Monday, July 8, 2013

Murfreesboro Checkpoint Video

I recently saw a Facebook conversation about the July 4th video of the kid in Murfreesboro who was stopped by strangers with uniforms on. To my understanding, he was just peacefully going about his business, not acting suspicious, not causing a problem for anyone, but just lucklessly happened upon a checkpoint at which armed men in uniforms were canvassing anyone passing by.

You can review the video here:



Here's what I wrote in response to the conversation:

I just read this entire thread. My thoughts might be a little different from everyone's thus far:

I have 100% empathy for the kid being bullied in that video and 0% empathy for the bully. Though I do have to say I would recommend to anybody to be as deferential as possible in any police encounter for your own physical and legal protection.

Not just to be nice as has been suggested above though. And not because it's no big deal to roll down your window because someone's a bully. I think bullying is a very big deal, and bullying by people with the kind of legally and socially privileged status that police have is especially egregious and socially destructive, indeed even (and all too often) deadly.

On that note, I've got to say I think media portrayals of cops are actually overwhelmingly and unrealistically positive, not the other way around. Multiple times a day, every day in the US, police armed to the teeth break down peaceful people's front doors, shoot their dog, and kidnap them to lock in a cage for owning a plant. I mean, come on. What more do you need? Police are dangerous bullies. It's inherent in what they do.

I feel a kind of deep burning shame and desperation when I watch interactions like the one in discussion between someone who is powerless and a bully. Even with the caveat that the cop messed up and should be punished, I can't cut him a little bit of slack and empathize that he's tired and overworked. I wouldn't cut a husband a little bit of slack and empathize that he's tired and overworked if he comes home from work and bullies his wife by snapping at her and bossing her around. I'd judge him pretty harshly in my mind.

And I'd say the power disparity between a normal person and a cop is much greater in society today than the power disparity between a woman and her husband. So the cop has to be held to an even higher standard of behavior. At least the wife can get up and leave the house if her husband bullies her and society won't judge her and she won't get in trouble with the law. The interaction is voluntary. If this kid had left the scene, things could have escalated even more. He was totally powerless. At the mercy of self-righteous brutes. It turns my stomach.

That said, the reason to be as deferential as possible to a cop is for your protection. Don't escalate a police encounter. Take off your sunglasses and hat, roll your window all the way down, say yes sir / no sir, don't get smart or sassy. Don't give a bully any reason to single you out for punishment. Just reinforce their feeling of power with some deference. I subscribe to the "Flex Your Rights" method for dealing with police that says you do have rights, but the time to flex them is not during a police encounter, but in court afterward if the cop encounter goes wrong despite your best efforts to keep it cool.

There's a great 38 minute video on this called 10 Rules For Dealing With Police: