I have spent my life supporting the police and law enforcement. They have an often dangerous job to perform, and the truly good cops are too often unappreciated or taken for granted for service they provide day in and day out.
But if you have never been confronted with an aggressive or bullying cop then you don’t understand the emotions of that from those who have.
A couple of years ago I went into a Subway sandwich shop in downtown Dallas to pick up lunch. I parked on the street in an area right in front of the shop. Inside, two street cops were eating at a table near the entrance. One was an older guy with a three-day beard. He looked tired and his uniform seemed to hang on him. The other was a younger guy who looked fit and healthy. The place was jammed with customers. As I walked in the older cop blurted out, “You’re illegally parked and you know it!” Everyone stopped talking and looked at me. I said, “I’m sorry but I’m not in an illegal zone. May I show you?” He glared at me and seemed furious about something. He wiped his face with a napkin and threw it on the table. Then he slowly got up and followed me outside. I showed him the marked zone on the curb and the sign at the end of it that read: “1 Hour Parking 9 am to 4pm.” He walked down and looked it and then walked back to me. He stared at me and said, “Well, I guess they changed it” (I’ve been parking there for at least 10 years). And with that he turned and walked away. The younger cop smiled at me and said, “Sir, have a nice day.”
I walked back into the Subway shop and everyone was still staring at me as though they were expecting me to be hauled off in handcuffs.
That was not a very pleasant moment. And I have to tell you, I felt intimidated and harassed by that cop when I had done nothing wrong. And I was an older white guy in a shirt and tie. What if I had been a young black man in a hoodie?
When I first came to Dallas some twenty years ago, I was reeling from having lost my marriage and my career. I wasn’t making any money. I worked at a mortgage company at 100% commission and made $250.00 in three months. I was trying to find professional work and I could not believe how difficult it was to find anyone who would take me seriously even though I had three degrees and had been in a profession for more than twenty years. I finally ended up in retail making minimum wage, $7.25 an hour. I was paying child support, car payments, and rent I couldn’t even afford. I had no health insurance; that had gone away. My car insurance lapsed and without that I couldn’t get a safety inspection sticker so that expired as well.
I had been stopped by the police for a speeding ticket and when they saw my safety inspection and registration had expired I was ticketed for that too. $450, which I could not possibly pay. A week or so later two cops pulled me over for not having a current safety inspection sticker. I explained to one of them that I was recently divorced, was having a tough time making it, and that I had just gotten a ticket for the safety inspection a week ago and was trying to find a way to pay for it. As he was writing me tickets he said, “I don’t care what’s going on with you, your registration and safety inspection are expired.” I said again, “But officer I can show you I just got a ticket for that last week.” As he handed me my tickets he said, “You know what? You could drive away from here and go three blocks and I could ticket you again. Get your registration and safety inspection done!”
As they pulled away I sat in my car feeling humiliated, angry, alone, and about as dejected as I had ever been in my life. Another $350 on top of the $450. How was I going to pay that? Yes, I was in violation. Yes, my registration and safety inspection had expired. Which had never happened to me in my entire life. But when you are in desperate circumstances financially, and you’re lost in some horrible personal crisis, it becomes increasingly easy to simply fall farther and farther behind until you start to lose all hope.
So I have some small, tiny idea what people feel like when they are hassled by the police. My past situations are in no way comparable to the black men in this country who get profiled, pulled over, are provoked, bullied, beaten and shot, often for no reason other than they didn’t “show respect” or “resisted” or “looked like a suspect” or some other excuse.
Yes, there are violent criminals out there dealing drugs, stealing, raping, and killing innocent victims. And just as all cops are not Neanderthals, neither are all black men drug dealers and vicious criminals. Some are just trying to make a living the best way they can.
People in difficult circumstances; people out of work or in a low paying job; people in debt simply to survive; people dealing with terrible hurts and personal wounds; people who have felt pestered and badgered their whole lives just because of their race—these are people police confront every day. Most treat them with respect even if they have violated some law, however major or minor. But some do not treat people well.
Police, too, have personal lives. Some of them are facing some of the same issues as others—debt, divorce, grief, loss, addiction, anger, and fear for their daily safety. And they are expected to put all of that aside and deal with often tense and deadly situations calmly and professionally. Most do, every time. But some let their personal lives bleed into their professional lives and often the result is improper behavior or tragedy.
I have never been a police officer so I have no idea what it feels like to face what they face every day.
Somehow, though, we all have to learn to live together, and learn to treat one another with some sense of humanity. We do not know what is going on in someone’s personal life, whether they are a cop or a criminal or an innocent victim. But if we don’t see one another as people, as human beings with families and needs and dreams and hopes, then society turns brutal, vengeful, and irrational.
Novelist Isaac Asimov once said, “The easiest way to solve a problem is to deny it exists.”
In spite of President Obama’s optimism saying recently things are not as bad in the nation as they seem, we have a racial and police problem in this country. We have to face it. To deny that it exists will leave us in blind ignorance, and worse, facing more senseless deaths.
We need a framework of stability, where laws are followed by all of us, including the police. And where responsibility is accepted and the appropriate consequences are met by those who don’t follow the law, no matter who they are.
© 2016 Timothy Moody