invisionary: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist." (Communist _support)
Invisible Revolutionary ([personal profile] invisionary) wrote2011-04-13 07:37 pm

LJ Idol - Week 21 (Intersection) - Open Topic

This piece was written as an intersection for LJ Idol. My partner this week is my lovely life partner [ profile] cheshire23/[personal profile] passerine. She has written a complementary piece defending child protective workers, focusing on statistics. It may be found on LiveJournal or Dreamwidth.


I'm not sure I would call it a dislike of police officers. Fear would be more like it.

I don't trust cops. They don't trust me. It's not because I fit a profile of any sort, although I'd be very scared if I did. Last year I sat on a jury where the main charge against the defendant was Driving while Black. He was in fact driving on a suspended license, but they trumped up the charges and tased him for good measure. (In classic Keystone Kops fashion, the cop managed to tase his partner in the process!)

Then there was the mess that happened just before it, when Tori (13 months old at the time) accidentally got into my medication and needed to go to the hospital by ambulance. The police broke procedure multiple times in investigating the events, including questioning my older daughter without my knowledge or consent, as well as attempting to trick me into signing a statement to waive Miranda rights. The detective was not honest with me - and in fact police do not have to be honest with the general public, and the Supreme Court has backed that up.

I'm assured there are many bad cops out there - watch the news and you'll see them. I believe in civilian oversight of police and that any police action that infringes on civil rights should be able to go in front of a review board. I believe civilians should be involved in any internal investigation. I believe that criminal offenses by an officer should be prosecuted by attorneys outside of the jurisdiction of the offense. I also believe there are a lot of criminals out there - serious criminals - that don't get caught. The media loves to report those that are. However it's widely believed that crimes against women and minorities are badly underreported, in part due to a lack of trust in the police.

Then something happened that reminded me that cops are people too. I didn't expect it - I read Reddit frequently and there's no small amount of venom towards police over there. So, what turned me around? It was this stupid caricature called Steve the Lawnmower Guy. I'll describe him, but the videos are well worth your time (NSFW if your workplace has a problem with substances or foul language).

Steve the Original
Steve the Second
Steve's Domestic Arrest
Steve on a Scissor Lift
Steve... with Ten Shopping Carts of Booze

Steve is a hick/redneck/white trash resident of southern Louisiana. He rides around on a lawnmower because his truck is broke. Among other things he is drunk and disorderly and gets arrested in hilarious fashion - HE KNOWS HIS RIGHTS! These sketches, possibly unintentionally, actually illustrate what it's like for real police. As a general rule police are not called to handle reasonable people having disputes that can be settled through peaceful dialogue and logic - but it's quite nice when they can! No, the majority of police calls are domestic incidents, often with violence or threats of, and never as simple as they seem. We expect a lot out of law enforcement - entering dangerous situations quickly, determining the actual danger, and starting criminal investigations, all while demonstrating restraint and courtesy towards those they interact with. They have to play inside very specific rules or else what they may discover could be thrown out of court on procedural grounds.

A uniform is a target. People recognize it and immediately ignore that there is a person wearing it, and in fact the person wearing it has to think and act the role so that others in the uniform can predict their actions and support them. The human part wants to survive that shift and get that uniform off and go home. Sure, they want to protect the general public and most won't hesitate to die in the line of duty if required. But that's not exactly Plan A!

You may have heard of Schrodinger's Rapist - in short, it's the concept that when a woman meets a man, she cannot be 100% sure he is not going to rape her. The odds are usually pretty small, but there's no way to be completely certain he is not going to commit an assault until the interaction is over. The same logic applies to an adversarial interaction with police. You are Schrodinger's Criminal and they are Schrodinger's Bad Cop. You know that you're not a dangerous felon, and they know they are honest and professionally carry out their duties. But neither of you can assume that good faith in the other. Both of you have to survive the encounter. Since the officer enters this situation several times a day, often with irrational, unreasonable people, they have no reason to assume off the bat you are rational and reasonable. Likewise, there are just enough Bad Cops out there that will abuse their authority and deny your civil rights. A Good Cop understands this and will respect you for respectfully asserting your rights. If you drew a Bad Cop though you'll be darn glad you did. If you are a criminal or a danger to yourself or others they will be darn glad they played it by the book and secured the scene properly.

One of the most educational things you can do to understand police work is ask to do a civilian ridealong. Call your local police department (on their non-emergency line) and ask if you can ride with an officer. Most will allow you to join them for a patrol. They will assuredly give you a professional that will point out what they look for in your local area. You may be surprised - I was!