United we fall…

Unless you’re living under a rock, and if you’re reading this I assume that’s not the case, you’re familiar with the United Airlines PR disaster from yesterday.

Long story short, United did what many airlines brazenly do, overbooked a flight, and as often happens, it bit them in the ass when everybody showed up. While cramming every single seat with a body into the tight confines of an airplane cabin is no problem, four United employees suddenly “had” to catch that particular flight to be somewhere as well, alas there were no empty seats for them to use. Their time was apparently more urgent than the probably hundred or so other passengers who also needed to be somewhere, passengers who paid for the honor of flying United, and so passengers were asked to give up their seats in exchange for airline vouchers and a hotel room.

Nobody wanted a voucher to fly later, so a good old fashioned stalemate ensued.

Now this here is the point where somebody with a brain in his or her head needed to come up with a solution before things went south in a hurry.

Here were the options, as I see them:

  1. United sweetens the deal until four people finally agree that they will trade their seats for the offer to do so, because everyone has a price, or
  2. United employees understand that the plane is full of paying passengers already and tells their four special little flyers that THEY have to wait and either fly on the next plane to Louisville, or utilize some means in United’s vast array of resources to get where they need to go, and
  3. DO NOT, under any circumstance, call the police to get involved in a non-criminal incident.

United decided to use some arbitrary system that apparently chose four passengers at random to be removed from the plane. As everyone on the planet outside of United employees can imagine, the four people chosen, who had just moments prior refused to volunteer to leave, were none too pleased to be told they were not allowed to fly on the flight they paid for already.

One couple chosen begrudgingly left the plane, but contestant number three, an Asian doctor, refused to budge. He claimed that he had patients to see the next day, and insisted that he was only chosen because he was Asian.

Ah, the race card…

I’m giving United the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t chosen because he was Asian, but either way, he had every right to be pissed off, and he was.

He was not leaving that plane……now what?

Again, United found itself in a potential pissing match with one of its customers and needed to make an intelligent decision to keep from upsetting all the people watching this go down.

How important were these four employees who needed to get to Louisville?

They were clearly more important than the paying customers, because instead of sweetening the deal to gain voluntary compliance, the police were called.

NO!!!!!!!

Again, how difficult would it have been to get four people to volunteer to leave that plane? I’d have done it for all the Bud Light Lime I could handle at an airport bar, a hotel room to crash for the night and enough cash to buy a slinger and coffee in the morning.

Surely, somebody on that plane could have been bought out of their seat, right?

We’ll never know what that price was, because instead of further bargaining, United drew a line in the sand and brought in the law. They told the law that the intractable doctor HAD to go.

I can assure you, as a police officer for nearly two decades, that people who don’t want to go somewhere and who feel strongly that they shouldn’t have to, are the absolute worst people in the world to deal with.

At least people who break the law and don’t want to go to jail know that they’ve broken the law, and while they may fight a little bit, at the end of the day, they know they’re wrong and have to go.

People who are sick, mentally especially, and who have to go to the hospital for their own safety, are a good example of folks who don’t feel as though they should be forced to go against their will, and will fight you HARD to keep from being removed against their will.

This doctor no doubt believed that he was within his rights to not be removed from this plane, even when told by a police officer that he had to go. That never works out well.

I can’t speak as to the law as it relates to airlines, and it’s possible that the doctor was in violation of some law by not leaving, but either way, there was no hurry that required grabbing this man and dragging him off of a plane.

There was another way to handle this.

There had to be.

Instead, the good doctor remained stubborn and was dragged literally, off of the plane.

It was third world country looking bullshit, and was 100% avoidable.

To his credit, the doctor wasn’t fighting, he was simply being passive aggressive/non-compliant – pouty even. His recourse was to leave and take it up with a grievance or complaint, but the reality is that his complaints would have fallen on deaf ears.

I am completely of the mind that this doctor’s time was no more valuable than a teacher’s who needed to get to a classroom the next day, or a grandma, who wanted to see her out of town grandchildren the next day. His occupation is irrelevant to me.

Passengers, such as this woman below on the right, were understandably appalled.

plane_face

Do you know what though?

Nobody on that plane was appalled enough to say, “Wait, wait, officers. Here, just let this man have my seat. I’ll give my seat up to end this madness.”

Nope.

Everybody either sat there in silence thanking God it wasn’t their name drawn randomly, or videoed this ordeal on their phones completely oblivious to any thought of doing something to make this matter right.

After the madness, the four United employees took seats that we can only assume they felt entitled to, and had an uncomfortable flight amid incredulous passengers.

This whole clusterfuck was United’s fault, but we’ve let this become our norm.

Massive corporations know that they will make their money due to the quantity of available customers, so they have very little incentive to get to know their customers’ needs and cater to them.

There are a limited number of airlines, so United doesn’t care that you don’t like them today. There are enough people out there who will still fly United.

You see this same treatment by the giant cable/internet companies. Customer service is a perfunctory act where you complain and gripe and the rep on the other end of the line, “Steve” from New Delhi makes a jerking off motion while telling you that $189 a month is the best he can do for you.

It’s ridiculous, but we’ve allowed it to happen.

We’ve also allowed our police officers to be the go to for everything in society that needs fixing, whether it’s criminal or not.

That also must stop.

We “joke” with the recruits that they can expect to play many roles once they hit the streets. They’ll be asked to do the job of a police officer, teacher, doctor, social worker, therapist, psychologist, animal catcher, fire fighter, mechanic and on and on.

We joke about it, but at the end of the day, it’s not funny.

We’re paid, and more importantly, trained, to be police officers. We catch law violators and participate in programs that hopefully prevent future violations.

The problem on that plane is that had the officers simply said, “Look, you guys have a civil matter here. Call us back when a crime has been committed. Bye,” they’d have been in trouble just as they’ll find themselves in trouble now for using what looks like unnecessary force.

They were put in a no-win situation.

Police officers can’t be arbitrators for all of society’s problems.

We can’t be the strong arm of corporations or people with power to get recalcitrant people to obey a contract or some societal expectation that isn’t a criminal law violation.

That’s how we as police officers become associated with what’s wrong in society and we lose the public’s trust.

 

Posted in Police, The not meant to be funny stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 21 Comments

Dear Trent & Tyson (Daddy is a Hero),

This gallery contains 9 photos.

Originally posted on The Pleasant Farm:
? Dear Trent & Tyson (Daddy is a Hero), Whoa.? To say the last two days have been a whirlwind would be a ginormous understatement.? I don’t know how much you can understand at…

Gallery | 1 Comment

Post ferguson lessons still not learned…

I was cleaning out my drafts folder a little bit when I came across this post. I was asked by CNN to write a post for them a couple of years ago, I think during the Fersuson rioting, and either I never sent it to them or, more likely, I did and they didn’t use it. Either way, it’s pretty clear that my hope here for things to get better not only between the police and citizens, but among all citizens, is not only not happening , but are unbelievably, getting worse.

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I’ve not intentionally sat down to watch more than five or ten minutes of news coverage about Ferguson since Michael Brown was shot.

He was laid to rest on Monday, and I didn’t watch that either.

What little I have seen has come from social media or other readable sources. I just can’t bear to watch people with agendas, people who will never accept that their opinion isn’t 100% correct, feuding with other people who have agendas and will never accept that their opposing opinion isn’t also 100% correct.

If you’re reading this, then it was published, which means I guess I have an agenda as well, but I promise I’m at least open to hearing every side of an issue. My agenda, as it were, is for peace. It’s for simple things like being able to drive a patrol car down a city street and exchange a wave or a pleasant smile, instead of angry glares, with people I’ve sworn to serve and protect.

How do we do that? How do we get to that point?

Let’s start by learning something from the events in Ferguson. We’re all eager to get over the ugliness of the past three weeks, but shame on us, if we don’t take away some lessons from the mess. Ferguson is about much more than Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. It’s a culmination of things that have been simmering for a long time. What finally boiled over in violence in Ferguson isn’t about a single incident or even a few incidents, it’s about decades of things not getting better for the poorest in America, while things continue to improve for the wealthiest.

It’s about how many black people, especially parents, feel they or their children are perceived and treated by the police. Their beliefs can’t be marginalized or ignored as unrooted in reality hysteria. Too many people have similar stories for that to be the case, people of color from all walks of life. 

It’s about whether or not the militarization of police in this country is necessary, or even real. It’s about the hundreds of thousands of honorable police officers in the United States who do a difficult job with honor and integrity and pride, those who never make the news for the hundreds of thousands of calls they handle each year that end without an ugly incident. It’s about people losing friends on social media or at work because they can’t agree to disagree when the issue has any tint of race involved. It’s about blacks and whites and Democrats and Republicans and Liberals and Conservatives and us and them.

It’s about you and it’s about me.

It’s about our kids.

It’s about all of us.

We as Americans need to learn from this horrible incident and make positive changes to help us not only to heal, but to move forward as a nation of civilized human beings.

What can we learn? Let’s start with these discussion points.

1. The police are here to stay. Law enforcement isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Like us or not, we serve an important role in society. Go to any neighborhood meeting in any large city in America, and safety is somewhere on the agenda.

Law abiding citizens have a right to know what the police are doing and to have a say in how we go about doing it. The police, in turn, have a right to expect support from the law abiding citizens in their community, and to be equipped with tools sufficient enough to go about doing a very dangerous job so that we can go home safely at the end of every shift.

The police have big guns because the bad guys have big guns. Take care of the latter issue and we’ll listen to your complaints about what we have in our arsenal. I have access to a 9 mm Beretta pistol, and either a shotgun or 9 mm carbine rifle, depending on which car I’m in on any given day. The rifle is rarely ever taken from the car by most officers. The high octane equipment everyone is up in arms about (pun intended) is used by specialized units and for special circumstances only. They are an unfortunate necessity in a terribly violent world.

2. Race is an issue. When I see a person standing on a street corner, of course I notice whether or not they’re black or white, just as I notice whether or not they are a man or a woman. Police officers are trained to notice these sorts of things and make decisions based on these observations. Where I patrol, over 90%, maybe more, of the population is black. In the district where I patrol, we do have many black officers, but it’s not 90%. The racial make up of the police officers in any given district isn’t a perfect representation of the area they serve. Just as I notice the color of the person I’m dealing with, citizens are equally aware and interested in the race of the officer who they’re encountering as well.

If citizens, both black and white, aren’t trusting police officers based solely on their skin color, then the problem is not one of police versus society that we as a police department can fix, it’s a problem of whites and blacks in general, and how we’re not doing a good enough job of getting to understand one another.

I like to think I’m an okay police officer, and I can be a lot of things as an officer. I can be fair, calm, empathetic, polite, concerned, brave, strong, whatever you as a citizen need, but I can’t be black.

I just can’t. I can’t be black or gay or a woman or Muslim or any of the myriad things that some people want in a police officer standing in front of them at any given time. We aren’t Burger King, so you can’t have it your way, unfortunately. You get the officer we send, there are generally no substitutions.

If certain citizens in black communities want all black officers, regardless of talent, then I can’t be that officer for you. I work for a department that does have a large number of minority officers, so we’re blessed in that respect. I understand the desire for the department in Ferguson to more closely mirror the demographics of the entire community. Officers from the communities they serve are bound to be better in tune with the people they protect, but there’s something wrong with a person who would take a rude officer who shared their skin color over a truly eager to help officer with a different complexion than theirs. That works both ways, as many white citizens I’ve encountered over the years have expressed disgust at having black officers show up to their calls in the past.

3. The police aren’t the root of the problem. Police officers have become and unfair symbol of all that is wrong in society. It’s easy to blame the police for a lot of the ills in society, because we’re the ones on the streets dealing with the people first hand. A lot of the laws passed by city, state and federal leaders are, quite frankly, stupid, for lack of a better word. Even so, it’s the police officers who have to go out and enforce those laws whether we agree with them or not, because the folks we elect are supposedly passing laws based on the good of the people. The police are also not to blame for teenage pregnancy, rampant drug abuse, divorce, high unemployment rates, kids dropping out of school, terrible public school systems educating those who don’t dropout, or most of the other issues that cause the poor to stay poor while allowing the rich to get richer. 

It’s not my opinion when I say that black men are responsible for most of the crime in my patrol area. That’s just fact. It’s also a fact that most of the victims, the people who are calling us for help, are also black. Why are these men committing crimes? What can we do to fix that? I am not a fan of putting drug addicts in prison where they’ll never get the help they need to fix themselves. I’m also not a fan of the robbing, killing and everything else that comes along with the drug problem in this country. Those crimes must be punished. How do we balance this? This is a conversation the police should be a part of, but we can’t be expected to fix crime when society isn’t offering alternatives for these young people to turn to instead. Rec centers where kids can play basketball and hangout aren’t the answer. Education, learning a trade, fair practices in hiring, housing etc. are the answer. 

4. The police can do a better job to earn trust and respect. I’m not a police homer. I will be the first one to acknowledge when we’ve dropped the ball on something. Police officers are notoriously pessimistic and resistant to change. We see the writing on the wall about having to wear body cameras at some point in our careers. It’s going to happen and we will adjust. Video evidence doesn’t have to be a negative concept. It can often help to exonerate officers who are wrongly accused and even moreso, they can help illustrate just how crazy people can really behave, even in front of a police officer. There are stories that police officers have that are simply unbelievable, and are hard to believe, but for seeing with one’s own eyes. 

If you’re an officer, or really any person out in public nowadays, you should behave under the assumption that somebody is filming you, because they probably are. 

5. We are here to help you. I’ve yet to meet a police officer who has said they’ve taken the job because they hate people and want to make as many people miserable as possible. Are these type of people out there? I’m guessing yes, but overall, most officers are good men and women. We don’t live as officers 24 hours a day. When I take off my badge and gun, I coach my kids’ soccer and baseball teams, I hang out with my neighbors and family, I have to cut the grass and get my oil changed and help with homework, and do all of the daily chores that you and your loved ones do. 

Part of the public relations problem we suffer as police officers is that officers aren’t always able to meet people at their best. We so often deal with people who are either committing crimes or are angry, hurting victims of crimes or accidents, that we forget that there are millions of people in this country who live their lives everyday without giving the police a second thought unless something happens. 

We need to get in touch with those folks again. 

These are the people who run small businesses or who are outside watering their lawns on the weekends. How do we get officers to be able to interact with these people again? My department, just as an example, emphasizes getting to calls as quickly as possible over sending the best officer to a particular call. The best officer to send, is the officer who patrols the area where the 911 call is coming from, but if that officer is not available, then we send a nearby officer, even though that call can safely be held until the area officer returns and is available. 

If officers are tasked with patrolling a certain area and taking ownership of what goes on there, then crime outcomes will matter to that officer more than they do otherwise. Officers getting to know the people who live and work in his or her area are officers who will care for these people and do what they can to help them. Departments can do a better job of this. We used to call it beat integrity, and that we’ve lost that concept is a shame.

The problems faced by society are myriad, not just police and crime related. Solutions to issues of race, community, crime, employment, etc. can only be addressed by cooperation among all members of society. When the dust has settled here in Missouri, and the pundits and news vans and blow-hards have left, my hope is that what’s left is different. That what’s left is hope for a better future and a commitment from all of us to do what it takes to make that happen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Probably not even kraft singles…and shame.

Imagine a thirteen year old girl standing in a crowded lunch line at her middle school; she’s holding a tray of hot food in her hands. She is not an unpopular kid, but isn’t what passes for “popular” in the middle school hierarchy either. She’s a perfectly content to get by unnoticed straight A student.

In between glances at her French Dip sandwich and the open spot at the table across the cafeteria that she hopes stays open so she doesn’t have to sit alone or worse, find a seat with kids she doesn’t know very well, she’s thinking about how good her tater tots with ketchup are going to taste. She’s pleased because her sandwich has lots of pickles on it just as she likes and looks bigger than many of the other kids’ sandwiches. She got a lucky draw this time.

While shuffling closer and closer to the cash register, a boy much larger than she is suddenly takes the tray of food from her hands and tells her that there are no more French Dip sandwiches left, so he’s taking hers since it looks the biggest.

Momentarily stunned out of her sandwich and tater tot induced trance, the girl sees that her lunch has been taken by Cliff Jenks, every coach’s favorite athlete, but known as a bully to the kids who couldn’t care less about middle school athletics.

Cliff walks off triumphantly, while the young girl is left in line dejected, hurt that she was the center of attention in a crowded middle school lunch line, and now also faintly aware that her stomach is growling at her, seemingly aware that the French Dip sandwich it had craved just seconds before was now a pipe dream, never to be on this day.

The girl watches, incredulously, as Cliff is walking away towards the seating area when he suddenly says, “Gross, this sandwich has pickles on it!” He turns far enough around to make eye contact with the girl before smirking at her and tossing the rest of the sandwich into a nearby trash can. He took one bite and was done.

Several kids laugh out loud, while many others look away from the girl, uncomfortable with what they just saw but unable to find the right words to make everything “normal” in the lunch line again. Awkwardness among middle-schoolers is palpable.

The girl leaves the lunch serving area empty handed, thankful that the spot near her friends is still open at least. One of her friends has just enough change for the girl to get a bag of chips, and for that she is grateful. She eats her chips for lunch, all the while thinking about how good that hot sandwich would have tasted, and acutely aware, at least in her mind she believes it to be so, that every set of eyes in the cafeteria is watching her eat her chips.

She suddenly can’t wait to be in Spanish class.

Some of you, hopefully, have at least some sympathy for this young lady, right?

Now imagine the same girl in the same scenario, but replace Cliff the bully with the school’s lunch lady.

The girl who was so looking forward to her sandwich approaches the checkout and is suddenly told, “Your account is $2.20 overdrawn. You can’t have a hot school lunch today.”

The lunch lady then grabs the tray full of food from the girl, right in front of all her classmates, and tells her that she is welcome to have a cold American cheese sandwich instead. A cold cheese sandwich and a milk. The girl looks around and is uncomfortable because now she’s holding up the line, and all eyes are on her. Her body doesn’t handle dairy very well, so she declines the generous offer and joins her friends at the far away table, without any food and hungrier now than when she walked into the line.

She’s embarrassed to be today’s “cheese sandwich” kid.

Creating “cheese sandwich kids” is the “unwritten” policy of the middle school where my daughter goes to school. Public schools are subject to open record requests, so there’s a reason this policy is “unwritten” and can’t be found on the school’s website or handbook.

Because it’s asinine and the staff has to know it shames some kids.

All the kids know what’s going on and when they see another child being given a cheese sandwich and milk by the cafeteria staff.

You can almost hear the whispers from the line…

Do you think her family is poor?

I heard her dad lost his job.

I bet his parents are getting divorced.

I heard they live in a trailer park.

For God’s sake, people, why are we allowing our kids to be embarrassed in front of their peers by adults we trust to care for them all day?

This very same thing happens ALL THE TIME.

Is this a big deal in the great scheme of things?

No, probably not.

It’s not easy to manage funds and make sure all the kids and parents are happy, but whatever the proper way to make sure a school district doesn’t lose money, and that all kids are nourished, should not include embarrassing a child in front of their peers. Not by adults, and not at this age, where kids are so fragile mentally, especially about social aspects of their lives.

When my wife first brought this incident up to me, I really didn’t think anything of it, because it was absolutely our fault that money wasn’t in the account. My kids are well fed at home, so I don’t expect the school to feed them for free when they’re at school.

But when Ace described the way it happened, it was clear that the whole ordeal shook her up at least a little bit, and that got me wound up. The account was literally $2.20 overdrawn. If it can be $2.20 overdrawn, then it can surely be twice that or ten or even one hundred times overdrawn before a child has food taken from her hands and tossed into a trash can right in front of her face.

That’s silly and certainly not fiscally responsible in the least bit.

I’ve asked for an explanation from the school, and have had to even bring in the school district’s superintendent at this point, because I’ve yet to be satisfied that anybody truly cares about this issue.

The district has responded in typical bureaucratic fashion with vague promises to make sure this doesn’t happen again, but has said nothing as to how they are going make that so.

The principal finally talked to my daughter but never asked her what happened or how it made her feel. She told Ace that she looked pretty and that she should tell an adult, if this ever happens again. She also promised that she would buy her lunch, if she’s around and there’s no money in our account.

Sigh….

I appreciate that a woman who makes well over $120,000 a year is offering to buy my daughter’s $3.00  lunch next time we forget to fill her lunch account, but this completely misses the point of my disgust.

I’m upset because adults embarrassed my daughter in front of her peers about finances, a part of our family that she has zero control over. I’m upset because if it happened to Ace, then it happens to other kids too, some of whom are no doubt much more fragile emotionally than my own tough daughter, and she did get upset.

Whether or not there’s money in the account is nobody’s business outside of the parties involved in the transaction, i.e. in our case, the school district and Mr. and Mrs. Donofalltrades.

Nobody else, especially the kids should be brought into the matter, and no child should ever be shamed for the stupidity of their parents.

Ever. Especially at school, where they need to feel safe.

Have you had or heard of similar situations like ours? Am I overreacting?

Do please comment.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

The little picture…

It’s often a good thing for people to be able to see or understand the “big picture,” when it comes to certain things.

There’s a saying for when a person is so focused on the minutia of something, that they forget or simply lose focus on the big picture, the end product that they desire.

It’s said that these folks can’t see the forest for the trees.

In being so focused on the minor details, the trees, they miss out on the greater sum of what those trees are a part of, the end result, or the forest.

If you went to a baseball game and just focused on the third baseman, without looking at anything else but him, you’d potentially miss out on a really good game.

Every now and then though, you would catch something that others would likely miss, something that the third baseman is doing or did that you wouldn’t notice, if you were paying attention to the pitcher throwing a pitch, or the flight of the ball after it leaves the bat.

There are times when looking away from the big picture might be helpful. It might even change your view on what you think about that big picture.

Sometimes, the little pictures offer much more than the big picture ever could.

I believe that some of why this blog is somewhat entertaining to some people, is because I’ve offered people a glimpse at the little picture that can’t be had from reading a newspaper account of a bigger picture incident.

When I wrote about a person who was shot in North City, and then months later, about another person who was shot, the posts got a lot of looks.

They got a lot of shares.

They weren’t popular because the big picture was outlandish, no. The big picture in these stories were that two people were shot on public streets in St. Louis City. One died and another survived.

Neither incident is unique. They are not unique worldwide and sadly, they are not unique locally.

People are shot every week in St. Louis, if not every day.

People die weekly here as a result of the violence we accept as normal in this sometimes depraved society of ours.

No, these posts weren’t popular because they were outlandish stories about something we seldom read about, rather, I believe that they were popular because they both showed readers the little picture.

The little pictures I showed you revealed that one victim was a mother. Her three young babies were in the car, mere feet away from her when she was suddenly shot as she pumped gas into her car.

The little picture showed the kindness of strangers, a man who tended to this woman, a stranger to him, as she lay dying on the parking lot. The kindness of the people in the store, who wanted to give things to the kids to keep them distracted, to keep them calm. It showed there was tension at first when I walked into that store, tension that only eased when I said I wanted to get something for the kids.

This shooting was a couple of weeks after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson. Friction between the police and people in this area was palpable, to say the least.

Still, helping kids in a crisis is something we could all agree on, if only for a moment.

The little picture.

The victim in the second shooting was a little boy. A boy not unlike any other six year old boy.

A boy not unlike my own then six year old boy.

The news can tell you this. Media accounts told the boy’s age and that he was shot while he was riding in his family’s van. The family was at the park, enjoying a pleasant spring day. That’s all part of the big picture, the homicide.

The news can share some of the little picture, but, through no fault of their own, they can’t give you as much as people who were there.

Part of the little picture included my feelings as these events unfolded.

I’m aware that such an inside seat to a police officer’s mind is unusual.

I’m beyond the point in my life where I care what strangers think about me, so I’m comfortable speaking my mind or sharing my emotions.

It’s the emotion that’s often missing from the big picture. There is no feeling in generalizing.

The big picture doesn’t have to be gun violence.

The big picture might be immigration policy.

It might be a headline such as “Most Muslims Banned from the U.S.”

Many people can live with “Most Muslims Banned from the U.S.”

Many people couldn’t live with particular Muslims being banned from the U.S. though, if they knew the stories behind the people.

The little picture might include a Muslim soldier who served with our Army and can’t safely live in his native country now, or a five year old who lost his family to a bomb, through no fault of his own, or a father, who was so desperate to make a better life for his family, that he risked all of their lives spending days on a raft, adrift in an ocean, leaving behind his own home country because it’s simply unsafe.

Death is a very real outcome for many of these people.

Leaving their homeland is a no-brainer.

Their “little picture” stories need to be read. Their voices need to be heard, by somebody.

Big picture policies affect real people, just like bullets do.

Focusing on the big picture, something like national security, is fine, but the little pictures are important too.

The little pictures need to be taken into account before drastic changes are made.

Sometimes the littlest of pictures are in fact, the most important considerations of all.

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Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

A police academy graduation speech…

Well, the thirty week journey for recruit class 2016-02 is over.

They woke up this morning as police officers, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

St. Louis is twenty-six really good people stronger on the police force today and I was proud to be their class supervisor.

One of the tasks as the class supervisor is to say a few words on behalf of the Academy to the class and their guests.

There was a full house last night, and I knew there would be. Good people come from other good people, and they all showed up to support their friends and loved ones, so I was admittedly a little bit nervous.

At the end of the day, I’m a cop, not a politician or professor, so public speaking isn’t exactly my thing.

Still, I think it went okay and below is the speech I gave.

I’m sharing this because exactly one person has requested to see it, and that’s good enough for me.

Thank you for reading.

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Thank you, Mr. Gray, and thank you Mayor Slay, Chief Dotson, all the special guests on stage and especially all of the officers, command rank and otherwise, who are here tonight, showing support for our newest officers, the graduates of recruit class 2016-02.

When I woke up this morning at 5:30 AM, I thought to myself, I bet those recruits are the happiest 26 people in the world right now.

I really did think that.

But then, two minutes later, at 5:32 AM, my 2 little guys stormed down the stairs together and started running laps around the kitchen in their Underoos, with their arms in the air, yelling and screaming “snow day snow day!” and I knew that I was wrong.

You guys were not the happiest 26 people in the world this morning…

Still, I know you guys had to wake up very happy to have reached this point, and I am truly happy for you.

We all are, everyone here tonight…

I’ve spent 30 weeks with you guys, which I know, for most of you, was 29 and a half weeks more than you wanted, but you endured, and you made it.

Hot dog, right?

You guys did it and I’m proud of each one of you.

On June 13th of last year, 39 young men and women walked through the front door of the police academy hoping to be where you are right now.

They all hoped to be police officers.

For those paying attention, yes, we lost some people along the way. 13 of the people who walked through that Police Academy door with these officers almost 7 months ago, are not here to become police officers tonight.

They aren’t here for various reasons, but at the end of the day, we lost them because the academy is not easy.

And the academy is not easy because the job that it prepares people to do, this calling really, it isn’t easy either, and it isn’t for everyone.

Being a police officer is a lot of things. It can be exhilarating at times, and man, if you do this job right, it will bring you rewards that you can’t get doing any other job.

Those rewards won’t be found in your bank account though, no, don’t count on that, but you’ll know when you’ve been rewarded, because you’ll feel it, right here (touch heart).

Right here.

You may feel it after a stranger in a restaurant buys you lunch anonymously,

You may feel it because an old woman stops you in the parking lot of a truck stop and asks you if you will pray with her, and you do and you are moved when she holds your hand in hers and prays for your safety and your courage and that you will be fair and use good judgement.

It could be from the smile of a small child you see as he’s pointing right at you and telling his mom, excitedly, “look mommy,” a police officer or maybe you’ll feel rewarded after a simple thank you from a victim or even a suspect, who appreciates that you’ve done nothing more for them than treated him or her with some respect.

Your reward could stem from any number of seemingly small gestures that you will experience or witness, that always seem to come right when you need them the most. These little things and the people who do them, will drive you and they make this job so worth it.

The job can also be fun. It really is. If you get out there and you’re not having fun, then you’re doing this job wrong. If this is your calling, then it’s addicting almost. You’ll meet so many people and make so many friends both on the department and in the community, that you’ll lose track, but even so, in spite of the fun you will have, and the satisfaction and the rewards that you will get from doing it, this job is still dangerous.

The job is a lot of things, but easy isn’t one of them.

It isn’t easy for a lot of reasons, and you’ll learn those reasons for yourself along the way.

This job, your job now, is taxing. It can wear on you, if you let it. It’ll tax your mind and your heart and sometimes… it taxes your soul.

It’s taxing on your families and close friends too. Accept that these people here tonight will worry about you, that’s what family members do.

Let them.

Accept it and appreciate it.

I’m 43 years old and my phone still rings whenever an officer, St. Louis City or otherwise, is injured or killed within 100 miles of this city.
It’s always mom and then the wife, or the wife and then mom. I’m grateful for both of them, even when the calls are at the worst possible times.

You’ll get those calls and sometimes you can’t answer right away. When you have a chance, let them know you’re safe. They’ll keep worrying otherwise. They deserve that much.

Hey, It takes a special person to do what you’re about to do.

A special person who is maybe just a little bit deranged. Maybe we’re all just a little bit off in the head, but our hearts are in the right place.

You’ve heard this already, but it can’t be overstated so that you will remember…. You will run across people when they are having bad moments, but bad moments don’t make all of them bad people.

We are appreciated by most of the people in the community. We really are and I hope you recognize that.

There are people in every one of the City’s neighborhoods who want you out there.

They need you out there.

Your efforts at work will make a difference, no matter how small, every single shift. You do your job correctly and you will matter to someone. I promise you that.

So when you get out on those streets come tomorrow, or Monday, or whenever, just do what you’ve done for 30 weeks. Work hard, do the right thing, and ask for help, if you’re not sure what to do. Most other officers will bend over backwards to help you. Call me, if you need to. Do these things and each one of you will succeed.  You will make us all proud.


Among a few other awesome things, the class got me a mug, pictured below, that reads, “2016-02” which is their class title, and “meh” underneath it. I’m laughing right now just reading it. While I may have thought, “meh” at the beginning of their time in the Academy, I assure you all that I am truly proud of what the Academy is putting out on the streets today.img_0610

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Blur those party lines for a bit…

The whole election process has been fascinating to me.

Here’s a little secret that I have….

I don’t vote.

I guess it’s not a secret, since all my friends and family and now you know it.
I have never voted in my life, and although I’m ostracized by family and friends for my apathy towards the whole process, I don’t feel like I need to apologize for it.

My Facebook feed is almost perfectly symmetrical with Democrats on one side, and Republicans on the other. I mean it’s nearly an exact 50/50 split.

I knew who was voting for Hillary because that’s all my Democrat friends talked about for months. While my right leaning friends were quiet, the left gloated about how wonderful it will be to vote for a woman president, in spite of her flaws. They ignored her improprieties, even though most were committed in her role as a politician, and pointed out all of Trump’s faults, of which there are many.

My Democrat friends railed on Trump and called his supporters morons, ignoramuses, buffoons and of course, “Deplorables.” These are the people who are supposed to be more socially accepting of others, mind you.
The Deplorables showed up to the polls to take their country back, whatever that means.
Deplorables alone though weren’t going to win the day for Trump. Just like President Obama needed support from many white voters, which he got, Trump needed support from people who don’t live in trailer parks and fly Confederate flags. He needed support from otherwise good people, and he got it.
The fact is that the other half, my other friends, are certainly not “deplorables” or ignoramuses or bigots. 

To many Democrats, a vote for Trump was a vote for bigotry and misogyny and all the other isms that get tossed around.

The truth is that these Trump voting friends of mine are farmers and war veterans and police officers and firefighters and other people who have done more than their fair share to make this country great.

Donald Trump is a buffoon, yes. Listening to him talk will be painful for the next four years, yes. But to assume he was voted in exclusively by backwoods KKK members is misguided. Who do you think pushed Obama into office? If you ask the backwoods KKK members, they will tell you that it was inner city criminals who did so, and that’s just not true either. Many middle of the road people voted for both men.

People have ideals that they hold dear, and don’t have much say in who will represent those ideals in Washington. They have to pick what they can.
There are people who want the best person for the job in office, so they vote based on things other than simply whether or not there’s a (D) or (R) next to the candidate’s name. The working class people of America decide who wins.

President Obama did about as good a job as he could have done for eight years. Many Christian whites thought he was the anti-Christ, and that he was going to ruin their lives. In spite of this, he accomplished much of what he set out to do, in the face of much stone-walling.
He most certainly did nothing of the sort with respect to ruining anybody’s lives. I would love to have a beer with Obama one day. He strikes me as an entertaining person to be around.

But, he was a politician, and people are simply tired of politicians. To believe that four more years of Hillary would be anything but four more years of the status quo was not an unreasonable belief.

Many people who support law and order and have strong feelings about what Republicans hold dear voted for a Republican because it was important to them, in spite of the candidate.

People of all races and economic statuses have grown tired of violence and rioting and supporting criminals over law enforcement. Intelligent people didn’t have to like their choice to understand that the next couple of Supreme Court justices could drastically change immigration, law enforcement, abortion and other areas of society that many people are passionate about.
 
I was as shocked as anybody to see Trump win, but now that he has, we’re stuck with it for four years. He hasn’t made a single bad decision as President yet, so give the man a chance. Maybe he’ll surround himself with good people and let them get done what needs to get done to move this country in a better direction.

Or, maybe he’ll set us back five decades socially too, I don’t know. 

To the “winners,” I pray you don’t gloat and become all high and mighty because your candidate won. On the “losing” side, there is legitimate concern among people you know and may care about as to their rights. 
Gay men and women are legitimately nervous…no, scared shitless, that their ability to marry and raise kids could be curtailed or outright outlawed. They may not be able to make simple purchases because of their sexual orientation.
THAT IS A LEGITIMATE WORRY!
Women who may become pregnant are legitimately worried that they may be forced to carry an unwanted child to term.
THAT IS A LEGITIMATE WORRY!
Technically illegal immigrants who have been in this country for years, even decades, are scared that they will be deported to a land they are unfamiliar with, even though they are working and making a living here in the United States. Many have kids who were born here and are people who appreciate this country more than “real” U.S. citizens.
THAT IS A LEGITIMATE WORRY!
 
Trump purports to support law enforcement. Obviously, that is something I can get behind.

I am law enforcement, and I look forward to seeing what he intends to do to help my profession.

At the same time, I support the Constitution and I am a compassionate human being.

I’m as tired as many people of the violence and rioting and war on police that is happening in our country. We need to do better to address these issues, but we cannot ignore what progress has been made in the past few years since Ferguson.
The concerns of minorities are real, and so are the concerns of law enforcement. There has to be an understanding that criminal conduct won’t be tolerated, with the caveat being that everyone will be dealt with equally, with no regard for a suspect’s race or gender or wealth.
Good luck with all that.
I’m told that since I didn’t vote, I don’t get to complain, which is fine. I have kids and a miniscule bank account and numerous chores around the house to get done, so I don’t need politics to find something to complain about.
I don’t want to complain, and I don’t want to read the complaints of other people.
I have unfriended zero people as a result of this election, and I don’t plan to start now. My  hope is that both sides can see past their differences and understand that you are the same in a lot of respects too.
When both sides aren’t posting political  opinions, they are posting other clues about who they are. On both sides, I notice that my friends, Democrats and Republicans alike, are parents and sons and daughters and employees and are genuinely good people. You both post pictures of your kids playing sports and going to the zoo and doing fun things. Both sides worry about money and wonder why gas prices fluctuate so much. You both root for your respective professional sports teams and bash the rivals. You all have cats and dogs and so many other similarities that it’s really asinine to focus on your differences all the time.
Don’t let politics ruin friendships. Friends who do that are as bad as parents who abandon their kids because they are gay. Hate and racism and sexism aren’t politics though. If this election for you was about making America “white” again, then shame on you, because that’s sick. Truly great will include all races. Contrarily, don’t confuse a person’s pro-Trump stance as being anti black or gay or women. While Trump himself may be all these things, there are many issues that people support, and always have. That he was their only choice in standing up for those beliefs isn’t their fault.
Let’s focus on our similarities for a change, and maybe, if we’re lucky, we can indeed make America great for EVERYBODY again.
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That cop who died today…

My coworker walked into my office and I told him, only half jokingly, that if one more person pissed me off this morning, I was probably going to snap.

Some of the recruits had been pushing my buttons with their repeated mistakes and lack of attention to detail.

I was in a foul mood.

“You’re not going to like this then,” he continued.

“The cop shot this morning died.”

Just like it has for eighteen years now, those words hit me like an unexpected punch in the gut.

I knew about the shooting, but assumed or hoped that he would be okay.

Surely he’d recover with time, just like many other people who get shot do.

Nope.

Another police officer is dead.

A young man with a lot of life ahead of him is dead.

A young father is dead.

A young wife is a widow. She may spend days or weeks or months hoping it’s not true and that her young husband will be home soon.

A two year old will never toddle into his biological dad’s arms again or ever draw pictures of a police man and hand it to his daddy with pride.

“The cop shot this morning died.”

How many times can one hear those or similar words and still go on working as a police officer in spite of it?

Shortly after I heard the news, my own wife texted an emoji to my phone. It was the one where the face is blowing a heart shaped kiss.

Without words, I knew she knew, and that she was thinking about me. She was concerned for me and for her own kids.

We don’t have time for cops to be killed right now. We already have to rearrange our lives to accommodate the circus that is the second presidential debate in St. Louis, and now we have to prepare to bury a fellow officer.

Either event alone is difficult; their simultaneous occurrence is a mess.

Still, we will do it.

We will take care of these events because we must. Somebody has to.

County officers will work the debate alongside us City officers.

We will stand tall with black mourning bands on our badges, thinking about our lost comrade and our own determination to continue on with this fucking job. We will do it right in the face of people who hate Trump or Hillary or cops or just everything in general and who will take that hate out on the front line officers.

We’re easy targets.

We’re easy scapegoats for a system that many people don’t trust or like or respect anymore.

Hate that your taxes are too high?

Hate email scandals?

Hate billionaires who are going to build walls and deport immigrants?

Take it out on the police officers.

You’ll never get close enough to the people who truly cause your life misery, but we’re right here.

Spit in our faces.

Call our black officers vulgar, disgusting names.

Tell female officers you want to meet them off-duty and rape them.

Tell us you want us dead or that you’ll find us and do harm to our families.

This is what officers have to listen to during protests. Every time.

Pretend that we don’t hate email scandals or corrupt billionaires or have to pay taxes or face the same problems as every other schmuck does once we get home from work.

Pretend we’re not unique individuals who share your concerns and hopes for a better future.

We’ll be there for you anyway.

We’ll have our days off cancelled and our shifts lengthened so that everybody can enjoy their debate related shenanigans.

We do it so you can enjoy parades and fairs and professional sports events too.

It’s tiring sometimes, but we do it.

We do it even when we’re deflated by news that a local cop has died.

That somebody who was doing what you do every day has been murdered.

The silver lining is that I’m no longer angry and on the cusp of snapping.

Priorities.

I’m alive and my recruits are alive.

We’ll use this as a learning tool. Mistakes and lack of attention to detail when you’re out of the Academy can get you killed.

They need to know that.

They need to get that through their skulls.

My kids can still draw me pictures of police officers and hand them to me with pride.

My wife can still expect me to come home after a long shift.

My dogs will bark at me when I do come home, and I will be annoyed at them, but less so.

I’m thankful to have my health and my life.

My problems are irrelevant right now, because I wasn’t that cop who died today.

cufylraumaavgpm

 

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Stop and Frisk in a nutshell…

Hillary Clinton was asked during the presidential debate to comment on this country’s racial divide, and almost without hesitation, she intertwined racial disharmony with the current state of law enforcement here in the United States.

That would be all well and good had she made some effort to point the finger at other agencies and industries as well.

Again, while race is certainly an important consideration in police hiring and policy consideration, racism isn’t the fault of policing or police officers.

I don’t disagree that there are issues of trust between minority communities and police departments and of course, since I’ve written on it before, I don’t believe that it’s fair that law enforcement takes the brunt of the public’s beating for race issues that are well beyond our control or doing.

Racism is rampant in employment, housing, education and other areas that affect far more minorities who aren’t committing crimes with far more consistency and concern than racism in law enforcement does.

However, among the caterwauling at the debate was a bit about what’s commonly known in law enforcement circles as Stop and Frisk.

The policy is considered racist.

Trump endorsed the policy while and Clinton’s supporters decried it as being unconstitutional.

Depending on how it’s applied, it is most certainly not unconstitutional, or maybe it is.

The Constitution of the United States is a pretty amazing document. For its length and when it was written, it still holds up fairly well to the demands of modern day America. It’s not perfect, but it does the job for the most part.

Part of its imperfection lies within what also makes it so perfect, namely, the conflict between the branches of government.

The Legislative branch creates laws that are, ostensibly anyway, laws legislators believe their constituents (you and I) want to see passed on our behalves. Many of these laws are criminal laws.

The Executive branch, (police officers, ) is tasked with enforcing the laws, while the Judicial branch interprets them.

Laws that are over-broad or vague or that don’t pass Constitutional muster, are struck down by judges for these reasons and others.

There is an inherent conflict between the job of police officers of the Executive branch, who are tasked with bringing law breakers to justice, and members of the Judicial branch, who must interpret the Constitution and laws that affect the rights of citizens so as to set limits on how far police officers can go, procedurally speaking.

A limited version of a Stop and Frisk policy in New York City was struck down by a federal judge, but that is hardly binding on any police officer except for those in that particular district. If it was truly “unconstitutional” it would have disappeared a long time ago. We here in the rest of the country still use it, though maybe it’s time we gave it a different name.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, where I proudly work, has a series of what we call special orders to guide employee behavior. One of those special orders, number 8-02, is titled Stop and Frisk.

I’ve just read the order over, and I have no doubt that everything it contains and allows is good law.

The Stop and Frisk arose from a famous Supreme Court case called Terry v. Ohio. Without delving into a civics dissertation, the Terry case involved a police officer stopping men he suspected might be up to no good.

He thought they MIGHT be committing or about to commit a crime.

He wasn’t 100% sure though.

In other words, he didn’t have probable cause to arrest them, but he detained and searched them to figure out what they were up to.

The Supreme Court of the United States gave this stop and subsequent frisk the thumbs up, and it’s still good law today. It’s obviously a critical tool for law enforcement.

Why is there confusion and confrontation then?

I teach police recruits about Terry Stops, or what are sometimes interchangeably called a Stop and Frisk.

We are fortunate in our urban police department to have recruits from all walks of life in nearly all of our recruit classes. Classes are made up of whites, blacks, gays, straights, men, women and so forth.

There is a lot of healthy disagreement in our discussions.

Part of what makes this diversity good is that many recruits have had the very sorts of encounters with police that I need to talk to them about.

It’s easy for me to try to explain how embarrassing it must be for a person to be stopped by a police officer in front of their family or friends or neighbors, and then even more so, if the officer puts his or her hands on them to search for weapons or contraband.

It’s humiliating, especially if you’re not committing any crime at the time.

My words don’t have the same effect though as a young black recruit who can relate to being stopped for basically no reason, or searched because he “looks like an armed person” that the police were looking for can.

Fairly consistently, much of the problem discussed with these sorts of stops is a lack of communication on the part of the officer.

I will ask a recruit, “Do you think it’s fair that you were stopped because you looked like an armed suspect that the police were looking for?”

The kid will usually say no, but when pressed with, “Well, what if you really DID look like a person who had just committed an armed robbery? Forgetting your race for a minute, do you think the police should be able to investigate you and maybe even search you, if they legitimately think you’re an armed robber?”

“Yes,” they invariably admit, and that is the crux of a stop and frisk.

Officer must be able to stop people we reasonably believe are committing or have just committed, crimes.

That does mean, however, that people who are not the suspects we’re looking for, will sometimes get stopped and questioned.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say a store calls 911 to report that a tall and very young looking, black male wearing a red sweatshirt and blue jeans has just robbed them at gunpoint. The dispatcher will broadcast that information city-wide over the police radio, and officers in the area will begin to look for a person matching that description.

Whether or not an officer can legitimately claim to have reasonable suspicion to stop somebody for this crime depends on several factors. If it’s 30 seconds after the crime occurred, it would be unreasonable for an officer ten miles away from the store to stop somebody matching that description because it’s impossible that he would have made it that far.

It would not be unreasonable, however, to stop a tall, young looking black male near the store, if he’s wearing a red sweatshirt and blue jeans to find out if he’s involved in the robbery. It may also be reasonable to stop that same person were he wearing a tee shirt and blue jeans too, because an experienced officer knows that robbery suspects will often shed their clothing to avoid detection.

If this is our suspect, it’s no big deal. We have the victim come look at him, and if he or she positively identifies the person and or he matches the surveillance video, then great, we have our man.

But, if the person is NOT the suspect, and has no clue that a store has been robbed, he will obviously be concerned about why he’s being stopped by the police.

Police officers don’t like to be questioned, and we need to get over that. If you’re a police officer and you stop this person and they ask you, “Why are you stopping me?” The correct answer isn’t, “None of your business” or “You’re on a need to know basis.” Or any of those other shitty responses.

Who needs to know more about why a police officer is stopping them than the person being stopped??

I think we lose sight sometimes of how much power we have, and how frightening the reality of going to jail is for many people, especially innocent people.

There are many ways to handle stopping a person who does indeed match a description, but who isn’t, unbeknownst to the officer, the actual suspect.

My experience has been that being rude and standoffish isn’t the best way.

When a person in this scenario pretty obviously believes he’s being stopped because of his race, I like to have the dispatcher repeat the description of the suspect over the radio so the person I’ve stopped can hear her say, “The suspect is a tall, young looking black male wearing a red sweat shirt and blue jeans. He was armed with a gun.”

An innocent person will generally understand and cooperate. Assuming our innocent man has an alibi and certainly if the victim says no, that’s not him, then he is cut loose with an apology and a thank you.

It’s pretty easy to be decent to people.

So what does the Stop and Frisk, or Terry Stop, allow and how does it sometimes go wrong?

 

Again, we are allowed to stop people and investigate when we believe that criminal activity is afoot.

If you match the description of a suspect, that may sometimes be enough, depending on how accurate the match is.

There are other factors, outside of a person matches a description, that officers can use when deciding to stop people as well. As long as an officer can articulate why he or she believes criminal activity is afoot, he or she can stop a person and that person is not free to leave right away.

A group of teens on a McDonald’s lot with book bags is hardly suspicious behavior at 3:30 PM on a school day. Those same kids with those same book bags on that lot at 2:20 AM while the restaurant is closed though, is another story. If the officer is aware that there have been recent business burglaries late at night, that would be yet another factor allowing him to stop and investigate these kids.

It’s all about the totality of the circumstances.

When I teach Stop and Frisk, I do tell the recruits that I hate that it’s called Stop and Frisk.

I hate it because the Frisk sounds as though it’s assumed, when in reality, it is not.

Many people assume that if they’re stopped by the police, they are subject to being searched.

That is not the case.

Not too long ago, I got a call to a  house for some reason or another and parked my car on the street near the house. Just by chance, two teen boys (they were black, yes) were walking by as I got out of my cruiser. As I looked up and said, “What’s up, fellas?” both of them, without even thinking about it, veered to my police car to put their hands on the hood.

That’s conditioning, and it’s fucking sad.

A stop must be based on reasonable suspicion. We cannot detain a person absent at least reasonable suspicion. All officers know this. To search a person, an officer must also reasonably believe that the person is armed and a threat. In the robbery example above, that’s pretty obvious.

If, however, the crime was a shoplifting and not a robbery, then to search that person right away would have been improper.

There is a fine line between reasonable suspicion and racial profiling, and officers must err on the side of not detaining people when we’re not sure we have the latter.

To stop a person with no cause other than a hunch, is not good enough. To search a person without cause to believe they are armed and dangerous (prior to having probable cause that they have committed a crime), it not good enough.

Some minorities, the homeless, etc. get stopped monthly, if not weekly, by different officers who may think they’re doing good police work by stopping people, but who are in fact, widening the rift between the police and the communities who need us the most with each and every stop.

Stopping and frisking people is very much still a valid and important law enforcement tool, but it must be done correctly and used responsibly. It is humiliating to be searched by law enforcement in the middle of one’s neighborhood, especially if you’re not involved in a crime. We as officers should recognize that.

I don’t believe that NYC’s policy was to simply stop people and frisk them without more.

If that’s the case, then yes, that policy was terribly illegal.

Playing by the rules of the game set by the Judicial branch is an important key to building trust between police and the community.

Part of being able to do that is to first know what those rules are. I hope this post has helped in that regard.

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Photo courtesy of gettyimages

 

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Big, black and crazy, but alive…

I thought of the below described call today after seeing an online friend of mine, Tshaka, Tweet about his status as a “big black guy” and what that implies when he is confronted by law enforcement (not that he is a LEO frequent flyer at all) versus others in society acting the same way.

There are so many ways to dissect incidents such as the recent Tulsa shooting, and this one will be dissected too, but at the end of the day, we as police officers fail when we kill somebody, even when it’s justified.

I have so much more to say on that, but I need to kick it around first. In the meantime, during the below encounter, it never crossed my mind to point a gun at this kid, but what if I had been a smaller officer? What if I was a petite, female officer? Should it matter? It does, but should it?

The entire encounter lasted probably forty-five minutes. It took that long to calm him down and get him to help. Totally worth the wait to avoid unnecessary violence.

Discuss.

———————————-

It was a fairly warm day, at least for the first week in April here in St. Louis.

I was working on this particular Saturday in 2015, patrolling the streets of North St. Louis, when I got a call for an OBS.

I don’t know if OBS has any significance outside of first-responder parlance, but in that realm, my work realm, it means a call for a person acting “crazy.”

They are my least favorite type of calls to respond to simply because they usually involve dealing with people who just aren’t in their right minds, usually because they’ve stopped taking medication.

I recall that this 911 caller was the subject’s dad, and he wanted to report that his twenty-two year old son was indeed off of his medication and acting erratically. The dad said he would meet police in a parking lot where his son was ranting and raving about nothing in particular.

I also remember the dispatcher relaying that the subject was trying to fight people, and that he weighed 350 pounds.

Yikes. I assumed that was information that the dad gave because he thought it might be important.

I cleared the call with the dispatcher and chuckled to myself as I envisioned an out of breath Fat Albert looking character trying to fight people in the parking lot of a strip mall very typical of those in impoverished areas.

This one has a liquor store, a Chinese takeout restaurant and an auto parts store, but none of them was even open yet. There was no crowd.

More importantly, there were certainly no 350 pound crazy people trying to fight anybody around either.

I waited patiently, knowing my good fortune wouldn’t last, when I noticed a white sedan heading through the lot in my direction. It was pretty clear that this person was driving with a purpose, and I sighed knowing that the driver wouldn’t have anything but bad news to share with me.

Sure enough, the man in the sedan was the person who had called 911 about his son’s behavior.

He told me that he’d given the wrong parking lot location, and that his son was actually across the street, at the barber shop.

I cringed at his words.

OBS calls are awful enough when there is nobody around to further agitate the person, but trying to deal with some of them in public, when a crowd is around, can be a nightmare and North Side barber shops on Saturday mornings are sure to have a crowd around.

I imagined the scene in my head before heading across the street, and I was close to on point, but not quite.

What I imagined to be a group of about ten or twelve people outside was closer to thirty or forty.

What I imagined to be an obese, Fat Albert look-alike was a stocky, muscular behemoth of a young man.

And I may have underestimated the level of his “crazy” as well.

I generally don’t touch my Taser, but I had it in my hand before I even stepped out of my car on this call.

The son in this case was well over six feet tall, and he was built like a brick shit house. I know that because he wasn’t wearing a shirt, even though it wasn’t really a day to be walking around shirtless.

Blood dripped from his face or mouth, it was hard to tell which, and his chest and stomach were blood stained as well.

He scowled at the sight of me and spit blood onto the hood of my police cruiser.

I looked at him disappointingly.

“That’s not very nice,” I said while motioning towards the spit on my car.

He spit on my car again, undeterred by my opinions on his social graces.

When he suddenly stepped towards me, I raised my Taser at him and told him that he’d better back off. I wasn’t threatening or angry or hostile in my tone at all.

I said it very matter of factly.

He did stop about ten feet away and raged on about his father when he noticed him standing nearby. He cursed at his dad as his dad tried to talk to him, and it became clear to me that his dad being there was a problem.

My assist had arrived at some point, and I was glad to see him. He was an officer I trusted not to make a shitty situation worse by acting like an asshole or agitating an already agitated mentally ill person.

Thank God for small victories sometimes.

I asked the dad to leave while we waited for EMS to arrive, and he did.

The son continued to rant and curse. Now that dad was gone, he was cursing white people generally, and the two white cops in front of him more specifically.

We were only eight months removed from the Michael Brown shooting at this point, and as I looked at the crowd behind him, I noticed that almost every single one of them was holding a cell phone to their face, hoping to catch some sort of police misconduct on video.

My partner and I let this man rant and rave and spit on my car, but every time he made a move towards us, he would stop when I told him to do so and began to raise my Taser. We were able to mostly keep the car between us and him while we waited for more help to arrive.

A couple of detectives stopped by and thankfully, one of them was black. He was able to have some dialogue with this guy that I wasn’t ever going to get simply because of my skin color and this guy’s current mental condition.

I’m okay with stepping back, if that’ll calm things down.

An old lady stepped out of the crowd and said that she knew the young man. She asked if she could speak to him.

The other detective, a white guy, said no, but it was my call and I thought it was a good idea.

I didn’t sense she was in any danger, so I allowed her to talk to the kid. She was able to talk a little sense into him, where nobody else could. While standing there listening to her tell this kid things like, “Hey, these white officers aren’t playing with you,” and “Do you know that these white officers are just looking for a reason to kill you” stung a little bit, her words were working to calm him, which mattered more than my feelings just then.

While the tension was still obviously in the air, EMS finally showed up.

Mercifully, as if Jesus was on my side that day, both of the EMS operators were black. They and the woman were able to coax the young man into the back of the ambulance to be taken to some hospital in order to get him back on the medicine he needs to function in society again.

 

 

 

 

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