“I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me”

The Daily Kos has an article “I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me” that quotes a Los Angeles police officer.

Regardless of what happened with Mike Brown, in the overwhelming majority of cases it is not the cops, but the people they stop, who can prevent detentions from turning into tragedies. […]

Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?

The article then invites a discussion. Here is what I contributed.

To understand this issue from all sides you have to imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes. There are a wide variety of shoes you have to consider.

As a white male who gets stopped by the police once every 5 or 1o years, I have no problem giving utmost deference to the police officer (who has a gun) and showing that officer every respect whether he or she deserves it or not. As a result, almost every interaction I have had with a policeman has ended quite well for me and for the policeman.

The other set of shoes I can imagine is that of a black man who may get stopped for similar reasons that I get stopped every 5 or 10 years, but it happens maybe several times a year, or a month, or a week, or even a day. I know, and he probably knows what the right way to handle the situation would be, but can we expect him to have the saintly control to keep his emotions in check? Of course the other advantage that this black man may not have is that I can expect the police officer to treat me civilly if I show the proper deference. It works nearly 100% of the time for me. I doubt a black man could get that percentage of success. Also I have never had to contemplate the loss of a job because I was delayed by an unwarranted police stop, nor the issue of protecting my family from the results of such a stop. If a person is faced with that situation, their ability to control themselves might get compromised.

Putting myself in the shoes of the policeman or woman, I can see that he or she is dealing with a different population of people than I have to regularly deal with. I can tolerate a lot of disrespect, because I am pretty sure of myself and my own value as a human being. One would hope a policeman could also tolerate that disrespect. As a parent, I can tolerate some angry words from my child, because I know that things can get said that are not really meant in the heat of an argument. Apparently some police officers cannot even tolerate that in their own families. On the other hand, I don’t have to tolerate the constant level of disrespect that some officers might face depending on the particular job they find themselves in. The odds of the dangers for me of allowing disrespect may be a lot lower than what a police officers faces.

So, in the face of all of what we have learned by standing in different sets of shoes, we need to figure out what set of standards we want to set for both the police and the public.

Let me add that there are probably many police officers who get the respect they want because they show respect to the people they deal with. There are also police officers who get some disrespect because they show disrespect.

I am also reminded that for most of my working life I got the proper respect on the job from my peers and from my bosses. When I didn’t, I had the option (and I took it) of getting another job. Not everyone finds themselves in such a lucky situation, and therefore can afford a higher tolerance level for disrespect in a few other situations.

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