Saturday, July 25, 2015

Response to Changing Lanes

(See: Just Above Sunset: Changing Lanes)

Almost twenty years ago, we were vacationing in the Carolinas when, while staying at a motel, my wife (as is her silly wont at hotels) made the bed in the morning, and in the process of pushing the bedspread under the pillows while our toddler was sitting on it, bent her middle finger backward, almost double.

After visiting a local clinic, where a doctor wrapped her finger in a brace and instructed her to keep it elevated, making it look in the car like she was making a rude gesture to passersby, we took off home on the backroads, through small towns that we quickly learned were all speed traps.

(You see where this is going yet?)

So sure enough, in spite of my duly slowing down for all of them, one roadside cop car fired up his lights as we passed and pulled us over. After sitting behind us for a few minutes, presumably running our plates and calling for backup, he strolled up to my window and peeked in, and starting in to laughing. He called the backup cop up to see, and he started laughing, too. They both were then in great humor when we explained why her hand was like that. It probably helped that our son was sleeping peacefully through the whole thing in his car seat in back. They let us go with a warning to be careful with our speed, since some of those towns up ahead, he delicately explained, were "speed traps!"

So why did he pull us over? Not for speeding, that's for sure. And not "Driving-While-Black", since if he could see well enough to notice my wife's finger, he could see well enough to notice we weren't. No, had she not had a note from her doctor, it would have been a clear, open-and-shut case of “contempt of cop” -- which, by the way, is not really against any law. Still, I'm guessing the injury probably wouldn't have mattered if we'd mouthed off and protested being pulled over. And what if we'd been pleasant, but also had been black? Don't know. I've never been there, so I can't say, but yes, I do suspect things would have been harder for us had we not been white.

I heard this Sandra Bland issue first discussed on the July 23rd “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore", in the segment with his panel of guests.

Aside from them all treating this event as unquestionably racial (which I couldn't do, as I could see me, a white dude, talking that way and me being treated just the same), the odd thing I was thinking during the back-and-forth is that nobody seemed to mention that famous speech black parents always tell their kids -- that if you're pulled over by a cop, be respectful, keep both hands where he can see them, do what he tells you to do, and for god's sake, don't give him an excuse to escalate on you. (In fact, I'm white, and I think I had a similar talk with both my kids as they approached driving age.)

In any event, it sounded to me from hearing that tape that Sandra Bland never got that talk. And before you go all "blaming-the-victim" on me, I'm not saying the cop was right, because I think there was something squirrelly with that stop from the get-go.

First off, the feds need to find a way to crack down on all these sneaky local police tactics, including speed traps. Those cops in South Pasadena should be arrested for doing that, and the department probably should have been taken over by either the state or the federal government, as should the Waller County, Texas department that apparently pulls people over for something that should be illegal.

Or should it? Mark Joseph Stern has something to say about that: officer can’t pull you over unless he has reasonable suspicion that you committed a crime. Here, Trooper Brian Encinia clearly had reasonable suspicion that Bland committed an offense: She changed lanes without a signal, in violation of Texas traffic law. Leaving aside the question of whether Encinia effectively forced Bland to change lanes (which she alleges in the video), the footage demonstrates that the trooper acted within the law when pulling her over.
Maybe the "released footage" demonstrates that, but I wonder if the dash-cam stuff we didn't see shows not only what really happened -- that is, if he forced her over, but also whether he had his flashers and overhead lights going before she changed lanes, which would indicate she moved because he was trying to pass. This citing of people for failing to signal when they pull over to let a cop get by is an old trick that has also been used by small towns to confiscate cash and valuables from unsuspecting rubes passing through. Only recently have the feds seemed to take notice.

But then there's that other matter, as Heather ("Digby") Parton says:
The video of this young woman’s treatment at the hands of police – by all indications for failing to be verbally submissive – is terrifying.
Not being "verbally submissive" may be missing the point; I heard the tape and I heard her being "verbally abusive". Not that she wasn't within her rights to do so, but it's just hard for me to sympathize with her treatment -- or at least at the traffic stop, although that hanging certainly seems extremely suspicious.

But then we hear this on CNN, with Marc Lamont Hill referring to fellow-panelist Harry Houck:
“What Harry is calling arrogance, I’m calling dignity,” Hill declared. “Black people have a right to assert their dignity in public. And just because it doesn’t cohere with what police want doesn’t mean they are being arrogant or dismissive.”
Excuse me? I suppose everybody of every race has an equal right to "assert their dignity in public", but I don't think anybody, of any race, should have the right to assert it in the face of a police officer. 

I'm thinking, First Amendment notwithstanding, that there ought to be laws that dictate the peaceful comportment of both parties in a traffic stop. In fact, because cops' jobs are, even at best, filled with situations that can too easily turn volatile, I even think that, just as you can be summarily punished for showing contempt for a court, we might also need actual "Contempt of Cop" laws, although with a proviso that the contempt has to be caught on tape, to prevent the law from being abused. I also wonder if there being no law against showing contempt for cops doesn't just invite the cops to take the law into their own hands.

But in the meantime, I should also make clear that telling someone they should behave themselves around cops is like telling some girl that dressing in a very sexy outfit might cause some guy to thinking your inviting him to have sex with you, so he ends up raping you; just as how you are dressed should not excuse him from being arrested, not should you being rude to a cop excuse him for mistreating you.

And yes, I realize how insensitive this all sounds for me to bring this up during this Sandra Bland discussion, so let me just end this with this statement:

I really think Sandra Bland is dead because of illegal treatment by the cops. Someone needs to look into this and, assuming there was actual wrongdoing, punish whoever did the wrong.

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(No trolls, please! As a rule of thumb, don't get any nastier in your comments than I do in my posts. Thanks.)