on accusation

Posted: February 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

I sat in one of the back offices of the building where I worked – an office without windows, the florescent light dreary against the faux-wood paneled walls.  Beside me was the one playing “good cop;” across from me was the guy with the role of “bad cop.”  We’d been in the room for what felt like forever by now.

The money that had gone missing was a pretty minor sum – less than $100, if memory serves me correctly.  Several of us had tried unsuccessfully to determine why the drawer wouldn’t balance; in the end the ugliness of office politics, personality wars and power struggles had demanded police intervention.  Everyone got a turn in that back office with the two cops – well, everyone except for the one generally believed to have taken the money.  She’d had the foresight to call in sick.

It quickly became clear to me that the cops already had a story figured out in their minds about how it had all gone down.  I had no idea how close (or not) they were to truth on most points of that story; I only knew that the role they’d pegged me for couldn’t have been further from the truth.  Their minds were made up that I had inside information – while I hadn’t taken the money, they were sure I knew about who had.  So they worked on me for a period of time that felt unending.

I’d seen good cop/bad cop played out on endless television programs and movies, but it’s a whole other deal, getting that treatment personally.  The bad cop was mostly standing, making a lot of threats about how much trouble I was in, intimating that my only hope of not suffering consequences was to come clean.  The good cop was sitting, chummy beside me, offering soothing tones but also letting me know in the most reassuring manner possible that rolling over on the guilty party was really my only way of escape from this pain.

The thing was, I didn’t know anything.  I hadn’t helped anyone.  I wasn’t covering for anyone.  Money was missing, and I’d had nothing to do with it, and no one had told me anything, and any ideas I had about who was or wasn’t guilty were only speculation, with no basis in even the tiniest scrap of evidence or information.  I guess I understand why they thought they knew – the person being mostly accused reported to me, and also tended to talk a lot about how great I was.  None of that changed the simple fact that I’d had nothing to do with it and I had no help to offer in solving the crime.

My time in that office with those two cops is on my list of the worst things I’ve been through.  As they hammered away at me, not letting me get up out of that vinyl chair and leave the room, I was exhausted.  I felt dirty.  I felt like I had done something wrong.  I felt like a bad person.  I felt guilty.  I felt like I should tell them the story they wanted me to tell, even though it would have been a lie.  We had been warned the day before that this investigation was going to happen, and so I’d gone to great care to get myself prayed up for the day.  Sitting in that chair, I drew again and again on the strength of the Lord, just reminding myself to tell only the truth of what I knew, which was frustratingly basically nothing, and praying desperately without ceasing.  I reminded myself that my actual innocence was my only defense, and that if I’d stick to truth, I could trust God to be my defender.

So as they fed me the story they believed over and over again, trying to get me to agree to it, I held on to truth, repeating the truth despite their insistence.  It was so hard. If you’ve been around this blog long, perhaps you’ve read the truth that I am a highly compliant person.  I follow rules.  I yield to authority.  I do as I’m told (unless I know it to be wrong).  Everything in my compliant nature wanted to give the cops what they wanted.  I only held on to truth by great determination and a lot of help from God.

Eventually, they gave up, clearly frustrated with me.  I was sent back to cover desk the desk of the accused person, where I managed somehow not to sob or totally fall apart, but I was holding my composure by only the smallest fracture possible.  Though I could keep my face in an expression of more-or-less calm and though I could kind of steady my voice as long as I didn’t talk much, my hands shook and I couldn’t stop the tears that trickled relentlessly down my face for the remainder of the day as I worked.  The tears were way beyond my control.  I felt violated in a way I can’t even quantify here on the page – a way that was even more awful than the violation I felt a year or two ago when someone stole my iPhone out of my purse as my back was turned for a moment.  Ironic, that my dealings with cops just doing their jobs violated me worse than that with some criminal preying on me intentionally.

This is not a blog about how bad cops are.  My brother is a cop.  At the time this incident occurred, I had a very friendly relationship with a number of cops at my workplace.  In general I am sure that we need law enforcement, and that there are a lot of really good cops out there.  I’ll even go so far as to say that I’m fairly certain that both the good cop and the bad cop who interviewed me that day were professional, well-intentioned, and for sure just doing their job, which looked like kind of an impossible task to resolve in any kind of satisfactory manner.

None of that changes that feeling of violation, which even today I still feel if I think on it much (generally I elect not to think about it at all).  The worst occasion of the fear and guilt being revisited would be a few years later – I was living in Chicago and got a phone call from another former employer.  Someone had used a work credit card issued in my name with that former employer to buy themselves football tickets, and though it looked like just a case of internet hacking, part of the investigation process requested by the police was that my former employer call me and ask if I knew anything about it.  I didn’t, but I remember how I stopped in an alley as I talked into my cell phone, leaning my forehead against the wall and squeezing my eyes shut, fighting the terror of feeling once again accused, and wondering if the cops investigating this theft had any way of knowing about the other cops that investigated that office theft.  Different job, different city, different year – the only commonality was that once again I knew nothing.  My former coworker was kind in asking – not the least bit of accusation there, for which I was grateful.  Still I walked around sick to my stomach for a couple of days, waiting for the other shoe to drop – for some other pair of officers to show up and ask accusingly why, if I was innocent, two thefts had happened in my world.

All this to say:  we need to exercise great care when accusing one another of wrongdoing.  The power of those officers pressing so insistently on me could easily enough have frightened me into telling the story they believed and condemning someone to a punishment she may not have earned.  I held on by faith, but just barely – so barely that I understand fully how some lives are ruined by insistent unjust accusations.  How they give up and confess to things they didn’t do, and have to pay the price.  Ironically, all this is heavy on my mind because G and I are watching through the Netflix true-life series, “Making a Murderer.”  Last night during supper we watched part of the episode with police questioning a 16 year old special ed student from a rough family, leading him to tell the story they appeared to believe to be true, and I was (and still am) enraged by the abuse of power there as he appeared to give up and just say what they wanted, not very convincingly in my own opinion.

We’re not through the series and maybe I’ll see stuff that changes my perspective.  Meanwhile, the truth remains:  we don’t do ourselves, God, one another, or truth itself any justice when we force people into saying they did what they did not do.  I don’t know how often that happens, I just have enough personal experience in that one afternoon in the back office to tell me that for sure it’s possible.  I’m taking my general upset on this topic as my cue to remember to pray for those who are unjustly accused – especially those without the ability to stand up to the accusation.

It happens that I know Someone who cares about those folks.

  1. Brenda says:

    Excellent article, well done!

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