It’s this: while demanding empathy for the dangerous job of a policeman in an editorial in the Washington Post, a cop explains what he gets to do, with a complete lack of empathy for the citizen’s position.
Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?
I’ve had a few traffic stops. I’ve always been polite — this guy has some power over me, and can cost me money and time, which seems like threat enough. But I had never considered the possibility that the policeman who pulled me over for a burnt-out headlight could feel justified for shooting, tasing, pepper-spraying, or hitting me with a stick if I called him a rude name.
I’m not endorsing calling a policeman a racist pig, but if someone is angry and does, is it really appropriate cause to pull out your gun and shoot them? Officer Dutta seems to think it is. That’s what’s objectionable: that the police have acquired an attitude that justifies excessive force in response to physically weak actions — that calling them a rude name warrants whipping out every tool in their arsenal to kill, maim, or subdue miscreants. When someone is killed for jaywalking (or possibly shoplifting) by a policeman, I think it’s clear that a line has been crossed — that the attitude that the police have complete authority and discretion to use their weapons without being limited by reasonable concerns has led to police who treat crime in a community as an opportunity for a military-style assault.
Community members deserve courtesy, respect and professionalism from their officers. Every person stopped by a cop should feel safe instead of feeling that their wellbeing is in jeopardy. Shouldn’t the community members extend the same courtesy to their officers and project that the officer’s safety is not threatened by their actions?
Yes, that’s fair. But it’s not an issue. The issue is that on the citizen’s side, we can’t respond even with an argument to the police without inviting disproportionate response from an entitled asshole in a uniform.
Officer Dutta’s op-ed did not reassure me. It simply says that we’re supposed to be very, very nice to the police, and if I take a step in the wrong direction, or ask an awkward question, or express my annoyance, he gets to shoot me half a dozen times. Because his fucking job is so hard that he gets to use lethal shortcuts to deal with nuisances that make his life a little more difficult.