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Tuesday, July 28. 2009
Hey, Prof Gates
One year ago, I parked my car (legally - no No Parking signs) on the side of the road to eat my take-out Thai lunch as a break from the office, while admiring a lot full of fancy used cars.
Cop pulls up behind, turns on flasher. "What are you doing here?"
"Eating my lunch and looking at the pretty cars, officer."
"License and registration, please."
"OK. Here they are." (Goes back to his car to check it all, then returns)
"You need to move along."
I happen to be white. Policing happens to everybody, and sometimes it is a damn annoyance and ridiculous. I decided not to send a letter of complaint, because they might be on the lookout for my
As an attorney, when a police officer stops you and says "I smell alcohol on your breath. Have you been drinking?" the correct response is never "Officer, I see powdered sugar on your chin. Have you been eating jelly donuts?"
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Worst / Best line to a cop: My high school history teacher and a friend are driving through GA with MA plates. He gets pulled over for speeding. The cop says "boy, your the fastest thing I've ever seen driving through GA!" His friend asks "What about Sherman"?
The difference between you and High and Mighty Gates is that you saw a human being whose job is police officer; Gates saw a cop who wants to make trouble for the black man.
While I agree you should be courteous, both as a matter of common decency and as a practical matter (i.e. it's not smart to berate someone who can arrest you based on nothing more than he said she said), you should not do whatever a cop tells you to simply because he's a cop. If you are parked in a legal parking spot why should you leave just because a cop wants to do a little power tripping? Why can't you say "well actually officer, I'd prefer to eat my lunch here because I don't want to drive around with an open box of Thai food in my lap." Cops are not your superiors, they are your employees who enforce laws. A cop can't make you do something completely unrelated to enforcing a law.
"A cop can't make you do something completely unrelated to enforcing a law."
- - - - -
Actually, yes, they can.
A cop can order you to move away from danger, can order that a danger be abated, can order that normally lawful conduct be stopped when that conduct endangers lives - in short, a cop is given a great deal of discretion when it comes to protecting from "danger."
So, if a cop tells you, as you stand on a sidewalk, to get off of the sidewalk because the road is icy and cars have been sliding across the sidewalk, you'd better get off the sidewalk.
If a cop tells you to leave a public area, knowing an airplane is about to crash-land there, you need to obey, or you can and will be arrested. Even though you have a "perfect right" to be there.
I have never had a helpful experience with a police officer in the line of duty. This includes when I have reported crimes against me or others, not just speeding tickets. The best advice is to avoid them. I happen to believe that Mr. Gates might have had a valid point. Not the racism; just that most cops are assholes and can't stand it if someone has the nerve to expect their constitutional rights. I've known a few guy's who became cops and they were assholes and bullies when they were young. They don't seem to change much.
Most cops, especially city cops, deal with the WORST kind of people all day long, and they usually need to deal with them on in a pretty hostile and unfriendly manner. If you hang around scum like that day in and day out, anyone would tend to get a pretty jaded view of humanity. Not to mention, these "assholes and bullies" risk their lives every time they get called into a situation where they usually don't have enough information to handle things the right way, or whatever way "monday-morning quaterbacks" think they should have handled a situation.
This is how Chris Rock suggests this situation may have been handled better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uj0mtxXEGE8&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.grouchyoldcripple.com%2F&feature=player_embedded (H/T http://www.grouchyoldcripple.com)
Peter Slovenski is the Athletic Director at Bowdoin, author of Old School America and of this brief essay.
It just floors me (to make a broad sweeping generalization) that black people think they are the only ones to get hassled by police.
What might be illustrative is to ask who hasn't been hassled by police from time to time?
One time my wife and I got pulled over by a policeman at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, with a young child sleeping in a car seat in the back seat, and got the third degree. Somehow he thought there was something strange with us being on the road at such an early hour.
"May I see your registration, safety check and proof of insurance."
"Is your child properly secured?" (shining the flashlight through the side window).
"Can I inquire where you're going?"
"Officer, we're on the way to pick up our other son who is at a sleepover."
"It's kind of early to be out, isn't it?"
"Officer, we need to get him breakfast at McDonalds and then get him to a little league baseball game that starts at 8."
"Uh, ok, you can go."
"Thank you, officer."
I have no idea why we attracted his attention. There probably was a reason somewhere. But just like all those African-Americans who feel they have to be super-polite, I used a lot of "yes, officers" and tried to look respectful and subservient.
When I was quite young I went into a bank lobby dressed like a total hippie; I'm sure I looked like something out of a profile for members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. Not unusual for the time, really, but not Junior League either. I was carrying a big backpack. I sat down and starting fishing through my backpack looking for the check I wanted to deposit. A security officer came and stood right in front of me until I found it. I was pretty taken aback, since it had never occurred to me that anyone would consider me a threat under any circumstances. On the other hand, even at that age, when I was predisposed to throw a tantrum at the advent of any authority figure, I understood what was troubling the officer about the picture he saw. So I smiled at him, explained what I was doing, and did my best to reassure him that I was not a threat.
It's not that hard. I wouldn't enjoy being treated with contempt by a jerk, but I think I owe it to the average cop to try to see things through his eyes. It's not an easy job.
Your whiteness shows in the way your instinctive reaction to police is to be polite and cooperate, and not take it personally if some aspect of them doing their job is inconvenient or annoying to you. We don't always understand why they do what they do, and we don't need to.
This is a good opportunity for everyone to get on Youtube and review Chris Rock's "How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked by the Police." Most people get it, we just hear from the idiots with big mouths that make you think "that guy NEEDS an ass-kicking."
I got pulled over the other day. I was "Yes ma'aming" "No ma'aming" all over the place.