Cops need ‘the talk’ too
Here we go again. About 25 years ago, I was hanging out in a park at night with two friends drinking beer and laughing and joking. A police car rolled up and an officer walked towards us with a flashlight splayed over us. The officer told us that the park was closed and that beer was only allowed with picnic lunches.
“Look I used to do the same thing when I was younger. I know how it is, guys, but you can’t be in the park after 10,” he said, chuckling as he spoke.
We told him thanks, threw the beer in the trash and left. We were clearly in the wrong but this cop defused the situation, related to us and we left, thinking he was cool. Smart, experienced cops do this all the time.
What if the cop came up, yelling at us, telling us to get our fucking hands up and produce some ID? He may be well within his rights to do that but he would’ve ratcheted up the tension for no reason.
I thought about this incident in the park when I first heard about the Sandra Bland case. I knew the mantra would be the same as the other well-known incidents of police stops gone bad: if (INSERT NEGRO’S NAME HERE) had just genuflected and smiled and complied they’d be fine.
And I get it. I know that if the police stop me I’m not allowed to be upset about it. I can’t let that show in my voice. If I’m already stressed about a hundred other things, if I’m in chronic pain and I’m just trying to get home to lie down, if I’m angry about something unrelated or if I think the stop was a bullshit driving-while-black stop, I can’t express that.
Massa says get out of the car; you get out of the car. If he says jump, you better be in the air before he finishes saying the word. Because if you’re an angry black you’re already suspect. If you’re upset or angry, it’s obvious you must be en emotionally disturbed person or a criminal.
We give this talk to our teenagers. When that officer with a fully loaded .40 caliber handgun, 50,000 volt TASER, a PR-24 and a radio to call reinforcements from multiple departments shows up at your window, keep your hands on the wheel at 10 and 2 and think happy thoughts. Even if you’re angry, frustrated and wondering if a middle aged white woman would’ve been pulled over in the same circumstance, just let it go for as long as you’re at the mercy of that officer. Don’t scowl. Don’t furrow your brow. Genuflect. Become the love child of Eddie Haskell and Miss Manners.
Don’t let that frustration burst forth because if the incident gets out of hand and you end up lying in the street with congealed blood and brain matter caking your head after an officer serves and protects you to death, people will say, “It’s their own fault they’re dead. Should’ve just listened to the officer.”
So we’ll keep giving kids “the talk” and hope they take that advice. Don’t escalate. But I’d like police superiors to give their officers a talk, too. Tell them not to escalate. Tell them to try to defuse a potentially volatile situation. If you start off angry or antagonistic the situation has nowhere to go but downhill. Reducing the tension helps protect the officer as well as the person they’re dealing with. It’s been said that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. There’s too many officers who think that all they have is that hammer.
So yes, in many incidents involving the death or injury of a citizen at the hands of law enforcement, if the person had conducted him or herself differently, perhaps they would still be among us. But the same is often true of the officers.