By Katelyn O’Leary.
Are Police Profiling the Pain Community?
Living in Los Angeles, if there is one thing that unites us all, it is our shared hatred for traffic. The bumper to bumper crawl and the idiots who swerve through lanes like they’re in TRON: LEGACY are enough to make us all go nuts. Unfortunately for me, the bad traffic and swerving by another car had me slamming the brakes and I bumped a car. Luckily, no one was hurt and her bumper was barely dented. Despite the minor damage, the she wanted to file a police report and I agreed. We waited about forty minutes. When the California Highway Patrol showed up, she told us both to take the next exit and to park on the side of the road. First she spoke with the other driver and took down her information and her account of what happened.
The officer then came to my car and I gave her my driver’s license, proof of insurance and my registration. She noticed my crutch in the backseat of my car. “What is that for?” She asked. I replied, “Oh I have a nerve disorder in my right leg.” She nodded and told me to hang tight and that she would be back. She finished her business with the other car, which then left. She returned and asked me to exit the car and show her where the damage was on my car. I pointed to my front bumper. She then asked a few questions about where I was driving, how fast, and if I was changing lanes, etc. I answered to the best of my ability. She told me to wait again outside the car. Twenty minutes passed and my hip and leg were starting to hurt. She was still in her car writing or reporting information about the accident. So I went to my car and grabbed my crutch to lean on.
I made a colossal error in judgment thinking I could do that.
The moment I pulled my crutch out of the car, she immediately wanted to conduct a sobriety test. I was flabbergasted. At no point in the previous hour had she suspected or asked me if I was under the influence. I had followed all of her instructions exactly. I reminded her that she had seen the crutch, and that I had told her about my nerve condition. I even offered to give her the names of my doctors and show her my medical ID card (it states what CRPS is). She refused. I was furious and humiliated but I complied. After passing every test, she concluded that I seemed “tired” and “off-balance” (which is pretty funny since the purpose of my crutch is to help with balance) and refused to let me drive my car home.
Let me say that again: I pass a sobriety test initiated by a California Highway Patrol officer because she saw me pull a crutch out of my car almost an hour after dealing with a minor fender-bender, and she refused to let me drive my car home.
My roommate Becca, luckily, was able to pick me up. Later, she and my roommate Laurel (two friends who have been tireless saints throughout the nearly 3 year ordeal of my CRPS diagnosis) picked up my car. When we returned home, I burst into tears. I had never felt so humiliated. The following Monday, I called the California Highway Patrol department headquarters and spoke with a Sergeant about the conduct of his officer. He was appalled. He assured me that what she did and how she behaved was discriminatory and wrong.
After listening to my story, he asked me, “What do you want me to do? Would you like me to file a formal complaint?”
I told him, “I don’t want to get anyone fired. I know you guys deal with drug addicts and drunk drivers on the highways all the time. I get it. But if I had a cast on my left arm, she never would have put me through that test. I want you to tell her that there are people like me, people with disabilities and illnesses that are REAL. We are not drug addicts, we are not lesser, and we are not inferior. Listen to our stories. Believe us. Talk to us. Treat us like human beings.”
The saddest part of that day was the fact that I had left my support group meeting, where one of the many topics we discussed was the discrimination and disbelief we face in the real world. This is why we have to keep fighting and standing up for our rights. Do not sit down and do not accept this behavior if this happens to you.
Katie O’Leary is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report. She works in the entertainment industry when her CRPS lets her.