Contempt Of Cop

The events listed below ocurred some months ago, but seeing a vaguely similar story on the Universal Hub blog and some of the comments on that entry, I felt prompted to write them up.

Late last year I attended a Hockey East game at Northeastern's Matthews Arena.

I had with me a consumer grade video camera in a black camera bag, and a mobile phone.

I had not been to a game in recent years.

What's In The Bag

I handed my ticket to a ticket-taker, who refused me admittance on the basis of my camera bag. I was referred first to someone referred to as the "manager" behind a ticket window, then to an usher, then finally to a Boston police officer, presumably on a paid detail.

I was never asked what was in the bag. I was never asked to open the bag. The bag itself was black with a shoulder strap. My wife carries a red bag with a shoulder strap, one that is quite a bit larger than the camera bag in question. No reference was ever made to this bag. No one asked to see inside this bag, or asked what was inside it, either.

We were told that the University has had this policy for a long time. Before the incident I had not seen any reference to it on Northeastern University's web page, on the Hockey East web page, on the Matthews Arena web page, or on the web page of the vendor I bought the tickets from. No specific mention was made on the tickets themselves, and this policy was certainly not in place in the early and mid-90s when I was attending events at Matthews several times a year. I presume it is a post-2001 policy.

Afterwards, researching to write this, I found a mention of it on NU's site. The policy reads:

There is no re-entry during events at Matthews Arena.

For safety reasons the following items are Not Permitted inside Matthews Arena:

  • Any outside food or beverages
  • Bags or backpacks
  • Laser pointers
  • Firearms or other weapons
  • Artificial noisemakers

No mention was made of an exception for ladies' handbags, but I presume this would have had such a precipitous effect on attendance that it was impractical to implement. So I suppose safety reasons assume that women pose no danger.

I was told I would not be allowed admittance carrying this bag. I emptied the contents of the bag into my pockets and put the video camera strap around my neck, and showed the empty bag to the usher and the officer. I was again told I would not be allowed admittance carrying this bag.

Is That A Camera Bag In Your Purse, Or Are You Happy To See Me

The usher, in front of the police officer, suggested simply placing the camera bag inside my wife's purse. We did this and were permitted entrance.

Once our tickets were taken and we were inside the arena, the police officer then came to us and asked my wife to open her purse. He said that the manager had observed our actions and we were now being ejected. The officer asked me to leave.

Having the opinion that this policy was not posted anywhere, was not disclosed prior to ticket purchase, is nothing that any reasonable man could possibly presume, and that the seeming distinction between my "camera bag" which was not allowed and my wife's "purse" which was allowed was not only arbitrary and capricious, but potentially constituted sexual discrimination, I announced to the officer that as far as I could see I was in the arena lawfully, his order to me to leave was not lawful, and I did not intend to follow it.

He replied that in this case he would need to arrest me.

I replied that perhaps he should, to which he replied that he did not like my "attitude".

Attitude Adjustment

At this point I was quite disappointed and upset that both Northeastern and the Boston Police felt this was an appropriate way to treat customers, and furthermore, none of the actions taken by any of the individuals seemed to be doing anything constructive to improve safety or security in the arena. No one bothered to ask me to open or inspect the bag or the camera, or to open, inspect, or prohibit entry to women carrying shoulder bags that were, in every practical sense, identical to the bag I was carrying. I was quite willing, at that moment, to allow events to proceed to an arrest and to resist being deprived of the rights accorded me by having purchased a ticket. I felt confident that my behavior had at no time been disorderly, that the instructions given me by the detail officer were not lawful, and that the University's policy-- assuming there is one, because I never saw evidence of it in writing-- would not stand scrutiny or a legal test.

My wife and father, however, were not willing to endure this, and a compromise was brokered. The officer agreed to let us remove the bag from the arena and reenter. At this point, a ticket-taker, the one who had observed the camera bag being put into the purse and had apparently asked the detail officer to detain us after having entered the arena, objected, that having had our tickets taken, should we exit the arena we would not be allowed readmittance. The officer overruled him-- although I fail to see how he had the authority to do so under the circumstances.

We exited the arena, whereupon my father improvised a solution, entering a local sandwich shop and asking an employee to hold onto the empty bag until after the game, having explained the situation. I felt confident that being so close to the arena, they would have heard similar stories, and that if random camera bags posed a credible security threat, the company-- a national chain-- would have a policy in place that would disallow an employee from accepting such an unaccompanied bag.

They accepted the bag and we reentered the arena without further incident.

Security Through Obnoxiousness

I did my best to enjoy the game (my team won) but I was the entire time preoccupied with the events preceding the game. I resented what I considered harassment, both by University employees and the Boston Police. The policy, as stated, made no sense to me except as a token effort to appear as if something is being done to improve safety. Certainly it had no practical value, as no inspections were made, and any and all bags held by women were not subject to the policy.

I felt I had been lawful and respectful the entire time, and was only standing up for my rights in a polite and civil manner-- and yet this was described to me by a public servant as "attitude", who backed it up with threat of arrest. On what charge I do not know, as he had no answer for that question and eventually proved unwilling to arrest me. I wish I could give credit to the officer for that, but frankly the "de-escalation" of this situation was initiated and handled by my father, who didn't want to miss a hockey game bailing me out of jail, whether I was justified in going there or not.

Apparently you don't need to be a drunk, obnoxious or not, to be accused of "disrespecting" police officers. Since when did this become a crime?