one wearing a Navy wool blue jacket and red pants, and has long blonde hair. Same weight and height as I was.
The other female:  bland colors dark short hair. 

Seen with two men fitting my Dad and Mikes’ general description. 

They were then laughing and chuckling!
Never did they once say they were sorry for hauling us out of the cars, holding us without a phone call! Never discussing anything with us at all! None of us knew the rules, who does?

They said they got real suspicious because I for sure, fit the exact description of the one female.  That is why the cop was staring at me for so long.  

They also got very suspicious because we all had ID’s that said SMITH!  They thought our ID’s were fake for sure. 

So they finally let us go.  We drove to a gas station and Dad called my Mom and Mike's wife call her Mom. 

We slowly drove out of Nevada and then got home in California shaking our heads at the bizarre experience with a bad taste in our mouths... My poor Mom and Mike's wifes' families were worried sick as we were 8 hours overdue.

My families’ anger lasted a long time after that.  We all grew up being happy about policemen. Dad had a few ID challenges as he only had John Smith on his ID until Mom was accused of stealing! After that she made sure we all added our middle names on our ID as advised by someone. Mom additionally added her Maiden name and suggested I do the same in the future. That was after this incident.  My Uncle was a police man and he was kind and a good Dad. We had no disrespect for adults nor police. However, with all the other riots and things I saw on TV with the way some areas of the country treated people and young protesters I heard about from school. I was very concerned at that time 1968, especially after Kent State - Ohio USA incident in 1970 where four protesting students were killed by the Ohio National Guard. You all know of all the other historical events.

After this incident I was very angry, and was jaded about how unfair it was, that people who were innocent were treated so badly.

I was not physically hurt from the police bodily, but the psychological trauma of it stayed with me my whole life. I can imagine how PTSD has affected many who have been harmed, maimed and abused at the hands of the police and authorities unfairly! Families who have lost family members because of this kind of senseless brutality!

I was never arrested again, I had been questioned many times while driving and got a speeding ticket only one time. I got another ticket solely because I had a red car and was clocked at driving a mere 2 miles an hour over the speed limit. I was even going slower than traffic in the slow lane to boot!

It really frosts me to see in my lifetime [I am 65] how so many people are needlessly harmed and arrested and abused for no good reason because of the attitude of some police departments.

I was lucky in that I was not hurt or harmed physically nor was my family. 
But, because we LOOKED like some wanted criminals, we were arrested!!!!!

My heart goes out to all those who have died needlessly for the same ridiculous reason.

What happened to innocent until proven guilty???