There’s this pattern that happens with abusive spouses. They often explain to their victims how to behave so they won’t get beaten up again. All the victim needs to do is give them proper respect, not burn their dinner, remember to leave out their slippers at the right place, never buy the wrong brand of toothpaste, never make them feel like they are being laughed at, never give them attitude or make them mad. And then, supposedly, they’ll be safe.
Of course, the abuser is not actually owed any of those things in the first place. And in any case, it’s always a lie. It’s a losing game. The abuse will continue, because periodic reminders of control are necessary and because the abuser will keep finding new things to add to the reasons they were “forced” to administer a beating.
This was one of the first things I thought of when I heard the details of the police portion of a recent “workshop” on police encounters that Albany youth were forced to attend as part of the city’s summer employment program.
Although the workshop was presented by a civil rights advocacy group, and also had lawyers there advising the kids to exercise their rights, what has been reported about the police portion of the event was completely stomach-turning.
From the Times-Union article by Paul Grondahl:
[Officer] Brice said if he pulled over a group of kids in a car, smelled marijuana and spotted in the ashtray a roach — the extinguished butt of a marijuana cigarette — the next few seconds and the attitude of the teens would influence the outcome of the police stop.
“If you are respectful and cooperate, I’m going to tell you to throw the roach away, wish you a good day and send your on your way,” Brice said.
“If you get all cocky and give me attitude, I am going to write you up for every possible ticket in the book,” Brice said. “And if you continue to argue and disobey my orders and fight, fight, fight, you could lose your life.”
This happened at the end of this week. This heartbreaking week. This week when it was shown unavoidably that even being respectful and following every order doesn’t prevent you from being murdered in cold blood in front of your partner and four-year-old daughter. This is the week that a police officer decides to tell a group of teenagers that if you take an attitude with him over some pot, he might kill you.
Make no mistake, that right there is a threat.
But then it gets worse:
In response, Officer Nicole Reddix, one of several police department members at the workshop, deadpanned: “Make it easier for us. We don’t want to deal with all that paperwork.”
Oh ha, ha. I bet Philando Castile’s family found your little joke very funny, officer. So did the family of Dontay Ivy. Ha ha, you don’t want to do the paperwork. You know that you’ll get no other consequences for killing someone, and you decided to remind the people you are mostly likely to kill that all that matters to you about whether they are alive or dead is some bothersome paperwork. Did you hear yourself?
For the people in the back row:
ATTITUDE IS NOT ILLEGAL.
EXERCISING YOUR RIGHTS IS NOT ILLEGAL.
POLICE ARE NOT JUDGE AND JURY.
POLICE MURDER IS NOT A JOKE.
Resisting arrest and fleeing may be illegal, but THEY ARE NOT CAPITAL CRIMES, and unless the person fleeing is running toward someone else trying to kill them, then killing them is not an acceptable tradeoff for keeping them from escaping. (File under: I can’t believe I have to say these things. [[Edited to add: Here’s a story on why police training means I have to say these things; and why it could be different.]])
Oh, and “enforce complete subservience” is not actually part of your job description. Not that we’d know it.
Meanwhile, pretending to a group of teens that there is a clear set of rules that will keep them safe while the list of things that gets you killed on the spot if you happen to be black gets longer and longer is just like that abusive spouse trying to shift blame on to the victim.
When parents give kids of color “the talk” about how to act around police officers, the advice might be roughly the same as what Officer Brice gave. But the context is different. The context, sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken, is “this is because police are too often unstable, unpredictable, violent, and racist, and we know it’s wrong and infuriating, but we want the best chance of getting you home alive.”
To have a representative of the police force giving the same advice as if this is how things should be is a totally different thing. A sickening thing. And definitely something that will escalate violence, not reduce it.