Catch and release

Inside the Zona Norte holding cells

I live in a conflict area in Tijuana. It was bound to happen. I have been detained and frisked numerous times by the police in downtown TJ. Some of my friends have been arrested over minor offenses, such as urinating on the street, public drinking or intoxication, possession of small amounts of marijuana or even for having rolling papers.

I thought I had it figured out: talk to the cops with authority and they will let you be. That is what I did back in June when I was walking home and they tried to stop me. Before they got out of the car I yelled at them “I live right here, do not try to arrest me outside my apartment,” as I reached for my keys to open the gate. They tried stopping me a few times after that, once with friends again outside my apartment and I basically shouted the same thing. The other time was in the early morning and I yelled to leave me alone that I was on my way to work.

This time, talking with authority got my ass arrested and thrown into Zona Norte's police station holding cell. I still have the cuff marks on my wrists as I am typing this.

I got arrested between 7:00-7:30 am as I was walking to work, two blocks away from my apartment, near the convenience store (Oxxo) where I buy my morning coffee. A police car pulled up in front of me as the driver and passenger cop got out of the car and told me to stop. Before they could reach me, I already had my ID out of my bag and holding it for them to see and tried speaking with authority to tell them I was on my way to work.

“Throw your bag on top of the trunk,” demanded the officer. Instead I opened it and told him “look, I got nothing, except my work clothes and my tablet.” The cop shoved me, “I said put the bag on top of the trunk, you don't have drugs do you?” The passenger cop was inspecting another person who happened to be walking a few steps behind me.

I looked at him in the eye and ask, “Do I look like a guy that is doing drugs at 7 a.m.? I am on my way to work!”

“Yes, you do. I don't know you, and I am just doing my job.”

This angered me, “Where were you this weekend? My girlfriend's car battery got jacked right outside my apartment, not that far from the police station! And hey, that 'güey' has tried to arrest me before!” I pointed to the passenger cop that was done frisking the other civilian.

That passenger cop happened to be the same one that had tried to detain me several times before to no avail and my girl's car battery did get stolen between Saturday night and Sunday morning. My mistake was calling the policeman “güey” which translates to “dude” but it is considered a curse word.

“Who you calling güey? That is an officer of a law. You don't call him 'guey' or 'poli' you call him 'oficial', get it?” The cop pushed me and demanded some respect.

“There's no reason for you guys to detain me, just let me go.” I tried to hold my ground.

Suddenly, I was on a sleeper hold. “I am going to show you how to respect us.” The other cop approaches me and knocks me to the ground “Shut the fuck up, we are going to give you the beating of your lifetime if you don't shut the fuck up.” They handcuffed me on the process. “Get in the car. Get your ass in the car!”

I was on the ground with my hands behind me back and couldn't see the opened car door. As I tried to get in, I realized there were three other people in the backseat already. “There's no room for me,” I exclaimed as if that was going to save me. The cop yells at the other arrested people to squeeze in and forces me inside. “What about my bag? What about my ID?” I asked as they closed the door.

Both cops got back in the car as I sat in the back with three other people that were handcuffed to the metal railing behind the front seats. “Calm down, we are not going to steal anything from you. You will get your stuff back once we make it to the station,” the cop told me as he starts driving.

“What about my time that is being wasted? I am not a criminal!” I exclaimed from the back of the police car.

“That's up to the judge to decide, we are taking you to the station, shut up.” The cop turned on the commercial radio. Ironically, the radio had a DJ talking about how he got in trouble with the cops over the weekend and that the cops were on the hunt for holiday bonuses.

The police station was four blocks away from where I was arrested. Both cops got out of the car and opened the back doors. Before getting out and now scared for what was to come next, I asked for permission to get out. Cop told me to get out quickly, took out my bag from the trunk, put it around my neck and guided me inside the station.

“I am going to uncuff you, but you are calm, right? You are not going to do anything stupid?” I nodded.

“This is what is going to happen. I am going to need your information, you are going to see the judge whenever he gets here and he will decide what to do with you. If he lets you go as innocent man, you will be in our system, and this will probably not happen again. About your wife's car, I am sorry that happened. What do you want? An officer outside your door? We are constantly looking for criminals and there is not enough police to go around protecting everyone. Now check your bag, you will see that we didn't take any of your belongings.”

I thanked him for giving my things back, and he insisted on me checking it thoroughly so I could make sure everything was there (everything was, didn't correct him about me not being married). He wrote my information on a piece of paper as the other cop got the information of the other three that were in the car with me. They talked to the female cop that was by the five holding cells; she opened a cell and instructed us to go in.

The cops that arrested me left the station.

There were four people already inside the putrid-smelling concrete cell. She commanded us to go inside with the others. I walked in with all my belongings with me, now worried about the inmates instead of the cops. Two guys were lying on the floor, one with his eyes closed, the other holding a small gold token he kept staring at. The other two seemed to be family and minors, they asked me if I have a lighter and I told them I didn't. “Fuck! All I want to do is get more fucked up,” said the younger one as he pulled out a glass pipe.

One of the newly arrested did have a lighter, he offered it to two kids, they lit cigarette butts and offered them around (five of them started smoking). Then the kids started collecting all the cigarette butts from the ground and broke them on top of a newspaper. They rolled a cigarette with the newspaper out of butts, garbage, and who knows what else and lit it. Shortly after that, they got up to the front and start begging the female officer to let them go. One of them offered to clean all the police cars, “I'll leave the rims extra clean.”

The female officer opened the cell, “sale pues vete!” The kid left the cell, his cousin yelled at him as he was walking out, “Ey! Conejo! Dile a Lu que venga por mi, no quiero estar aquí todo el día me quiero ir a drogar contigo. Dejame los dos pesos que traías.” The kid ran back quick and gave his cousin two pesos and told him he would send Lu. A cellmate asked the kid what that was all about, he explained that that was his cousin and he is 16 years old, that's why he got away easily.

Another cellmate pleaded for his freedom and offered three cellphones he had in his pocket. The female cop analyzed the old-looking flip phones and accepted them. She opened the cell and let him go. I got close to the gate and asked for the judge. “He is not here yet, just stay put,” replied the female cop.

Around an hour later, four more arrested people came in, followed by different cops. The cops took off their cuffs, wrote their information and put them in the same cell as all of us. A cellmate recognized one of the new ones, called him 'güero' and asked for cigarettes. Instead, 'güero' took a couple of breathing masks out of his pocket (and some random pills) and shared with the three people he seemingly knew.

A few minutes later, a group of ten arrested people came in, with yet different policemen. One female cuffed with what I assume was her boyfriend, one clearly gay, one with head injuries, one without shoes, a couple of older men and the rest seemed homeless. Instead of putting everyone in a cell, they made them form a line. They opened my cell and instructed us to get out and in line behind them.

The judge, an older man dressed in white with a face that resembled an angry bird, called us one by one (I was near the back). The judge read the pieces of paper with our information, called out names and decided the sentence. “You get eight hours,” he told the first one as they re-opened the cell. The arrested female was next, “you get eight hours.” Apparently they both committed the same crime; the female got her own separate cell.

The judge saw us one by one and started sending everyone back into the cell I started at. He pardoned one of the older men that was wearing a breathing mask and another one that was wearing funny looking sweatpants. The gay guy asked to see a doctor because he claimed to have contagious diseases. They told him to stay quiet, that the medic would arrive soon. He said it was for their own good, not for his, that he didn't care if he spread it around. The guy with the head injuries asked for a medic. The female cop banged on the cell and told them to be quiet.

It was my turn to see the judge. The judge interrogated me about my job and what I was doing in the area. Then told me I was free to go. I did not dare ask questions, I just said thanks, left the building and didn't look back. I took the day off work (I was going to be a couple of hours late anyway), came home, and wrote this article.

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Surprising they let people keep belongings in the cell or trade something for freedom. Drunk in public doesn't fly here anymore either. Used to drink at the beach but the law has changed. They can also arrest you for public intoxication out of your own house. If they want to bully someone they tell them to get outside (like in a case when noise has been reported), especially in poorer neighborhoods. My guess is that there are several friends of yours that get similar attention from police. Hope they figure out you're a good guy. Good Luck.

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