Monday, July 27, 2009

Cops and Folks

A black professional person gets arrested by a white policeman for breaking into his own home. Racism? Well, maybe.

But there's often a totally different side to such stories.

The police receive a report of a disturbance of some sort. They have to respond, because that's what they're being paid to do.

When the officers get to the scene, they have to start somewhere, usually by trying to interview anybody they can find, sometimes even people who know nothing about wat's going on, and they need to obtain the precise identity of everybody they talk to, so that the same people will still be findable if any follow-up investigation is needed.

But citizens often do not realize this, and get upset because they think the police are hassling them, and often the policeman's interview technique is not exactly according to Emily Post. So a scuffle ensues.

Here's an incident I was involved in about 1970 or 1971 or thereabouts. I lived in a neighborhood that was not always uniformly peaceful, and drove a Fiat 124, a car that needed frequent maintenance.

I got home just after dark one evening, and decided it was just about time to do a valve adjustment, which was supposed to be done with a warm engine. So I opened the hood, went indoors and got out my tools and strung my drop-light, and a police car rolled up and the officer got out and said he wanted to talk to me.

So I said, "Hey, I live here, this is my own car, and I'm adjusting my valves, not stealing it! What's this all about?"

He told me he was responding to a disturbance in the neighborhood, and since I was the only person out and about, he needed to check me out. So I showed him my drivers license and vehicle registration and said I have no knowledge of any disturbance. Eventually he was satisfied and he left.

Well, it turned out later that there had been a gang-fight in somebody's front yard two doors over from my house, and it had apparently broken up just a minute or two before I had gotten home. I knew nothing about it until the next day, and even then, only rumors and hearsay.

I suppose if I had been just a bit more upset and the officer had been just a bit more trigger-happy, I could have been arrested. Oh by the way, the officer and I were both white, and as far as I know the gang fighters were also all white, whatever difference that makes.