Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Philadelphia's city council voted to decriminalize marijuana, and I couldn’t be happier. I don’t live there anymore, but I spent an important chunk of my life in that town. When I first arrived there for college, certain neighborhoods scared me, but over time the city’s flaws grew on me. I started loving Philly for the same reason so many people hate it—it’s a shithole, but it’s my shithole.
If the city makes decriminlization a law, which is likely, it would be a victory for the underdog. Decriminalization would remove an immense burden from a city that smokes a shit-ton of weed. Like many other cities in America, Philly arrests way more minorities than white people for crimes of minimal possession. I never had to deal with that reality, because even though I’m clearly a minority, cops usually perceived me as a harmless college student. I tried to explain this to my mom time and time again, but she believed that smoking—or just possessing—weed would land me into trouble. “They’ll do a stop-and-frisk on you,” she often said, shaking her head.
My mom got the opportunity to confirm her fears when her friend introduced her to a realtor named Todd who used to be a Philly cop. He was helping us look for a new house, and my mom figured she would receive a bargain on his fee if she asked him for advice about the dangers of smoking weed. One afternoon, as Todd drove us around South Philly, a cloud of weed smoke passed through the car at a stoplight. My mom saw her chance to segue the conversation. “Todd, what is that smell?” she asked politely. “Weed,” said Todd, adding, “Shitty weed.” My mom pried further: “Now, you were a policeman once. How often did you arrest people for smoking weed?” Before Todd could answer, she said, “Because my son, he smokes the weed.” Todd looked at me in the rearview mirror as I cringed in the backseat. He started laughing. “There’s no need to embarrass him. A lot of kids smoke weed. A lot of people in general do—hell, most of the cops I know smoke weed. I never bothered arresting people for that. Way worse stuff goes on out here.” My mom thoughtfully considered this for a moment. “OK. That makes me feel a lot better. Thank you,” she said. Thank God I have a reasonable mom.
Todd seemed pretty chill, so one day I asked him about his days as a police officer in one of America’s roughest cities. I asked him about the most fucked-up thing he had ever seen, and then he told me the following story, gesticulating with one hand, as he drove us through Philly.
“One day, we got a citywide call on a car speeding up Broad Street toward City Hall. He was blasting red lights and apparently driving on the wrong side of the street. We set up a blockade on the other side of City Hall, knowing that he’d have to go around it at some point. There must have been a hundred PPD there, cars and paddy wagons everywhere. We made the blockade, assuming that he would go the right way around the building, counter\clockwise. Instead, he shoots around the wrong side and crashes into a bunch of cruisers with cops sitting in them.
“There was a frenzy, cops and medics rushing to the crash and struggling to pull the injured cops out of their vehicles. The renegade driver was in pretty bad shape too. They rushed the cops to Hahnemann Hospital right up the street, but not the other driver. A bunch of cops pulled him from the wreckage and dragged him into the back of a paddy wagon; they beat the living shit out of him in there. He was wilding and could have killed their buddies—and there was no way they were letting that go. A few minutes later, the cops emerged from the paddy wagon with the guy’s blood all over their arms and hands. Medics pulled the guy out and rushed him to Hahnemann, where he died in a few minutes.
“We found out soon after that the guy was driving through town in a rage because he had just found out that morning that he had full-blown AIDS. They gave him a few weeks to live—he had no treatment options and no way out. He just lost it, got in his car, and sped away with a death wish. The cops who beat him had been exposed to a lot of his blood. If one of them had a cut on their knuckle, there was a chance they had the horrible disease that drove that guy crazy. For weeks, none of them could have any physical contact with their wives until they were thoroughly tested. Did they deserve that? Maybe. But in a city where the crime is fucked up, the enforcement is going to be kind of fucked up.”
We sat in silence, absorbing the gruesome tale. Todd broke the tension. “So yeah. The weed is no big deal, kid.”
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