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« Hands up, dont shoot | Main | A very short essay »


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Odd thing about this post is that I got pulled over the other night.

It was clearly a bullshit stop. The excuse the sheriff's deputy used was that I had a headlight out, which is something you can see every night you drive around here - we have no annual state inspection, so there's no real pressure to replace a dud headlight - but the real reason is that I was tired and driving cautiously which to these jokers probably meant "this guy's probably had a few, so let's stop him and see what we can find."

They went into full-on "Cops" mode; lit up the searchlight, came up on both sides of the vehicle...and suddenly realized that 1) I was a white guy wearing a safety vest 2) driving a pickup with a company logo on the side. They did the usual ID check just because otherwise it would have been WAY too obvious that is was a bullshit stop and then let me walk even though the insurance card I presented was expired (I had the current one in the key-pouch but had forgotten that was where it was).

I didn't get jacked around...other than 15 minutes of my life that I'll never get back. And I was very polite and cooperative, so there were no other consequences. But I drove away swearing a blue streak at the Washington County Sheriff's Department from the Sheriff himself to the lowest garage mechanic as a bunch of ticket-happy officious assholes.

So much for Officer Friendly.


Also Lance, these are cops who know that the number of guns being purchased and carried in this country has gotten to Crazyville. I have to think that is on their minds every time they leave for work. I do wish the cops in this country would take a stand with the NRA, which clearly cares not a whit for the safety of law enforcement officers in the face of the gun lobby and arms merchants who fuel the non-debate.


Well, this one hit me where I live.

I've never had a bad run-in with a American cop that I can remember -- I have a notoriously bad memory, and could have easily have forgotten one if I had it -- but, more importantly, my father's a cop. I love and respect him, grew up around the men he worked with; my best friend's father was a homicide detective, and he was like a second father to me. For crying out loud, one of the first picture-books I remember from early childhood was called "Policeman Dan" and explained how all policemen were your friends!

It's important to note that I, a white male, grew up effectively middle-class in a much nicer neighborhood than my parents' income reflected, and also I was pathologically shy as a kid. Even so, even on the one occasion where I had a serious brush with the law -- an idiotic incident of teenage shoplifting when I was seventeen -- the cops weren't even called. (One guess as to why THAT was.)

My gut reaction when dealing with police-related issues, while it's been evolving lately -- the militarization of police forces in the U.S. has been gnawing away at me for ages and ages now, since well before I moved away from the U.S. eight years ago -- is almost always a positive one. I tend to judge all cops by my father, who was... still is... a mild, quiet man who became a policeman because he genuinely wanted to help other people, and also to have a job where he worked outdoors and didn't have to sit inside doing paperwork. (Which he likes to say, given that he spent most of his nearly forty-five year career as a detective and sergeant-supervisor, shows how much he knew.)

My experience has been different since moving to Australia. (Why does Typepad's spellchecker think the misspelling 'experiance' ought to be spelled 'Spencerian'? That seems very random to me.) The Queensland State Police, who are responsible for policing all across this state, from the state capitol, Brisbane (where almost all the people who live in the state actually live) to the tiny towns and villages in the tropical far north or the desert-y deep west, are notorious for abuse of power, especially against the particularly powerless -- there seems to be a scandal about their treatment of people in general and Aboriginal Australian Queenslanders in particular several times a year here.

And I have had a run-in with them. It came at the end of a week-long stretch where my wife, my daughter, and myself had a terrible flu; my daughter had twin ear-infections, and was absolutely miserable and unable to sleep, and like any four year old (never mind an autistic one) was confused and very upset as to why her ears hurt and she felt so bad. Stress levels rose to record highs, and someone did something to annoy somebody -- I'm pretty sure I was to blame; I don't remember, but I can be a titanic pain in the ass when I'm sick -- and my wife and I ended up having a very, very loud shouting match. At five in the morning.

Well, one of our neighbors called the police. I guess I can't blame whoever it was; I have a very loud voice when I'm calm (I'm slightly deaf and usually can't tell at all what the volume I'm projecting is), and when I'm upset I tend to bellow, and my wife is not shy about yelling back. And the two policemen who responded were....

Look, I live in a rough neighborhood. You wouldn't think so on first glance because it's green and leafy and looks like an American dream of the 1950s (which is, in fact, when almost every house in this area was built, to house soldiers returning from WWII) but it is, and possibly that has something to do with the way those two men made as certain as they could that both my wife and I were as humiliated as possible before they went their merry way. I guess I'd just be vaguely irritated at my memory of the situation if it'd just been a case of them being snotty to me; I still feel guilty about yelling at my wife like that. But they browbeat her too, which -- if they really thought she was a victim of domestic violence -- is in my mind absolutely inexcusable.

I joke sometimes that I had to leave America to become a republican (as in, someone who believes Australia ought to be a republic, not a commonwealth with a queen) who hates Liberals (as in, members of the extremely conservative Liberal Party, which -- the columnist E.J. Dionne once wrote that it has that name exclusively to confuse Americans, and while the truth's a lot more complicated than that, it's a funny line). I lived in the U.S. from birth to the age of twenty-eight (all of those years in Oregon, mostly in the city of Portland but with time out for college in the small town of Ashland, where Southern Oregon University is located) and while I had a traffic ticket here and a parking ticket there, I was never treated with anything worse than bored disinterest by the policemen I interacted with.

Like Muhammad Ali said about Angelo Dundee, I have the right complexion and the right connections. American police don't tend to hassle middle-class white guys all that much, especially when they don't go out much and are scrupulously law-abiding (except, back then, when it came to the speed limit). Other folks, though... well, I suspect you'll be covering that further on in the series.

Falstaff I didn't realize how long that comment was until I saw it up. Apologies, mine host.


Campus cops are the worst? You got that right:

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