Wednesday, July 20, 2016

I Know Anecdotes Are Not Data...

I'm refraining from making any sorts of comments on the recent happenings in Minnesota and Louisiana. We still don't know enough of the details at this point, and the camps are already so tightly drawn that direct evidence - on either side, mind you - will be discounted, downplayed, or otherwise ignored if it doesn't fit a preconceived notion.

No matter what your preconceived notions are.

What got me, though, was the concept that "you don't know what it's like" - that a non-black person has no idea what it's like to be unfairly (to their mind) targeted by law enforcement. And, of course, it got me to thinking. I'm second-generation Italian-American. I'm certainly not hispanic or black, and I don't qualify as "non-white" on any checkbox anywhere. I started thinking about it, and realized that, among other reasons, I have been pulled over for the following:
  • Taillight or license plate light out (on several occasions; only once was the light actually out)
  • Yelling out the window
  • Window tint too dark (even though the front windows - the only ones with restrictions on the tint level - were down)
  • Radio too loud (numerous times)
  • Squealing tires (twice)
  • Flipping a cop the bird (I wasn't)
  • Driving through a parking lot
  • Having a license plate that was similar to one reported stolen (had a gun in my face over that one; the plate reported stolen was from a different *STATE*, too)
And, my all-time favorite:
  • License plate too dirty. 
I kid you not. My wife can verify this actually happened.

I'm not counting the many times I was pulled over for speeding or failure to come to a complete stop, even when those times were - to me - suspicious (like, going 5 over on the highway or rolling through a stop sign at 3AM). These are also the only incidents I can remember; I'm sure there are others that time has seen fit to drop from my memory. I  remember chatting with a friend a long time ago and recounting the number of times I had been pulled over for BS reasons, and it was well into the teens if not 20s.

What's the common denominator? In a good number of cases, I was acting like an idiot. None of the cases above happened when I was a new parent and driving a Honda Accord sedan or Dodge Durango SUV. I was careful, cautious, and wasn't out at 2 AM looking for something to do. In the vast majority of the rest of the cases, it happened on a Friday or Saturday night, and within 30 seconds of the officer sticking his head in the window of my vehicle (and determining that I had not been drinking), I was let off with a verbal warning.

You know what *really* helped me? My retired-MA-State-cop dad sat me down, right before I got my license, and gave me a few pointers on what to do when I got pulled over:
  • Stay in the car. 
  • Keep your hands on the steering wheel.
  • Turn the interior light on (at night, of course).
  • Stay in the car.
  • Roll the window down
  • Address the officer as "sir" or "ma'am"
  • Don't make any sudden movements - ever.
  • Stay in the car.
  • Inform the officer of what you're going to do *before* you do it - as in, "my wallet is in my left rear pocket, I am going to reach for it now to retrieve my license as you have requested."
By adhering to these guidelines, I kept tickets to a minimum and I honestly think that my dad's advice had more to do with this than his status as a retired cop. Also, in the case of one of the squealing tires, I was racing a Camaro and blew right by the cop. He pulled out and I *immediately* pulled over and followed the above protocol. When he asked me what the $%&# I thought I was doing, I responded "Being an idiot, sir". When he stopped laughing, he thanked me for my honesty and gave me a verbal warning.

I'll contrast this with one time I was in a car driven by a friend of mine. He was speeding, but only like 10 over on the highway; it was a Friday night and we were going to the beach to cruise for a bit. He starts mouthing off to the cop, "Why'd you pull me over? I was only going 10 over, just like everyone else."

He got a ticket.

Now, look. I know I'm not one of the aggrieved groups that tend to garner extra scrutiny by law enforcement. It's not a stretch to see that certain groups catch the eye of John Law faster than WASPs - or even eye-talians. And yeah, it's got to be infuriating to get pulled over simply because you're a different skin tone than the rest of the people in an area, I can grok that. It sucks, yes. But I can attest that the police pull over everyone for BS reasons. BTDT, got the T-shirt.

And it's tempting to say something. The time I got pulled over for going 5 over the speed limit, it was on a 65-MPH limit, three-lane, divided highway - in the middle of the afternoon. . The entire time the cop had me pulled over, I think two cars went by us. Obviously he was bored and was looking for something to do - or hoping he'd catch someone, I don't know, smuggling maple syrup in from Vermont. Sitting there on the side of the highway, with three other people in the car, waiting for this guy to finish doing, well, whatever he was doing, was annoying as all get-out.

I've had a gun put to my head, got yanked out of a car and been arrested as a result of traffic stops. It happens. Even to kids from the 'burbs. While I'm sure that certain groups are singled out more often than others, pretty much *all* males through the age of 30 are suspect - and let's face it: quite often, we've done something to deserve it. The way I look at it is, the times I've been pulled over for BS reasons are evened out by the times I've been flying down the highway at 20+ MPH over the speed limit and had a cop just look over at me, wave his hand in the universal "slow down" motion, and then go on his way without stopping.

And yes, I reiterate that anedotes != data, and I'm sure there are many out there that look at my list, chuckle bitterly and think "hey, sounds like last month." It's not meant to be a "I know what you experience," by any means; more like a "I do have some frame of reference, but perhaps not scale." I might not know just how bad it is - I'm pretty sure I don't - but I have an idea what it's like.

It does make you wonder, though - if we realized that we had more in common than not, we might start questioning the power structure and things like "qualified immunity" - and of course, the powers-that-be don't want that...

That is all.


Anonymous said...

Don't fail the attitude test.

This gem was given to me by a police officer when I was a youngster after being pulled over with a bunch of like-minded knuckleheads. I went home but several of the others got a ride to the local lock up and a phone call to their parents.

I was more afraid of my dad than any LEO.


abnormalist said...

I was about to turn 16, my father pulled my aside and said (closest I can give of a direct quote here, with his emphasis called out)

"Son, you're about to get your license, and you're about to enter into a group, that is the MOST likely to shoot a cop. Cops know this. Every time they pull someone over, they don't know who's in that car. They don't know if you stole the car, they don't know if you have a gun and a grudge against every guy in blue. THEY DON'T KNOW. They do know, that they don't know this, and the first 30 seconds of the stop are the most important because they are walking up to your car ASSUMING the worst.

When they pull you over, try to pull over some place where they are not in danger. Immediately slow down and put your blinker or hazards on. Pull off the road into a parking lot if you can, if you cant get as far over as you can, that you can get back on the road. When you come to a stop, put your hazards on, and put the car in park. If its night turn on your interior lights, put your window down, and put BOTH hands on top of the steering wheel. Leave them there.

Sir or Ma'am is the officers name as far as you are concerned, and as long as they aren't asking to violate your rights, you do what they ask. If they ask to search the car you say no. Don't tell them a story, but answer their questions. Do not get out of the car unless they tell you to. Don't reach for anything unless they tell you to, and they give you their permission. They will ask you for your license, registration, and proof of insurance. Answer 'my license is in my wallet in my back pocket, registration and insurance are in the glove box. Which would you like me to get you first officer?' before you even THINK about moving.

They don't want to shoot you, but if they feel threatened they could. DON'T make them feel threatened and you'll be on your way. Give them attitude, and they WILL give you a ticket. Give them trouble, and they can and will arrest you. Best thing to do is be exceptionally polite, and dont be stupid"

Its served me very very well over the years

Old NFO said...

Concur with all your dad's 'recommendations'... I got the same speech from a friend's dad who was a deputy sheriff... And yeah, been pulled over more than once for stupid s**t... Sigh...

Evyl Robot Michael said...

This was a really good write up; some of your best work, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

'Yes, Sir.
No, Sir.
No Excuse, Sir.'
That was the speech my dad gave me, an ultra white, WASP, girl. Now, I will say the three times I've been pulled over, I deserved it. On the other hand, 'no excuse sir' almost certainly helped get the last ticket reduced.

Glenn B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike W. said...

I got pulled over once going *grumble grumble* times the posted speed limit. When the cop finally caught up to me and pulled me over he was not exactly happy. "Do you know how fast you were going?" "Yes sir, way, way too fast." Don't do dumb shit at 2AM. Don't make the cop chase you down.

I am in a family of cops, law enforcement, firearms trainers etc. How to handle encounters with the police got drilled into my head early on. Ditto once I started carrying a gun.

Now, I've done my fair of dumb shit, and sometimes paid the consequences, but usually if I was interacting with a cop it was because I was doing dumb shit and/or breaking the law.

If I was calm, respectful, and did basically what you laid out in your post, I.E. what my police/LEO family taught me, things went well. Police are only human. If you act like a dick to them from the onset of an encounter, it's not likely to go well. Manners matter. If your initial attitude is "damn racist cop only pulled me over because I'm black" You're an ass and your attitude is going to color the entire encounter, and not in your favor.

Veeshir said...

It's just stupid to be rude to a guy who can ruin your whole day/week/month/year/decade/life.

Saying that....
I used to sell used cars on a new Honda lot in Alexandria, VA.

I worked with all black guys, we all had new Honda demos.

I drove in Fairfax without a tag more than once, I left it at work and just forgot about it.

The black guys used to get pulled over all the time, in their new Hondas with dealer tags.

There is definitely a Driving While Black in many places, but is it racism or is it profiling? (Profiling in the old, accepted sense).

Ross said...

Tale of two stops...

1980 or so. I'm about 20, driving a 13 year old, rusted Chevy wagon on RT 80. Midnight. only other cop on the road is a statie, doing 54 in the slow lane. I get into the middle lane and creep past him at about 55... *lights come on*.

"Son, you were doing 70 MPH..." and HERE'S where I made my mistake. I laughed at him. "Officer, this car can't get above 65!" (True, by the way - 194 cubic inch straight six. TINY engine!). Son of a bitch gave me a ticket for Failure to Keep Right (and Disrespect of Cop).

2004 - commuting into Boston in morning rush hour. I pulled around some idiot on his right to pass him, went back into the middle lane and looked up to find my mirror full of flashing lights.

"Do you know why I pulled you over?" "Yes, SIR! Because I did something stupid RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU." Verbal warning.

But for BS excuses? Heh. Two years ago. I'd been in Vermont for about a year. My wife and I were on our way to a gun show on a Sunday morning (we have a gun shop). Go past a trooper on a side road... look down. I'm doing 40. "What's the speed limit here, love? 40, isn't it?" "Yup." "We're good then..." I look back and he's pulling out after me. Now, I'm now in my 50's and grey bearded, and I'm driving a Honda Element. Not exactly a hot rod.

"Sir, do you know why I pulled you over?" "Trooper, I haven't got the foggiest idea. Why did you?"

Did you know that in Vermont, it's illegal to have a toll transponder on your window? I'm gaping at him in disbelief at this point. "What do I do when I go to NH or NY or MA, then?" He responds "Do what we do; hold it up to the windshield." And he apologized for the stupidity of the law, told me his supervisor said he HAD to do this, and gave me a written warning. (I looked it up. The inspection manual for Vermont says to fail a car if it's got anything but an inspection sticker in the middle or a for sale sign in the lower right corner of the windshield. It ALSO says to fail the car if you have anything obscuring the license plate (like a custom license plate holder or a TRANSPONDER!!!).

I love my new home but this law, at least, is as stupid as anything in Marxachusetts.

Raul Barrera said...

I'm fully Hispanic and I still don't know what minorities mean when they say "you don't know what it's like."I really do think that they try to read people's mind when they say someone is racist. Cause I've never experienced it myself.