Two months ago I was walking home in downtown TJ from a press conference at a new brewery. It was a tad before midnight and I was a block away from my apartment when two police trucks started trailing me.
I had drunk the complimentary beers at the brewery, but I was nowhere near intoxicated. Both police trucks rushed over in front of me, preventing me from crossing the street to get to my apartment.
“Ey! Detente, detente! A donde vas?”
I knew the routine of their stop-and-frisk. I had nothing and had not done anything illegal. Three cops detained me for what seemed like an eternity and debated if they wanted to take me to jail or not. They told me they could do so because I told them I had had a few beers.
They took my wallet, cell phone, keys, and IDs and kept interrogating me. Then, two cholo-looking guys walked near where the police were harassing me, catching the attention of two of them. The other cop smiled at me, gave me my things back, took my business card, told me I could go home, and joined his partners.
I went inside my apartment, turned on the lights, and looked outside the window to watch the action. The cops flashed the lights at me in a threatening manner, so I closed the curtains and turned off the lights.
A month later, walking back from a rock show at Plaza Fiesta with two musicians and a fellow Reader writer, a police truck went by. I warned my companions that we were probably going to get stopped. They shrugged it off, told me not to worry, and we continued walking.
The cops went around the “Las Tijeras” roundabout and stopped us in front of Mercado Hidalgo. It was the same cop who had tried arresting me in front of my apartment, this time with a female partner. Again, the stop-and-frisk routine.
“Ustedes a que se dedican?” Cops always want to know what you do for work. We all responded promptly, except the fellow Reader writer whose Spanish is not up to par.
“Nos dedicamos a improver la imágen de la ciudad con palabras.” He tried to explain that he writes articles that convey how great Tijuana is and in the process made up the word “improver.”
“Ahh, un amigo que trabajaba conmigo de polícia se salió para ser escritor. Ahora fuma un chingo de marihuana. Ustedes fuman mucho?” The cop asked us if we smoked much pot and told us of a friend of his who became a writer and went on to become a pothead. He searched my bag. He didn't find anything but my iPad, which he held up like a prize.
“Esta bonita, tu tablet, me he querido comprar una de estas chingaderas.” He said he'd been wanting to buy one. He searched my pockets and started to unzip my pants — I jumped away immediately and told him I had nothing.
Meanwhile, the female cop found rolling papers and a roach in one of the musician's bags.
“Nos vamos a llevar a tu amigo a La Veinte, ustedes se pueden ir. La multa es de 750 pesos o 24 horas.” The police arrested our musician friend and told us that he was going to jail unless he paid a fine of about $60. We begged them not to and between the three of us gave him 200 pesos (about $15). They let him go.
My encounter with the cops in downtown Tijuana have become so frequent that I have started memorizing the alphanumeric codes on the back of their pickup trucks. I've heard of personal stories about the cops, including of a friend who has cop friends and smoked crystal meth with them while they were in uniform. This was a decade ago; my friend is no longer a user, but because of him, I've met several cops and have a number saved on my cell phone in case anything happens. I also have a Mexican lawyer.
My last uncomfortable encounter with the cops was two weeks ago. I was getting out of a taxi in front of my apartment with a group of friends. Two police trucks went past us at full speed. Then a regular cop car stopped in front of us and flashed the lights.
“Parensen! A donde van?” The cop yelled at the group I was with as he was coming out of his car.
For the first time, I yelled at a cop to leave me alone: “Voy a mi pinche apartamento! Nos acabamos de bajar del taxi! Vivo ahí!” I told him, pointing to the apartment building. “Dejanos en paz y ponte a trabajar!”
“A ver — abre la puerta.” The cop asked me to open the door to my apartment complex to prove I lived there. I did so and let my friends in. He got back in his car and drove off.