It's scary because this is how he was treated by law enforcement in the USA but sounds more like the kind of thriller that Hollywood would produce and set in some South American country or Cuba or the middle east to tell us how horrible the rest of the world is. It's scary because it could be me or you or anyone who is used to being in a reality where asking a question is a reflex action and is met by explanation and not mace. And it's scary because all he did that was wrong was "fail to get down on the ground quick enough" and that was enough to be guilty of a felony of non compliance with a police officer.
I remember reading events as they unfolded and had a horrible feeling that he might get convicted and have to serve time. Things looked grim for a while and as Watts retells, he spent the last days before his sentencing putting his affairs in order, including writing a will, getting someone to look after his cats and have someone else have access to his financial affairs. He was worried about a tooth abscess - that had he had to go to prison ... It is utterly frightening stuff. And as he recounts, more so because it seemed like the system was rigged to convict him, no matter what they did and how well they responded and so on (the police accounts on the stand conflicted with each other, their lies were exposed, Watts had an eye witness etc)
If nothing else, I think that Watts deserves some beers amongst friends at the bar at Aussiecon 4. I urge you to go check out the Bring Peter Watts to Aussiecon 4 Campaign.
The interview is worth listening all the way to the end where Watts has some really interesting things to say about power dynamics that we accept in society. He talks about people responding to his situation in three ways - 1. Cops are all out of control arseholes and this is outrageous. 2. Watts deserved worse than this. 3. Everybody knows that border control and customs are arseholes and he should have put his head down and not caught their eye and just gotten through it and not drawn attention.
And he goes on to discuss that third group of people, where what he finds troubling is the acceptance of this. That these people know this is not right, that it's an injustice and it's corrupt people wielding their power disportionately and in some (many?) cases unlawfully but the individual has not much option other than to allow these people who want to dominate to do so as long as they leave them alone. And that if he has nothing else, he at least did not do this unquestioningly and in fact all he did was get out of his car and ask the question, "What's going on?" and that he should be able to do so without getting his head beaten in as the reply.
I admit to being a person in group 3. I absolutely refrain from drawing attention when going through customs anywhere. I do not crack jokes and I try to conform to the rules even when they are ridiculous (like showing your passport to enter a room with only one exit and then having to show it again to be able to exit - what happened in that 20 seconds walk through the room???). I didn't know what to do when the customs official in Heathrow tried to joke around with me - was it a trap? Can I be funny back? What's gonna happen if I am?? Depending on which country I am entering, I am sometimes scared because I am Jewish and sometimes because I am a woman. There are countries I will never visit for one or both of these reasons.
Listening to this podcast has gotten me thinking though. A comparative example to the one above is when women who do not self identify as feminists will say things to me that never ever question the gender power dynamic. So examples include, on discussion with a workmate about how I no longer go into moshpits because I get elbowed and jumped on, she responded with, "guys don't see you because you are female." On talking about something to do with my car with my beautician (that's a polite way of saying my waxing therapist), she said something like, "because you are a woman they think they can pull one over you." Both these discussions stand out in my memory because there was just this genuine acceptance both at the lack of power and of the state of things, that can't be changed or rallied against - that we are treated worse *because* we are women, and that that's just the way it is. And I have never been able to just accept that.
And yet, in different situations, where it's not only my gender that is "handicapping" my power dynamic, I don't question, I just accept.
It's more food for thought. Thank you for that, Peter Watts.