The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is an understandable reaction by disenfranchised segments of American society to find a voice against years of oppressive treatment by law enforcement. The anger and outrage and helplessness that this movement seeks to express is completely legitimate, and this is a problem that needs to be addressed.
The thing is… and this is a ‘thing’ that also needs to be addressed, and is being overlooked by all sides in this argument… showing every video of every tragic confrontation between police and the society they are supposed to protect over and over on the news is not making things better.
Both sides are simplifying the issues. Nobody… except maybe a few despicable racists… is making the argument that black lives don’t matter. Conversely, not every incident involving police violence can be swept under the rug and, while we all should support our law enforcement officials, there does need to be oversight and a case-by-case review of all these incidents.
The problem with the endless parade of police violence videos shown by the media is that they usually only show the last part of the situation. They rarely show the entire event from beginning to end. Obviously, there are a number of these situations in which the police overreacted. But the number is smaller than the media makes it look like it is. And all these situations have one thing in common… They escalated to tragedy.
If I can offer one piece of advice, it is this;
If guys with guns, sticks, Tasers, dogs, pepper spray and handcuffs tell you to do something, do it.
If you feel you were wrongly pulled over, or are being falsely arrested, the time of your arrest is not the time to get into a legal dispute. Let them give you the ticket, or put the handcuffs on and take you to jail… then argue your case in court later.
The simple truth is that police officers in the field are your first judge. They determine whether or not you will be charged with a crime. They decide whether or not to give you a warning, a ticket, or to arrest you. Arguing with them is never going to change the outcome for the better. That is why we have courts. If you think you don’t deserve the ticket, that doesn’t mean that you can just refuse to comply with an officer’s orders. That makes them nervous and starts adrenaline flowing. That is when things always start to go wrong.
I’m not saying this is fair. I’m saying that, whatever color you are, pissing off the police is a bad idea.
I would like to point out that there are very few incidents in our history where a police officer just walked up and shot a person of any color for no reason. Same with all the other types of force the police use to ensure compliance. They don’t walk up and start wrestling with people for no reason. A confrontation with police always begins because they think something illegal has occurred. Yes, you can make the argument that the ‘stop and frisk’ policy is overdoing the ‘preventative’ role of the police. Maybe we should do away with that. I am not making the argument that having a police officer start frisking you is a good thing. I am just saying that, at that point, pulling away, or refusing to follow their instructions, or trying to run, or putting up a fight, no matter how justified you feel you are, will not end up well.
Let’s take the latest video to be making the news organizations wet themselves as an example. The one about the female African-American high school student being thrown around and arrested in a classroom. The officer might well have used excessive force. I am not defending him or his actions. But how did this start? And more importantly, why did she think she had the right to refuse first the directions of her teacher and then the commands of the officer? Believe me, I know teenage rebellion, and I will get to a story about me soon enough, but what did she think the outcome was going to be? How long did she think she could just sit there and ignore the teacher and the cop? What was the point she was trying to make, and how did she picture the ending of her one-person rebellion going exactly?
Cops do not want to get into a fight with anyone. Their job is dangerous enough. But if they decide you need to be in handcuffs, go along with them, and complain later. Cops love a cooperative suspect. Trust me on this. Just do what they tell you and once you are in cuffs, they no longer consider you a threat and everything deescalates rapidly at that point.
Now you may be asking yourself; what the hell does this old white dude know about any of this?
Well, let me tell you.
I grew up in the Bay Area in the 60’s and 70’s. And I was not a big fan of authority. I have had more firsthand encounters with law enforcement than I am going to admit to here. I was rebellious, stubborn, argumentative, and more than a little crazy. Let me give you one example.
Back in the day, a band I was managing was playing in a dive bar in San Francisco. I was out in the parking lot. It was like two in the morning. I was drunk. I saw two guys chase a third guy around the corner and into the back corner of the lot. They started to work him over with blackjacks… (a leather bag with a big, steel ball inside). I thought the guy was getting mugged, and I jumped in to help. Turns out that the two guys were undercover cops, and the third guy, the one I was trying to help, had just stabbed another undercover cop.
After they got the suspect cuffed… and trust me, they weren’t gentle about it, even though he was white, I started to get a little upset about the fact that they had used the blackjacks on me a few times before I figured out I was on the wrong side. So I demanded their identification… because cops aren’t supposed to carry blackjacks, that is illegal. Also, I was indignant over the fact that they hadn’t thanked me for… mistakenly… trying to help a guy who was being mugged. Also… Bacardi and cokes…
At this point, they arrested me for ‘interfering in an arrest’.
Don’t worry, the charges were later dropped.
Later that night, I was transferred from a small substation to the main San Francisco jail. On the way there, a big, fat, white pimp was talking smack to the two drivers. They kept telling him to shut up and he wouldn’t. They must have radioed ahead. When we got to the main jail’s underground parking lot, they had me and a few other prisoners line up facing the wall while 6 or 7 cops worked the pimp over… a white pimp, I remind you.
Later, I was asked to testify in a police brutality trial. I declined… because I still had to live in the Bay Area. I’m not proud of that decision, but it was the right one. Because pissing cops off is a bad idea.
I have lots of stories like this, but I am not sharing them here. The point I am trying to make is that, while race might play some role in some of these types of occurrences, the thing that always plays a part in them is that somebody decided that it was a good idea to ignore what they were being told by the guys with all the hardware for enforcing laws… and compliance.