Monday, August 08, 2005

Facists Thugs or Careless Bumblers?

"How can I help the police today?" That's what I said when a young officer called me about some craziness I had nothing to do with. I think my confidence threw him a little; he was looking for some slime that had a name similar to mine, or some such nonsense. I politely explained that there was no way I had anything to do with what he was investigating, but of course he was a cop, so I had to explain it to him again, this time using smaller words. Look, cops can be threatening figures, but in this new normal we all have to learn to deal with police questioning us. Police are allowed to walk into a park, look around, and ask, "What's going on here?" A lot of people think that's some kind of fascist attack. Worse, police can detain you for a reasonable time to investigate. To lawyers it's called a Terry stop, and all cops need is "reasonable suspicion."

Okay, now that's a very glib overview to apply to this story. Here's the basic outlines: a home is broken into in a small NY town, victim/witness said it was a black person, and the police found blood on the doorknob. There's less than a thousand black people in this little town. So what do the cops do? That's right! "'We've tried to examine the hands of all the black people in the community,' then senior state police investigator H. Karl Chandler told the Oneonta Daily Star in 1992... The state's lawyers would later frame his judgments as having shown "legitimate police discretion." That's a little something I like to call "cop logic," best described in the cult-classic the Usual Suspects, and its actually very useful in the real world. Anyway, the outcry over this moronic move is overblown, but predictable. Keep in mind this is one of those “enlightened” blue-states; I don't think any officer in the South would not foresee the minor PR debacle such a tactic could become. It is interesting though because this is exactly the argument over profiling.

Of course, they're suing, but my question is simple: is this legitimate police discretion? My gut reaction is to say, hey, you can't stop somebody and question them just because they're black! But the other side comes back and says, hey, you're stopping somebody that fits the description. Well, what if there had been two blacks living in this town? What about 20,000? Is it about numbers? It's possible profiling could be used for racist reasons, but it is likely that profiling would be used for this kind of stupidity. People need to respectfully stand up to police, and police need to use the sledgehammer/flea approach only in high risk situations.


  1. Uh, my dad was a cop. And wasn't yours an Army MP? Jerk. Just callin' it like I see it.

  2. Hey, I like cops, but sometimes they sort of have cop blinders on. But I tell you what these protesters are whimps! They're all emotionally distressed because a cop looked in their direction.

  3. but the cops are big scary white fascist Republicans! They want to eat our babies.

  4. mmmm... babies. I'm getting fitted for my jackboots thursday