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How not to get your ass beat by the police

The black president of the United States stupidly commented on the arrest of a black Harvard professor in his own home by a white police officer.

Some random thoughts and memories:

* I'm sure most people are still trying to figure out who Prof. Gates is. As G.K. Chesterton once wrote: "Journalism consists largely in saying 'Lord Jones is dead' to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive."

* Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said Gates' arrest was "every black man's nightmare."

Perhaps. But having a criminal in my house is even more of a nightmare. Also, having the president of the United States talk off the cuff about me about something he doesn't know is pretty bad. And getting shot by a cop after I escalated a situation would also be worse than getting arrested.

Anyway, I have had my own dealings with the police over the years:

* Back when I was a college student many many moons ago, one of my brothers and I got stopped by police in Brookline, MA. I remember it clearly: we were returning from a meeting with other students. Less than an hour later we were waiting for a police officer to get a description of armed suspects. We were let go without incident after the officer heard on his radio that they were looking for two dark-skinned blacks. The cop even waved to us a few minutes later when he saw us. I wrote about it in the Harvard Crimson, generating several angry calls from other black Harvard students. I remember one woman in particular was distressed by the article, telling me repeatedly that my article "wasn't helpful."


* Shortly after my family arrived in Massachusetts back in 1985, one day we stopped at a bookstore so my father could check on a book. We were parked on the street....a few minutes later, a cop walked up to the car, talking to my mother...

The cop said that someone had called 911 reporting that some black people were parked in front of the bank. As I recall, he said it was his duty to check it out, that he would say he had, and that was the end of it. I suppose we could have gone Gates-crazy on him, saying we had every right to be parked there, etc., that as black people we shouldn't be questioned about where we park legally (or not, I really don't recall that).

* I wrote a few years ago about helping to stop a white guy from beating up his white girlfriend or wife. I remember at one moment hoping the police would show up so they could do their duty...but also being scared to death they would show up at another moment as we (five, maybe six black men) were manhandling that one skinny white guy with his white girlfriend bruised, beaten and crying a short distance away. We would have been shot on sight, then asked questions if we had survived.

What bothered us the most that night is that the cop initially treated us like we had done something wrong and the folks at the hotel weren't much better.

* Parenthetically, a Washington Post columnist (inaccurately) wrote about the rescue in front of the Mayflower Hotel a short time later. Every time I've been part of an organization or activity that has been written about in the newspaper I've wondered how they could get so many facts wrong. As Erwin Knol wrote: "Everything you read in newspapers is absolutely true, except for that rare story of which you happen to have first-hand knowledge."

* A few years ago I had to rush home when the alarm system went off at my home in Centreville, VA. As I approached my home, I called the police and ADT (the alarm system) to let them know I was almost home and would be going inside to check on the alarm...I didn't want to get shot while I was turning off the alarm in my home...

I really should not have had to call to make sure I would not get shot in my own home, I know. But I did call.

I'm more concerned with my safety than I am with making a political or public policy point.

* Two days before I left America earlier this month I was pulled over by a cop in Falls Church, VA. I had gone through a stop-sign trap leading off the main road onto a service road. I guess I should have gone Gates-crazy on him. But it wasn't a good situation for me. Driving a rental. Didn't have the rental car info. I asked for a warning, told him I was leaving the country soon. The cop issued me a warning, wished me well.


* One night when I was out with some other members of the Harvard Crimson, one top editor (who is now somewhat prominent) had a bright idea that we should trash the Harvard Lampoon. Which we did. Very long story kept short, we got caught by some members of the Lampoon. The Cambridge police were called (every Harvard student, regardless of race, prefers dealing with the Harvard rather than Cambridge police), we argued in front of the cops for an hour or so before the business manager of the Crimson agreed to pay for the damages. The cops let us all go after a short lecture.

* I still take my cue from Richard Pryor when it comes to cops..."I'M REACHING INTO MY POCKET FOR MY LICENSE. BECAUSE I DON'T WANT TO BE NO MUTHAFUCKING ACCIDENT."

CJL

Booker Rising links to the Chris Rock guide to "how not to get your ass beat by the police."



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