The police

Yesterday on Facebook, Jeff Shaumeyer with a currently hot meme:

Inexplicably, there are still people in America who believe this is always true!

HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED
THE POLICE LEAVE YOU ALONE IF YOU
AREN’T DOING ANYTHING ILLEGAL

A chain of responses followed (including a long unhappy response by me). Highlights below (reproduced here with permission).

— Jeff Bowles: Sure. If you’re white.

— Jeff Shaumeyer: Which, I suppose, is why it’s white people who keep saying this.

— Julian Lander: Is this where I note that I have no memory of any interaction with the police that was in any way adversarial? And my interactions with them otherwise have been exceedingly rare, if you omit those on traffic details and such. I’m not sure I’ve spoken to an on-duty policeman in my life. [This is not a claim of moral superiority but an assertion of ignorance.]

(In a separate mailing, JL added: I’m concerned about being misinterpreted. I hope you understand that my statement was an explanation of why I lack perspective in this area, and am hesitant to claim expertise.)

— Jeff Shaumeyer: This is why, when AOC [American congressional representative Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez] was asked what an America without police would look like, she said “a white suburb”. Most White people have very little experience with police. My experience has been about once every 45 years.

— Christopher Walker: In my earlier years I was more visually identifiable as a gay person. My one (non-traffic) experience with on-duty policemen was having two of them not interfere while a small gang of zealots spat on me.

I was still a white person, so my life was not in danger

— AZ: I’m white but gay, and my experiences with the police here in Palo Alto have been, with only one exception, fraught. (Though nothing like the experiences of my black friends, virtually all of whom have been picked up and aggressively grilled by the cops for just being some place the cops thought they don’t belong.)

A while back I reported a burglary, and as soon as the officer entered my house and saw that was a fag’s place he became quite hostile and tried very hard to make the burglary my fault (suggesting that I had allowed friends — meaning other queers — into the house). Fortunately, he had a rookie cop with him, who was young and sympathetic and did some careful mediation. But I’m truly sorry I reported the burglary.

(Back some years, I got regular death threats on the phone for being a faggot, and never even considered reporting them to the cops; it would have been a disaster.)

The one occasion when I escaped the hostility involved a homeless man, quite drunk, who collapsed on the sidewalk outside my house. When the cops came to my report I was outside on the street and wore nothing that smelled of queerness, so they just treated me as an ordinary concerned citizen. Remarkable because it was unproblematic, what white people generally expect.

Back in Columbus [when I taught at Ohio State, 1969-98] it was much much worse. Because of the political activism of my household and my gay activism, the cops tapped our phone and surveilled my activities, assembling a giant collection of materials that they hoped to use against me (I discovered this from an Ohio State colleague in criminology who was astonished to see the collection at police headquarters and warned me about it.)

So no, cops are not my friends. I view every one of them with grave suspicion. (Of course there are decent cops, like that rookie above, but the default assumption has to be that they’re persecutors, not protectors.)

I say again that my experiences are minuscule in comparison to what my black (and latino) friends regularly encounter, and the experiences of my friends, who are middle-class professionals, are minuscule in comparison to what working-class black and brown folk encounter on a daily basis. Whitefolk just have no idea.

— Jeff Shaumeyer > Arnold Zwicky: thanks for the comment, and your fortitude. When most [straight] white folks shout their desire for “law and order”, they have no idea what “keeping order” really means for people who are not like them.

— Jeff Bowles: Here’s a simple example: twice or three times, in my 20s, I “got off” or “got away with” something that a policeman pretty much warned me and sent me home. One involved teenage college drinking, another involved pot. I’ve even written a short story about one of the events.

Then I realized, years later: I was some white, clean-cut college kid.

What would those “lucky outcomes” have been, if I had been something else?

What indeed?

And then, another piece of the story: from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Ga. officer fired for posting ‘absolutely intolerable’ meme, comments on Facebook” by Stephanie Toone on 6/23/20:

A Georgia police officer has been terminated after her Facebook post and comments received complaints for being deemed racially insensitive.

The Butler Police Department officer has been terminated after posting about police activity on her personal Facebook page, according to news station WRBL. On Monday, the officer was placed on administrative leave, but department officials decided to terminate the officer after investigation Tuesday.

… The unnamed officer’s Facebook post included a meme with the caption written on it that reads: “Have you ever noticed that the police leave you alone if you’re not doing anything illegal?

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