Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Cop and the Professor


So there's this hubbub the Yanks are throwing over this row between black and white, academic and working class, professor and cop, friend of the President and not.

First, a little background. I don't have any personal experience in being stopped or harassed by police, but I have accumulated enough anecdotal testimonies from people of various walks of life to conclude that it happens, it happens frequently and people to whom it happens have little recourse other than to suffer through it.

Next I have to acknowledge that there are at least 3 reasons why a police officer would stop you: a) he suspected you of committing a crime, b) he was witness to you committing a crime, c) he felt like stopping you. And while no one has a problem with the second reason, the first and third really rile people up. I understand this but it is a sucker's game. As pissed off as I might be for being stopped, how many crimes have been prevented because a guy had a hunch? Do we really want police officers to be nothing but after the fact chroniclers of violence and mayhem or do we want them to prevent crime before it happens? Because if we have any expectation that those bastards actually prevent crime, we have to expect them to harass people who are aiming to commit crimes. How else will it happen?

Now here's the part that bothers me. Cops are mostly retards. I'll have to go to school for 8 years to be a doctor. And it won't be fun. I will know everything that mankind has ever known about the human body. But if I wanted to carry a gun, have the authority to kill people lawfully and have enough insight and good judgment to walk the tightrope line between harassing a future perp or stopping an innocent citizen, what are the qualifications for that? A high school diploma? Some college work, the academy? Maybe 4 years, if that. And you are the front line of law enforcement. You're supposed to be a symbol of law and order, the ever-present threat of lawful force. Like the physician you have to make split second decisions, not just on drawing a weapon, but on which weapon to draw, how to approach a suspect and do it all while (usually) afraid for your own life. There aren't many instances where a doctor is afraid for his own ass doing what he's doing. And he trains for 8 years!

So it seems like police are undertrained for the shit that they'll face, and the shit that they'll face can be heavy, and as a result, it's a 50-50 that when they stop someone that person should actually have been stopped. It's a 50-50 that when they shoot someone that person should have been shot. It's a 50-50 that a cop will do the best thing possible at any given time.

Tots, I know what you're saying. Grandpa, what about the street knowledge that cops have, that must count for something? Oh it does. And its hard not to notice in this case that what the cop needs, the professor has and what the cop has the professor needs. The professional academic is someone who has all the training in the world but never really applies it and never faces the issues they master in any practical way. All the books that Henry Gates ever wrote about race relations and the Black experience didn't seem to teach him the simple, practical truth that a police officer -- whether justified or not, whether his authority is legitimate or not, whether he's a dick or not -- owns your ass, has a gun and can use it. This big scholar of the African-American experience should know that Black people in his country have been killed for far less than being indignant and mouthy to police officers and that all the righteousness in the world doesn't change the practical consequences of talking back to cops (Professor Gates could have gotten indignant with an African Lion that was sitting in his living room, but his righteousness will be small comfort after it eats his ass). In no way does this excuse a cop from being a dick, but, considering cops are dicks, you should try not to antagonize them.

Basically this was an encounter between two egos, two immovable objects. The cop could have given the old man who he was accusing of breaking into his own house the benefit of the doubt, recognized an honest mistake, and been no less a man for it. The professor could have given the cop that was literally just doing his job the benefit of the doubt, and concluded the faster he gets this dude out of his house, the less likely he'll be accidentally shot in the head. But instead, the professor probably got mouthy about how he's friends with the President, and the Cop either figured I'm arresting this old cripple cause he's mouthy or I'm arresting this old cripple because he's Black. I'm sure race had some part in all this, but even in spite of the racial overtones, cooler heads would have gone a long way.

So they were both "right" in doing what they did -- and because they had 'right' on their side an old cripple spent a night in lockup, and a cop is branded another racist pig, less trustworthy to half of the people he's sworn to protect. What's the big deal with having to be 'right' all the time? Was being 'right' worth it?

Grandtots, be weary of being right. Doing good is far more dependable.

- Kamil

See also:

(It's about time we started having higher expectations of cops)

(Conciliation requires confrontation)

(Battle of the two types of pricks)

(Why would someone need to be told this: Don't fight with people badder than you, or at the very least pick your time to strike.)


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