by Joshua Harskamp, AA 3rd Year Intermediate Unit 1
16 December 2014 Baytown, Texas   “Put your hands where I can see them! Put your hands where I can see them!”, the middle aged officer screamed with his hand on his pistol. He approached our compact Nissan with long erratic strides making the distance between his cruiser and the shoulder of the road seem like an instant. And then his face was inside the driver side window - I felt my cheek begin to sweat against the steering wheel as I kept one hand on the dashboard and reached for my Canadian passport.   baytown5     “Ahh, our friends from the north”, he chuckled, but his tone dove dramatically as Chiyan produced his Malaysian I.D.  “What business do you have in Baytown? Why are you photographing the petrochemical plants? Why are in you in the middle of the road? Do you have any intentions of harming Americans? Keep your hands where I can see them!” With that he retreated to his cruiser - this time tilting backwards with a side to side motion.   baytown-3   Then another police cruiser arrived. Then 3 security pickup trucks. Then another police cruiser. We had been blockaded in our tiny sedan and the minutes started ticking away.  A crowd of uniforms was growing behind our trunk.   Finally, an open faced blond security officer of 40 years approached us, “So, ya’ll been taking photos - students right? Well, I can’t technically make you delete anything, but these here officers will arrest you for obstructing the road if you don’t delete them.” We complied immediately - we had all been shooting film anyways. She then watched approvingly as we erased the images off our phones -  and we breathed easier knowing that the blockade would soon clear and we would be on our way to Galveston.
We were not done.   “Please step out of the car sir”, the plainclothes detective approx 6’ 3” wearing solomon trail-running shoes said.   baytown-2   “Listen, the entire Exxon Mobil petrochemical plant is federally protected site monitored by the department of homeland security which was formed in the aftermath of 9/11. Taking pictures is not allowed. You are behaving very suspiciously. People who wish to harm the united states have a keen interest in this plant and we have prosecuted individuals apprehended from this vary site. Now, you are not under arrest, but if you and your colleagues do not come with me to the police station to answer a few questions and get fingerprinted and photographed we can arrest you for being in the middle of the road. It would technically be an arrest for your own safety but we could bring by force to the station, is that clear?”   “But we’re just architects!”, I said.   “How can I trust anything you’re saying?”, he said.   baytown3.1   The Baytown jail is approximately 15 minutes from the Exxon Mobil petrochemical plant.   We passed through 4 sets of steel doors that locked behind us.
Then the four of us were split up and brought to separate interrogation rooms. A man covered in blood next to the rooms had just hit a police officer - he was screaming and making eye contact with us.   A steel door closed behind me as I was invited to sit on a blue swivel chair. The room was four cinderblock walls and my rights were written on the one across from the entrance. There was a long black streak of duct tape going diagonally across the floor - the detective never crossed into my half.   “Why are you in Texas? Where were your parents born? Why would an architect want to visit a petrochemical plant? Who is Donald Judd? What are the names of your tutors? What are their nationalities? Does anybody at the Architectural Association School of Architecture wish to harm the United States of America?”   The officers pulled our bags apart, photographed our sketches, our notes and our faces.   “We need to be careful here.” The plainclothes detective wearing solomon trail running shoes said and handed back our passports.   BAYTOWN   One of the interrogators suggested a group photograph - and then we left.   For more information: Contact Intermediate Unit 1 to learn more about their unit trip or Visit the Inter 1 microsite Read the Inter 1 Unit Brief