I usually send you a long list of books I’d like at this time every year. Novels, short story collections, poetry chapbooks, resource books for writing therapy, memoirs. But this year I’m going to make it simple for you. I really only want one book.
I’m looking for something to read about how to protect myself. Specifically, I’d like to learn how to protect myself from those who are supposedly there to serve and protect me.
You know who I’m talking about.
Let me assure you, I’m not one of those anti-government, Chicken Little sort of people. I’m not a police-basher. In fact, I happen to know some really nice cops. But nevertheless, like a lot of people, I’m feeling skittish these days.
Of course, cops of questionable repute have been around for pretty much ever. I recall a time long ago when my friend locked us out of her car in a not-so-nice-neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. A few cops came along, catcalling as they approached our group of four young women. They laughed when they saw our predicament and walked away after suggesting we find a way to get out of there before dark. Thanks a lot, guys.
A few years later, my then-husband’s car broke down inconveniently in front of one of Chicago’s most notorious housing projects, Cabrini-Green. A cop drove up, wished him luck, and said he was glad he wasn’t the one stranded in that part of the city. Then he drove off. Wow, right?
More recently, a young man I know was pulled over for driving too fast in the Seattle area. The police officer “asked” the driver if he’d like to submit to a breath test. The driver had not been drinking alcohol, so saw no reason to take the test, and thinking the police officer’s question had been more of an offer than a command, the driver declined the test. Unfortunately, this decision prompted the cop to immediately handcuff the young man and shove him into the back seat of the squad car, explaining that failure to submit to a breath test was immediate grounds for such confinement.
I realize these experiences pale in comparison to what’s been happening in Missouri, New York, and elsewhere in African American communities. But they have demonstrated over the years that the serve and protect motto isn’t necessarily embraced by all our friends in blue. Even for us white folks. And now it seems that poor police judgment (and behavior) is on the rise, and so is the public’s mistrust of cops, and this combination of trends makes for a very frightening time. I know another young man who was involved in some vandalism one night, and when he was spotted by a cop from a distance, he ran. I shudder to think about what might have happened to him if the police officer had caught up to him or decided to use his weapon.
Yes, I am afraid. Not only for myself but–especially–for my loved ones. And for our society as a whole. Are we playing Russian roulette: guess which way to behave the next time you get pulled over for a broken tail light? The rules about how to respond to a cop are becoming rather murky, it seems, and you can’t assume anything, because if you make the wrong assumption, or the wrong move, in an officer’s presence, you could wind up dead.
So that’s why I’m looking for a good book on the subject this Christmas season, Santa. Oh, and while you’re at it, would you mind delivering a copy of this book to everyone on your list? In this way, you could actually serve and protect us…even though that’s not technically part of your job description. I’m thinking about a book written for the average citizen, not someone with an advanced law degree. And one that doesn’t just address our rights but also gives advice on what we should say and do if we do get pulled over or otherwise questioned by a cop, to avoid confrontation..or worse. And one that will resonate especially with young people, and people of color, and others who are the most likely objects of police brutality.
I hope this book exists. And if it doesn’t, I hope someone out there will write one really, really fast.
Thanks, Santa. I do hope you have a safe and merry Christmas. And, please, travel safely in that sleigh of yours. I don’t want to see an encounter between you and a police officer on You Tube.