How ‘you people’ caused me to incite a mini race riot…

My first regular patrol partner and I both joined the police department at about the same time. When we started, we were both green and inexperienced, but, out of necessity, we rode together a lot.  Ideally, very new officers would ride with more veteran officers to sort of learn the ins and outs of the job, but in today’s police departments, that’s rarely possible anymore.

LC was, well he still is, black.  We patrolled in a fairly mixed neighborhood as far as race and ethnic groups go.  LC and I hit it off right away as we were both young, dumb and liked to drink after work.  It’s not easy to spend 8 hours per shift in a car with just any person. Not everyone can stand it when there’s no conversation and will try to force conversation to fill the air with some noise.  LC and I didn’t give two shits if there was nothing to talk about; the silence was fine.

We also worked out a fine arrangement whereby LC would take the lead in talking to black suspects/victims and I’d do the same for the white ones.  Some of you will think this sounds terrible, but it really wasn’t.  The reality is that many black people don’t trust the police at all to help them out, so a black officer is the lesser of two evils as far as many of them are concerned. Same with whites.  Some of them will straight up tell you that they’re not talking to a white cop or a black cop.  Whatever.  While we wouldn’t go out of our way to send a black or a white officer on request, since there were one of each on the scene already when LC and I arrived, it didn’t hurt to make people think they were getting their way.

The impetus for our arrangement came one night when we got a call for a disturbance.  It was a hot summer night and everyone was crabby because the heat had been unbearable for several weeks in a row.  We got a call for a disturbance related to a family member supposedly stealing jewelry and cash from other family members.  In typical ghetto fashion, sides were drawn, neighbors unfamiliar with any facts became involved for no good reason and it was a mess of 40 or 50 people getting ready to brawl in an intersection of a pretty busy area.

LC and I worked very well together as a team and we rarely called for backup unless it was obvious that we were about to get our asses overrun due to sheer numbers or there were some other exigent circumstances requiring more help.  Sometimes, bringing more cops onto a scene makes a bad situation worse.  We trusted our instincts as well as each other to know when to call for more assistance.

The crowd of 50 or so people were all fired up and LC and I were trying our best to separate them into their respective groups so we could get a handle on what was going on. We’d push one group to one side of the street so we could go talk to the other, but as we were talking to the other, the original mob would cross the street cursing and shouting their displeasure at whatever it was the other side was saying.

Even though it was late at night, it was still muggy and hot.  While the crowd of fine citizens was no doubt hot as well, they weren’t wearing bullet resistant undergarments, long pants or combat boots.  Plus, they were outside in the heat of their own volition while I had to be there against my will.

LC and I, especially for young officers, were both very patient and allowed people to vent their frustrations more than most officers would.  There’s a fine line between letting somebody just get something off their chest and allowing somebody to be verbally abusive. Again, you just have to have a feel for the situation.  So while trying to convince the pro victim of theft crowd to nominate a single person to tell us what happened, the pro accused crowd came charging across the street again to hear what the victims were saying.  This was about the fourth or fifth time that this happened so I’d had enough and it was time to threaten the old everyone is going to spend their Friday night in jail if they don’t behave. With that in mind, I told the crowd something to the effect of “If you people on this side of the street don’t stay on the sidewalk and out of the street, we’re going to start hauling you off to jail.”

I remember the look on one particular guy’s face as he cocked his head at me and shouted, “You people?!”  “You people?!  Hey y’all, this white man just called us you people!”  And just like that, we lost the crowd.

Apparently, “you people” is racist in any given context, so the crowd got ugly fast.  It only takes one or two folks to incite the rest of the group into a frenzy, and incite they did.  LC pressed his emergency button because he saw what was happening and, within seconds, we could hear the sweet sweet sounds of sirens headed our way.

At the end of it all, nobody got hurt and the woman being accused of theft finally did admit that she had taken stuff from her family members because she has a drug habit (as though that makes it forgivable).  She had jewelry and cash crammed in her shoes, bra and even up her twat.  Yep, that happens a lot!  The crowd that supported her was deflated and they apologized profusely to the other side and even to LC and I for acting like fools.

LC laughed for a good 10 minutes before he finally asked if I’d really called those people you people.

“It’s 100 degrees out here with the humidity and they were acting like animals.  They were lucky I called them people at all.  How is telling people “you people” as in “you people” over here to stay on the sidewalk racist?!” I asked of LC while sucking down my gas station ice tea.

“It just is to some people, Don.  It’s stupid, but stupid is all some of these people know.” LC said.  “I know you didn’t mean nothing by it, but why don’t I do all the talkin’ to the black folk and you can talk to all the honkies from now on?”

“Honkies?  You can say honkies but I can’t say ‘you people’?” I asked.

“Is honkies offensive to honkies?” LC asked.  I think he was genuinely curious.

“I’m not even sure, honestly Buddy.  It doesn’t bother me, but I’d not use it around everyone.  I’m Italian and you can call me a Dago all you want and I’d care less, but some Italians take it really offensively.  I guess it depends on context and the individual.”

“Well I’ll be damned.” LC said.  “I always just thought honky was a funny word and never thought nothin’ of it being offensive.”

“Context brother.  It’s all about context sometimes.”

And with that, our arrangement was born.

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44 Responses to How ‘you people’ caused me to incite a mini race riot…

  1. aliciabenton says:

    Great post, cracker.

  2. ardenrr says:

    It still amazes me how stupid people can be…. You’d think I’d be used to it by now!

  3. Jolene says:

    Hahaha….. wow, some people are just so ignorant!! “People” can call cops crackers,pigs..whatever their hearts desire at that given time but you can’t say “you people” and in the context to ensure their safety?? My dad (retired LAPD) would come home telling stories of ignorant fools all the time!!

  4. i think we’ve become overly pc, and it’s kind of annoying. was it offensive when your partner referred to them as “these people”. and i didn’t even put in the stupid part. 😉

    • We are WAY to pc as a society. It’s part of what’s wrong with our culture today. We have to dumb things down or in this case, desensitize everything so that the even the dumbest or thinnest skinned person isn’t offended. Ya know what? You can’t please everyone so why try?

  5. Katie says:

    Man… I’ve been called a lot of things, but never part of a group of people. That’s where I draw the line.

  6. Blogdramedy says:

    Maybe you should have danced like a white guy. Funny can defuse almost any situation.

  7. “Let My People Go”! And, you people too. 🙂

  8. I had a situation where I was the only white person amongst a group of South Asian friends (mainly Indian and Pakistani). We were planning a party for something or another and the guest list was being made up. The list was entirely “brown” people except for me and a friend’s very white boyfriend Mike (he almost glowed in the dark).

    My friend kept saying, “We need to invite some white people so Mike isn’t the only one.” She repeated this about 5 times before someone else pointed out that I was also white. People immediately interjected that I didn’t count because I was brown inside. And my friend with the white boyfriend blurted out, “That’s not nice, don’t call Stephanie white!” She felt it was insulting and racist to call me white when she was fine with calling her boyfriend white. We grew up together and she considered me a sister. To this day she says I will always be brown to her.

    This “race” thing is funny…

    • It is funny and oftentimes frustrating. As an Italian man, I find myself insulted when people call me white as well! Lol. I was asked to join a choir recently because “the group needed some white man meat!” Didn’t matter that I can’t sing worth a lick, I would’ve added some diversity.

  9. Maggie O'C says:

    I’m with Katie, once you throw out the YP phrase, I’m out. I’m gonna pop a cap in somebody. People can be so ridiculous.

  10. Good good story, I felt like I was there almost (‘cept I have air conditioner), Don! What in the world is a honky?

  11. I love these stories. Good stuff, Don. 🙂

    • I’m glad to hear that you like them! I need to share more of my silly police related stories. I forget sometimes that a story like this, which really wasn’t a big deal call at all, is funny and exciting to people not in law enforcement. I probably have dozens of them.

  12. mistyslaws says:

    Yeah, I don’t get the “you people” thing either. Maybe because it’s dismissive? Like you are looking down on them as a race? It’s not like you said “you blacks” or “you N-word.” It’s good that you had a cool partner that you could play off of in those situation, though. That is a thing of beauty, no doubt.

    • Some folks just look for conflict even where it’s not to be found. It’s a never ending battle to try to do right by people and be extra sensitive while doing so. Silliness, really. He and I had some good times together, that’s for sure. Now we both have wives and kids and don’t get out much.

  13. djmatticus says:

    So ridiculous and so very funny! I’m glad you got out of that situation without actually sparking off a riot – that sort of thing probably doesn’t look too good on your resume: 18 years exemplary service, this that and the other awards, started a race riot, turned all reports in on time…

  14. pegoleg says:

    I don’t quite get how “you people” is offensive, but maybe you shouldn’t have used short=hand and got specific: “you people standing on this side of the street, as opposed to those people standing on the other side of the street.”

    • You’re probably right, Peg! Sometimes, when I’m sweating profusely in the middle of a busy street and ready to explode through my ears from frustratioon and rage I don’t make myself clear enough I guess. Lol.

  15. tric says:

    My parents are from the North of Ireland and sectarian tensions were huge there when I was growing up. Say the wrong thing and you were in serious trouble, then I would return to Dublin and no one would have a clue how a wrong word can act like an incendiary device.
    i loved, loved your title.

    • Thank you tric! I’m sure the tensions in north of ireland are similar to a lot of the tensions we have here, Some people just aren’t happy unless they’re causing trouble I guess. Still, most of the group in my scenario did relent when they saw that the accusers were correct and not fibbing about the thefts. It was a silly mess that could have all been avoided.

  16. My Dago ass prefers Wop.

  17. abbbz says:

    I love this story-those people would have a fit in my house-I am white as casper(being a jew and all)-wait can I say Jew? whatever…:)
    my fiance is dark skinned puerto rican-his oldest son is black, my oldest son is white like me my middle child is brown and my youngest is also white. this is how my middle child describes us all (hes 4.5)
    Jay (the oldest) is chocolate
    Joshua is a white boy
    I am a brown boy
    Caroline is a whitie

    I think its funny-i mean some ppl are too overly sensitive….I guess when I start sending my kids to Public School this year we will need some “sensitivity training” I can only imagine what the teachers are gonna say about our rainbow….

  18. Black cop, white cop, doesn’t matter–you’ll both be grey in twenty years. *rimshot

    Damn fine writing. Good cadence, straightforward style, flows easily. Please post a story about every little frickin’ thing that happens while you’re on duty from now on. We need the literature to counteract our addictions to The Bachelorette and Hoarders.

    Okay, I’ve never actually seen an episode of The Bachelorette but after listening to people who do….

    Ever hear Russell Peters’ stand up comedy? He’s a world traveler with an extremely devoted international following. He reveals the ridiculous in pretty much any nationality with ruthless honestly that manages to leave all hate at the door. He’s like a hysterical travelogue. Warning: profanity. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYiteaPBlz0

  19. elihawkins6 says:

    My new favorite truth: “It’s stupid, but stupid is all some of these people know”.

    I am currently “active” in the career, and have had a similar situation in my workplace – only, I deal with … uh… “well to do”- types over here, and … well… they don’t like the idea of someone of my “class” and “locality of birth and raising” telling them that 50mph in a 25mph area is actually kind of a big deal… Not unexpectedly, the officers raised in this area tend to “handle” our locals more and I get to talk to the…uh..poorer folk.. more often.

  20. Judith says:

    Great beat ! I would like to apprentice while you amend your site, how can i subscribe for a blog site?
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  21. JayNine says:

    LOL You know Don, there are soo many reasons I enjoy your shares. The entertainment, gory stories, & the sweetness! Lol!

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