Thursday, December 4, 2014

Why I Don't Resist the Police

Law School can be a real education about life.

When I was in Law School, we had a criminal law professor, Professor Starrs, who was a really great teacher and a well-respected lawyer.   You may have seen him on television, as he is consulted by the media on occasion.

In our criminal law class, he explained to us that if we are ever arrested by the Police, that the best and only thing you can do is to comply with whatever they request, do not resist, and even if they beat the crap out of you, just comply.

And why this is, he explained to us.   When it comes down to the word of a citizen versus that of a cop, people are going to believe the cop.   In a jury trial, the jurors are going to be made up of retired people (who are afraid of young hooligans such as yourself) or other folks who don't have day jobs.   And it doesn't matter whether the jurors are black or white - many black folks are sick and tired of being victimized by criminals as well - in fact if they live in a poor neighborhood, they know this all too well.

So these things often come down to your word (and after all, you were being arrested as a criminal!) against a decorated Officer of the Law, resplendent in Police uniform.

Guess who wins? 

Very shortly thereafter, I had a chance to apply this lesson in real-life.   Back then, I drove like a maniac - well, what most people today consider "normal driving."  I sped everywhere, floored it to stop signs and red lights, and of course made dangerous passes, and rolled stop signs.   I was a pretty typical American driver - with the insurance rates to match (over $3000 a year!).

On the way home from law school, ironically, I was driving too fast, and in Virginia, anything higher than 15 over the limit is considered "reckless driving".   And of course, I was pulled over by a Park Policeman on the GW Parkway (a Federal enclave) as the wheel of Karma is pretty reliable.  I was a jerk, and they nabbed me.

Park Police don't get a lot of respect from other police officers.  They are viewed as gate attendants or naturalists in Smokey Bear hats and, well, slackers who have an easy beat.   And sadly, the few real crimes they do investigate, they tend to screw up royally.   So they have this keystone cops reputation.

Cletus, the only officer on that duty that night, apparently felt he had a desperate fugitive on his hands.   Now bear in mind, I was a 30-something white guy wearing a suit and tie and driving a late-model beige Camry.   You can't get much more white-bread than that.   Also, he pulled me over only four blocks from my home, so he knew I was a local and not someone fleeing the scene of a bank robbery.

He shined his spotlight on the car and said, "Put your hands behind your head and interlace your fingers!" which I did, remembering Professor Starrs' advice.   Then he said, "Take the keys out of the ignition and throw the keys from the car!"

Now, this is where it got all Reno 911.   I had the window open, thinking he was going to come to the car and give me a ticket.  So I shouted back, "Which is it?  Throw the keys or interlace my fingers?"  And guess what?  He didn't like someone being a smartass.

So I threw the keys out of the car, and he told me to slowly open the door and walk backwards toward him, with my hands on my head, fingers interlaced.   He came up behind me and put the handcuffs on me - after he put his gun back in its holster.   And they put those cuffs on tight let me tell you. 

He put me in the back of his Crown Victoria, which had a plexiglass partition.   At least it had seats.  Some cop cars have a fiberglass platform in the back (easier to clean up puke and blood).   But there is not a lot of room back there - you can hardly get your feet in, if the front seat is all the way back, which it was.

So, "cuffed and stuffed" he drove me to the Fairfax County Detention Center, as the Park Police are so lame that they don't have a place to process prisoners.   They do have a horse barn, though!

At the County lockup, I was chained to a plywood table along with a rogues gallery of rough looking guys, who were all sort of staring at me, wearing a suit and all, and not drunk or anything.   And I probably was the only white guy.   This center was on Route 1, South of Alexandria, and it is not a happy place to be at night.   They fingerprinted me, of course, and back then they used ink and it leaves a mess.

Finally, one of the County policemen came in.  It was a busy Friday night and they had a lot of people to process.   "Cletus," he said, "What do you have this young man in here for?"   Clearly, he understood the risks of having a real live breathing taxpayer in lockup - particularly if the charges were sketchy.

"Speeding!" Cletus replied.   The County cop looked at Cletus and shook his head.   Park Police -  where do they get these jokers? 

"Let him go, Cletus" he said, "We've got bigger fish to fry" nodding to the other gentleman chained to the table with me.   One had blood all over the front of his shirt.   I'm guessing these were much larger fish.

Cletus was angry, but it was the County lockup, and he was a guest.   So grumbling that "today was your lucky day" he stuffed me back in the cop car - none too gently - and then drove me back to "the scene of the crime" and made me wait for nearly an hour as he went through the code book and cited me for every goddamn thing he could think of.   Once he handed me the sheaf of tickets, he sent me on my way.

Policemen are human beings and as such, are prone to all the same mistakes and foibles we are all prone to.   They engage in emotional thinking.  They are often afraid.   They can be vain and arrogant and even belligerent.  They can end up jaded and skeptical - after seeing so many "innocent people" who are clearly guilty of something.   And after a while, they may even think the whole system is a joke, as they arrest the same people over and over again, and nothing much seems to change.   It is not an easy job.

And yea, some of them are real dicks.   The Park Police were pretty much all bottom-of-the-barrel, and it wouldn't be the last time I dealt with them.  I got another speeding ticket from one - and this time, I was actually innocent.  He was prepared to lie under oath to make that ticket stick, too.    And sadly, the actions of a few cops are used as a broad brush to indict the vast majority.

Since those days, my run-ins with the law have been few.   We had one dick cop (State Police) here on the island who accused me of not wearing a seatbelt.   I was a dick right back at him, and when I drove by him, I used to snap my seatbelt at him.   So he would follow me around the island, tailgating, trying to nail me for speeding.  Since this is a training post, he rotated out fairly quickly and I never saw him again.   No doubt he is out harassing black people somewhere.

But since I don't speed anymore, I have a clean license and haven't been pulled over in ages.   And since I live in a low-crime area (which I highly recommend, and yes, you do have a choice in this) I rarely interact with the local fuzz.

And of course, being a middle-class white guy means I generally don't get hassled.    Here in Georgia, they like to go after out-of-state plates, people with clapped-out cars, and of course minorities.   Maybe these people speed more or commit more traffic violations.   Perhaps.   But you rarely see a white guy in a Lexus getting pulled over.

When it comes to traffic citations, it is a lot easier to issue them to people who can't afford to hire a lawyer and fight back.   The out-of-state person or the Latino in the clapped-out pickup will just pay the fine.  Oh, wait, you can't say that, right?

But it is funny, the lowest of white trailer trash always drive like maniacs, and for some reason act surprised when they get tickets.   Funny how that works.

But regardless of race, Professor Starrs' advice is correct - never try to fight the cops or run away from them.   If they say "halt!" you halt.   Maybe it is wrong for a Policemen to shoot you if you resist or run away or whatever, but as Professor Starrs told us, "You might be right, but you'll be dead right".

This is not to excuse any excesses by Police - only to give some practical advice.   Don't resist, don't run, and for God's sake, don't leap into a Police cruiser and start a tussle.

A friend of mine works for the local law enforcement and we were talking about police cameras and bystanders who use smart phones to video incidents.   He is all for more cameras and has no problem with bystanders making videos, provided they are not interfering with an investigation.   The problem, he says, is that people selectively edit their videos, and then post them on YouTube claiming outrage.   But we never see the events leading up to what is on these videos, or like the WikiLeaks "collateral murder" video, they are selectively edited and provided with captions or narrative to slant what is going on.

"Seeing is believing" we used to say, and in this age of video, it would seem that grey areas would be cleared up by all the video we are taking.   Sadly, it seems that isn't the case.

UPDATE:  A friend sent me this link which illustrates why some cops may seem - to lay people - to use excessive force.   They are often afraid.   There are people out there who want to kill them, often for no reason at all, other than they represent authority.   Fear fuels adrenaline, and bad things can happen as a result.  So while you may be afraid of the Police, they may be just as afraid of you, which explains why you are slammed to the pavement and then jumped by five people.  It may seem excessive, but it has been known to occur that suspects get ahold of a policeman's gun and then shoot them with it.

This fellow in Feurgson leapt into the window of a police cruiser.   Do you think it was to change the radio station?

Resisting the Police isn't going to accomplish anything except get you killed.