Sunday, May 16, 2010


When Americans complain about profiling, I am reminded of living under the watchful eye of the ever-vigilant police in Romania. There were three branches, the Militia, ordinary traffic and disputes police, the Securitate, the spying police, and Militia Economica, or the economic police. There was not a clear delineation between duties since any citizen could be picked up by any of the above and interrogated for no particular reason and held against their will without due process for days and weeks. Their families never knew where they were. We lived in fear of police, they were not there to protect and serve us, but to harass and imprison us. We were guilty until proven innocent and, most times, we were just plain guilty without the benefit of due process.

I was surprised that Americans object so vehemently to illegals being I.D.ed after crimes were committed. Do we not need to know who the criminals are? Every innocent American has to show I.D.s in order to prove who they are at the DMV, at driving checkpoints, at the doctor's office, in hospitals, at airports, at the court house, at department stores, at border crossings, etc. You can no longer pay with credit cards without showing you are who your credit card says you are. Credit card fraud has spawned such checks. You cannot enter any building with a certain level of security without showing I.D. and passing through scanners.

We feared police constantly in Romania. Many citizens were detained for their views under lock and key at their place of employment or at home if an important politician was passing by. Their lack of membership in the communist party was seen as an enemy of the state and thus of the official who happened to be in the vicinity. People were rounded up on election day and forced to go vote for the only communist candidate on the ballot. We were stopped because we might have given the policeman a furtive look, a sideways look, perhaps we carried bags that appeared too laden with merchandise, where did you get the money, where did we buy the loot, was it stolen, did we have proof that we purchased that? Maybe we were in the wrong place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time. Each citizen had to carry an I.D. at all times that resembled a passport. This I.D. had your picture, address, blood type, where you lived, communist party affiliation sector, union affiliation block, how many times you have moved, stamps fromt the police showing that you have registered your new address as soon as you moved in, or, if you didn't, which neighbor ratted you out and what fine you had to pay for non-compliance with the law. Not that Romanians dared to move that much. You were pretty much stuck where you were born and raised, job or school mobility were discouraged. Every citizen received this I.D.upon turning 14 years old. This was considered the age of emancipation and thus legal responsibility. The law judged people not on the basis of precedent but on the basis of the law as it was written by the communist government. This law changed at whim to suit their platform, views, and ideology. Which brings me to the story of Caroline. I changed her name to protect the innocent. Caroline was my best friend in high school and my freshman and sophmore years in college. We were very close, rode the train together to school for two years, and interned in the summer at the Black Sea. The summer between our freshman and sophmore year in college, we were interns with the port of Constanta, verifying cargo and serving as translators. The port captain often told us to go to the beach and have fun when there were no ships coming in. One such fateful day, my friend decided to go on a date with a Swabian friend from Transylvania, I will call him Hans. She forgot her I.D. home while her date had his German passport. The I.D. check happened around 9 p.m. There was no curfew in place for young people under 21 or anybody else after 9 p.m., but people were discouraged from wandering or loitering the streets at night. The two were strolling, having fun, talking, like any teenagers would do. Except my friend was taken downtown to the Securitate in the basement and interrogated for hours. And that was not all. Because her date was German speaking Schwaben (his Romanian was limited as it is often the case with people of Germanic origin from Transylvania), he was assumed to be a foreigner, was let go, while they grilled her over illicit relations with foreigners (which was against the law). Any contact with a foreign national was forbidden by law. To teach her a lesson, the five officers of the law decided to take turns raping her. She returned home in the morning, in shock. We took her to the hospital, there was no inquiry, no law suit, no punishment because it was the law, the government representatives who raped her. Who was going to give her justice? A totalitarian government?

We remained friends, although I moved to the U.S. in 1978, and corresponded with Caroline for years. After e-mail became more prevalent, we wrote for a while and then lost touch. I don't know what happened to her, I know she married Hans, had two children, but I don't know her whereabouts. Last time I physically saw her was in Germany in 1994 - she drove for hours with her family to meet me for a brief reunion in Regensburg. She seemed normal and happy but Hans begged to differ. She was mentally unstable in the last two years before we lost contact. Her e-mails were erratic and bizarre at times. I don't think she ever received proper mental treatment from her ordeal and never recovered from the trauma she suffered. There was no closure to her rape - nobody was brought to justice for their crime.

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