She was stopped, handcuffed, put in the back of a police car, frisked, strip-searched, forced to show, and thrown in jail. She was a dangerous suspect, and had to be held for hours while the police interrogated her. Her crime? Theft? Manslaughter? No. It was worse.
She was three weeks late paying an expired license plate fee.
For all of this, Crissy Brown, a young college student in Alabama, just weeks from graduation, lost her car, lost her job, and became a victim of over-criminalization in America.
As soon as I arrived at the police station, before I could make it through the metal detectors, I was pushed against a wall and made to stand there until a female officer could take the time to inappropriately touch — I mean frisk — me. As the woman ran her hands down my body and between my legs, three male officers stood behind me, watching the show.
From there, I was processed, which included stripping down in front of a female officer. While I stood before her naked, I asked the cop why it was necessary for me to be strip searched; she responded by calling me an asshole and deciding I needed to take a shower to, I suppose, wash the filth out of my mouth. I didn't even get a towel to dry off with. She handed me a large, burlap-like orange set of scrubs, bedding, and a mattress. I was escorted down to population, made to walk along gray tape on the ground (it really pissed them off if you deviated from the "inmate line"), and then put in a holding cell that had more women than beds, two metal picnic tables, and an old fuzzy TV set.
Let's look at the numbers. In 2011, police made over 12.4 million arrests in America. Only 4.3% of those arrests were for violent crime — in other words, what the justice system is meant to stop. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 743 per 100,000 people in jail. On top of that, 1 out of every 34 Americans — 2.9% of the adult population — is under some form of correctional supervision, whether it be parole or probation.
And for what? Are these for truly terrible crimes, crimes that violate people's rights? Or are they crimes of just not forking over more dough to the government?
While we focus on the high-flying stories of NSA spying and Edward Snowden, let's not forget the more down-to-earth terror of missing a fee payment. We should be calling on our local governments to refine police policy, and require police action only for violent crimes. We should call on state legislators to remove jail penalties for purely civil violations. Let's get our police under control, and let's keep what happened to Crissy Brown from happening to anyone else who's behind on their license plates.