Interacting With the Police

Posted: April 28, 2015 in Our Broken World

The words ‘police brutality’ are everywhere these days. Indeed, there is some truth to the visible rise of unjust force, including deadly force, to quell the presence of the socially inconvenient. This is doubly true in areas where racial tensions remain especially high.

On the streets, there is a very tentative relationship between the police and the homeless. A siren sounds down the street and everyone holds up their hands almost as if on autopilot. If an officer comes around, it’s usually seen as harassment or worse.

With all that said though, I want to take a different approach to viewing the role and actions of the police force in our society today. I want to talk about our personal responsibility for our actions and our interactions, especially in tense, high-stakes situations.

To blame the totality of police brutality, or even the perception of it, on the police themselves is to point a finger in the direction of another, rather than owning things like – why were the police brought into the situation to begin with?

Fueled by alcohol, drugs, and fear, a lot of situations get out of hand because of the escalation that occurs on both sides. This is not to say that innocent people aren’t being harassed or to deny that some officers get so full of themselves that they forget to be people. Let’s see all sides though.

Since I began spending time on the streets in November, I’ve had a handful of interactions with the police. On three occasions I had the police called on me for twirling my staff around – by people who misunderstood my intentions and didn’t bother to talk to me.

One time I had an officer stop me while I was drinking from my water bottle to ask if I was okay because I was walking so slowly. Then the other day an officer asked me to get up off the sidewalk while I was meditating because I was violating a local city ordinance.

A few more recent interactions include asking a police officer about the city ordinance at Starbucks, the time I called to report an assault, the time I tried to calm a drunken man that the police were subduing, and the time the police escorted me away from my building when I came out the door.

There was also the odd incident were someone reported that I was suicidal because of a picture I posted on facebook or linked in and the police insisted that they come to my home and check on me. That one I’m still not sure I understand… Whoever you are, you misunderstood the picture. 😉

My point is that throughout my entire adult life I’d interact with the police about once every 3 to 5 years – getting myself a speeding ticket. Since my awakening I’ve had ten interactions with police that have nothing to do with speeding, but with life in general.

What’s important here is not the quantity though, but rather the quality. Yes, I’m a white male, and American born, so racial and language challenges do not add further difficulties for me. But I am tall, well-built, imposing, and carry a five foot staff with me. So I do still invite scrutiny.

In the staff twirling incidents, the very first thing I did when seeing the police approach was to lay my staff down on the ground in front of me, commenting quite clearly that doing so would avoid any problems concerning the safety of all involved.

With these and the other incidents I remained calm and collected, answered every question, remained polite, and inclined myself towards the loving kindness that I exude for all beings, even those in uniform, carrying badges, who have the power to take away my freedom if they so choose.

I did not raise my voice or challenge the officers, other than to point out when I was cooperating with something I thought was unnecessary, but cooperating nonetheless. I did not leave until dismissed, etc. Most importantly though, I treated the officers with respect – and engaged them in polite conversation.

Many times I see people challenged by the police become caught up in the fear, uncertainty, and doubt of the situation. I see an immediate attitude of belligerence, and an immediate escalation of the situation that is then destined to end in handcuffs.

When this occurs the people hauled away add another checkbox to their list of reasons to hate the police, and everyone decides that the police state is responsible for the wrongful prosecution of the individual. In other words, the police are apparently always in the wrong when trying to do their job.

This has not been my experience. Ohhh yes, the police were often in the wrong, but they were responding to something that they believe needed their attention. When we engaged, clear lines of communication were established and honored on both sides – and I always left them smiling.

Again, I’m not suggesting that there aren’t police officers who violate the human rights and civil liberties of the people. Indeed they do exist.  But instead of seeing the police as the enemy or the front-end of the prison industrial complex, perhaps we can look at them as people just trying to do a job.

Always assume that the officer you are engaged with is a person just like you, trying to get through their day so they can go home and enjoy the remainder of their time. They don’t want to do paperwork anymore than you want to go ‘down town’. In other words, give them the benefit of the doubt.

Be VERY aware of your own physical personage, your mental state, and your mode of engagement. If you want to avoid difficulty, be easy to work with. If you want to avoid a loss of personal freedom, don’t give them a reason to take it from you.

If the police are coming to take you away anyway – perhaps because you have a warrant, don’t blame them for trying to do their job. They didn’t issue the warrant, or participate in the action that resulted in the warrant being issued to begin with. Go peacefully – don’t make it worse on yourself.

And what if you do find yourself being unfairly detained, or even arrested? DO NOT RESIST! Be calm, cool, and collected, clearly point out the reason that you disagree with the actions being taken, identify any specific action that requires acknowledgement, etc., but do so with loving kindness.

If you see a police escalation that results in unfair treatment of another person, use your cell phone to record the incident and do not relinquish the device to the police. Leave the area immediately, copy the recording to a computing device, make it public, and then turn in a copy as evidence.

That we see so much police brutality is both unconscionable and unacceptable, but at the same time many of the situations that they respond to are already highly charged. If the police arrive and are met with immediate escalation, then things are bound to end badly for you.

Accountability is required by all parties involved. Cool heads and clear communications are the best possible tools for disarming the situation, and cooperation is essential. If it goes badly anyway – you can deal with that later, but do what needs to be done to avoid making it worse.

For my own part I expect to continue having encounters with the police as I begin to call into question a number of unfair legal and social practices, injustices, and outright abuses of power and position. But I am not fighting the police – my war is against the system, and my weapons are love and kindness.

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