I used to be friends with someone who saw a lot of conspiracies in our government. She was always ready to believe the conspiracy theory. I, on the other hand, have never been a conspiracy theorist. Maybe that has been to my detriment, since it means I am always trying to see both sides of the issues.
In re: the videos we have been seeing of policemen who were in the process of using violent means to subdue citizens. The worst video I saw was on Facebook the other day. It was a mashup of multiple instances of violence being administered by law enforcement officers. The reason it was the worst was because the maker of the video had looped the most inflammatory clips, so the overall effect was just horrifying.
It’s probably no secret that I tend to come down on the side of law and order on most issues. My thinking has evolved as I have attempted to understand better that I am certainly one who experiences white privilege. By the same token, my license and plates are valid, I do not have any outstanding warrants; i do not drive while intoxicated; I am cooperative with the authorities when I have occasion to be in contact with them.
There are those who believe the police are out of control; who intentionally murder people, especially people of color; who use any opportunity at all to escalate small issues into confrontations that turn deadly. The other side seems to be those who believe the police are basically always right, that if anyone, including people of color, simply cooperate, they will never be treated unfairly.
What I think it getting lost in the current internet flame wars is this: both sides are right and both sides are wrong. I was thinking about this man, Sam Dubose, who was killed by the UC policeman last week. I can’t agree with the people who watch the body cam or dash cam over and over and decide they know exactly what happened every second of the interaction, whether or not the entire thing is visually accessible. We can think we know, but we are limited in our understanding.
I didn’t know Sam Dubose, and I certainly would not have anything against him. What I do understand, now that I have had the opportunity to be a part of the legal system, is that once you are in that system, it’s really hard to get out. If you have been convicted of a drug offense and have lost your license and you get pulled over by a policeman who then discovers you are driving without a valid license, this can mean you are sent to jail because it violates your probation or it can prolong whatever sentence or diversion you are part of. It can mean you wait in jail until you can be brought before the judge to have that probation violation addressed, and/or receive the judge’s sentence regarding your violation. When you are pulled over and you don’t have a valid license, or you are driving uninsured because you couldn’t keep up the payments while you were in rehab or jail, or both, you now have multiple legal issues to face.
I don’t know whether Mr. Dubose had a license, but that’s not the point. The point is, there are many people in our country who are part of the justice system records for past or current violations. I can imagine that sometimes when someone is pulled over who knows there might be a warrant out for their arrest or knows that one more screw-up means jail time, ESPECIALLY if they are using drugs, their mind doesn’t think like a generally law-abiding person who knows there is nothing for the policeman to find when he/she runs their license through the database.
To me, this makes a difference. To me, it also makes a huge difference that policeman are dealing with situations very often that can escalate in an instant. They ARE making split second decisions and DO have a real awareness that their lives could be in danger.
When we see video of a woman who gets pulled over for not signaling a lane change, and then the incident escalates because she refuses to put her cigarette out, it is just so easy to think we have the whole story. It’s very easy to think the cop should have just let it go that she didn’t signal, but since he didn’t, why did she think it was ok to resist him so vociferously? It’s easy to say she shouldn’t have had to put out her cigarette in her own car, but since he asked her to do so, what could be the benefit of resisting that?
I guess I’m just wondering what the alternative is. If a policeman issues a “lawful order,” and the citizen refuses to comply, what do we think should happen? There are multiple options between the extremes of shooting down the citizen and cheerily sending them on their way, but those are certainly the two we see being bandied about for the most part.
Think about parenting. When a parent says no to a child, draws a line in the sand, as it were, what happens if the parent does not follow through? The child learns that he doesn’t have to do what the parent says, and pushes even further next time..
The police are not parents, and we are not children, but there is a comparable relationship when it comes to authority and power. A parent can overpower a kid with physical punishment and win, but that’s not the best choice by any means. The best situation is when a child and her parents understand that the parents are an authority and what authority means.
This type of relationship doesn’t preclude questioning. It doesn’t mean you can never disagree. But it does seem to me that understanding and respecting someone’s authority means that both sides understand that authorities have “the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.”
So, it seems to me like the basic need is for those in authority to understand how to wield that authority, and those under authority to understand how to submit to that authority. Until those two conditions are met, there are no doubt going to be way too many altercations that go bad.
If I’m driving a car, there are multiple ways my car can be non-compliant with the law. Some I may not know about. Many times, those driving non-compliant cars are aware of the non-compliance. I think there is a mindset of trying not to get caught, especially in those who are enmeshed in the justice system to one degree or another. I guess it just seems to me like if you do get caught — speeding, broken taillight, window tint too dark, not stopping fully at a stop sign — you have to face the consequences. If you are compounding things by having drugs or drug paraphernalia in your car, you have to face the consequences. The consequences of a routine traffic stop should not be to be shot and killed, and I think it ceases being a routine traffic stop when you try to drive away while you are being detained.
Maybe a great place to start would be for each of us to ask ourselves what we think about authority? Who do we recognize as an authority in our own lives? What happens in a group or family or society when all of the members decide their only authority is themselves? Is it possible to recognize and practice our personal power while still submitting where appropriate? Anecdotally, we can all no doubt find examples of authority being wielded like a weapon, and authority which has no teeth in it at all. How can we find a place of unity in understanding each other, and working together for the common good?