The Right to Be Right

The comment was “Anyone who doesn’t think we are living in a police state is deluding themselves.” It was made in response to the video of the public defender who was “arrested for resisting arrest” while trying to protect her clients rights.

I don’t think the person making the comment really meant a police state like the Stasi or Gestapo, it’s just insanely difficult to name the disbelief and outrage at police behavior that seems increasingly arbitrary.

What was especially useful about this incident was that the trumped charge was applied to a small, white female attorney. In a suit. With glasses.

Aside from the fact that the “perpetrator” was instructing her client about their rights and didn’t do anything to warrant arrest, it’s a powerful visual to watch a calm, professional woman trying to talk to police, inside a courthouse, and get immediately handcuffed and shuffled to jail.

What we are seeing, through the grace of smart phone cameras everywhere, is police autonomy taken to extreme. Police officers, good, bad or indifferent, appear to be increasingly operating from the assumption that they have the right to be right.

This means cops expect 100% compliance to requests (orders, commands) of citizens in all situations regardless of the level of danger or provocation. This is a new frontier for a majority of US citizens.

100% Compliance is the idea behind “The Talk” that African-American parents have with their children. The Talk, how to conduct yourself with the police, is a slightly more main stream topic since Trayvon Martin segued into Eric Garner, into John Crawford, into Michael Brown, and then Tamir Rice. And even more recently when Bill DiBlasio’s comments about talking to his bi-racial son about being careful around cops, was taken by NYC police as an insult requiring apology.

The drop of lemonade we can squeeze out of these lemons is that more people can now see what it looks like to have an encounter with cops who have 100% control and authority. And use it. It’s shocking because it’s NOT racial profiling, its police autonomy pushed to the extreme and used to ensure 100% compliance.

And the bright, beautiful lemons keep piling up as we see the privileges that once made people feel secure they were an “Us”, and not a “Them”, no longer protect anyone from the expectation of 100% compliance with police orders.

An attorney at a nightclub was arrested for obstructing official business. The “probable cause” was cause she was giving her friends the legal advice that they didn’t have to answer police questions without knowing if they were suspects. She got in the way so they got her out of the way.

It’s so easy for people to find a reason why that black guy deserved/caused/triggered a fearful cop’s over-reach. (No kidding – trolls and cop apologists were blaming Tamir Rice for not putting his hands up in the 1.5 seconds before he was shot.)

It’s harder to explain rights getting tramped on when the people look like nice, upstanding (white) citizens.

Remember Henry Louis Gates getting arrested on his front porch? The cop knew he lived there, he wasn’t arrested for breaking and entering, he was arrested for being “disorderly” and yelling at the officer. Professor Gates was mouthy. His age, his position at Harvard, his intellect and international celebrity did not give him the right to be angry at a police officer. So he went to jail.

Last summer a Cultural Studies professor in Arizona was charged with assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after arguing with a police officer who stopped her for jaywalking. Watching the video you can hear her astonishment at the officers disrespect. Her rational responses, her nice clothes, her position as a professor at the university didn’t give her the right to refuse his orders, or keep her from being thrown to the ground like a criminal.

The examples go on and on. If the police have the absolute right to be right – always defended later as ” appropriate actions, with bounds” – then citizens have no rights.

How do we reclaim our rights to due process, to probable cause, to police as protectors rather than aggressors, if dialogue and de-escalation are off the table?

Profiling and arrogant, unfair treatment of citizens by cops is not just about black and brown people anymore, its all kinda folks. Maybe that will be the wakeup call. The disconnect between the police and citizens will continue to deepen and fester unless we do something about it. Before we end up in that “Police State” folks like to talk about.

9 Tips for Talking to Police Officers:

  1. If you are in a car, keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times.
  2. Do not reach for your wallet, in any bag, backpack or glove box.
  3. Keep your hands out of your pockets.
  4. Be polite (yes sir/no sir) and comply with orders. Do not argue.
  5. Do not struggle, resist or run.
  6. Do not lie.
  7. When possible, ask if you are free to leave.
  8. Be silent.
  9. Remember details, record what happened as soon as you can, and if your rights are violated, call the ACLU.

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