Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Police

A man got up during the prejudice forum I was a part of last year to ask a question . It was more like an emotionally charged statement directed at the forum and public alike. He asked the panel to comment on "the war the police declared against our black men".  A lot of people were offended by the wording, but I could see his point. Race, color, as well as other  characteristics of minorities are definitely prominent factors in a lot of these situations. While "war" is as I take it a figure of speech and a broad overstatement one could write a book or teach a class about potentially abusive behavior in police practice  that raise a lot of constitutional concerns. I remember studying a lot of cases like that in law school and they were not solemnly about race. Every time there was a minority with a potential of falling through the cracks because of their weaker position that exposed them to some kind of mistreatment it did. It's easy to fall through the cracks. Children, women, people with mental health problems all encountered some issues with the police, be it about their right to remain silent or right to counsel and in a lot of those cases courts sided with law enforcement in what felt like curving into Miranda and Massiah. One of the more interesting scenarios involved the police lying to the attorney that his client was in custody, using tricks to get a confession and arresting a woman for a non prisonable offense.

The feeling is that the police have a lot of power, and even my criminal practice professor fell victim to some racial profiling or greater interest from officers because of his skin color. Being different seems to put you at more And I can relate to some extent. When a couple of years ago I was waiting on a bus at night an officer came up, asked me for my ID and checked something on the radio. What was going through his mind I have no idea, I assume he might've thought I was in trouble. Insulting and presumptuous? Sure. But I prefer them being impolite than being affraid to ask, because one day someone might be in trouble. Last  year a police car stopped me on my way to my downtown apartment. "Do you live here"- they asked and when I said yes, they waited until I got on my sidewalk to the door and then drove away. I guess they thought I was homeless and couldn't wrap their minds around the concept that someone like me lives in such a nice neighborhood. I wasn't looking for cigarettes on the ground or going through trash, what was the point of stopping me? I might be oversensitive, although I really don't think so, but I'm not imagining things.  And I think a lot of those issues have to do with awareness and education but personal traits like consideration, sensitivity and kindness as well.

Then I got to think about the young man with  Cerebral Palsy who was pulled out of his chair during London riots. I'd like to think such a thing could never  have happened in Gainesville. But I remembered the scandal, the long months of press coverage and subsequent firings when a graduate student from Africa I  believe, ended up in a hospital in a severe condition after he came across local law enforcement. But what I think is this. You do need to be rough around the edges and have a certain type of personality to go into this profession. A lot of men in the service are my friends.  Would I say that all the people on the force are necessarily the most educated, open minded and kind?  Not really. But I also know that when harm happens we are not looking for somebody delicate, but someone to protect us. Someone who can be effective, catch the crook and bring justice. To an extent it comes at a price. I do believe that it's a trade off. I don't excuse abuse of power, but  I understand where the close calls come from. And when I'm stopped going home next time I'm less annoyed, because I may need help one day myself.                                                                                                                                      

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