As images of various police forces dressed in military uniforms attacking citizens in Ferguson, Mo. continue to play out across all of America's screens, what the enforcement-industrial complex needs is to showcase its human side. Thankfully, an LAPD cop has written a column telling us that the one way not to get assaulted or killed by the police is do exactly and only what they say.
The cop's name is Sunil Dutta, and he is a professor at Colorado Tech University (real school), an LAPD officer of 17 years, and an amateur troll for various esteemed publications (so we at least have one thing in common). His most recent article, published in the Washington Post, is titled "I'm a cop. If you don't want to get hurt, don't challenge me." I will now challenge Sunil Dutta—if he kills me, please tell my mother I loved her.
Sometimes, though, no amount of persuasion or warnings work on a belligerent person; that's when cops have to use force, and the results can be tragic. We are still learning what transpired between Officer Darren Wilson and Brown, but in most cases it's less ambiguous — and officers are rarely at fault. When they use force, they are defending their, or the public's, safety.
There is an implication here that informs the entirety of Dutta's argument, which is that cops never are the aggressors in situations, and instead only operate from a place of reaction. A really bad time to make this argument would be right this very second, when every night America gets to watch Missouri policemen shoot endless canisters of tear gas at peaceful crowds of protestors and journalists.
It also would have been a bad time to make this argument two weeks ago, after America watched Eric Garner get strangled to death by a NYPD officer for selling untaxed cigarettes off the street, which is in no way harmful to the safety of police or the public. (That is, unless Dutta would like to argue that selling cigarettes is harmful and those that do so must be attacked, in which case I have an idea of where police could start.)
It's a bad time to make this argument when the death of Eric Garner has brought the deaths of people like Patrick Dorismond—who was killed by an undercover NPYD officer who badgered him for drugs—and Sean Bell—who was killed after the NPYD sprayed 50 bullets into his vehicle the night before his wedding—back into the spotlight.
Dutta's language here—"in most cases it's less ambiguous"—gives him as much wiggle room as he needs—#NotAllCops!—but he seems to fail to acknowledge that the incidents that fall outside of "most cases" are more than enough to engender the suspicion of police that he is so quick to dismiss as childish.
Then there's this:
Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don't want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don't argue with me, don't call me names, don't tell me that I can't stop you, don't say I'm a racist pig, don't threaten that you'll sue me and take away my badge. Don't scream at me that you pay my salary, and don't even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?
"If you don't want to get shot just do what I tell you" is a purely insane thing to say. That is not how human interaction is supposed to work, regardless of whether an "authority figure" is involved or not. Later in his piece, Dutta notes that "an average cop" merely "tries to control every encounter. An "average cop" should be able to control an encounter even if they are being argued with or being called a racist. Cops can deal with hurt feelings without beating people up, just like the rest of us.
Dutta's solution is to do whatever a cop says in the moment—up to and including an arrest that may or may not be lawful or warranted—because you can just go ahead and sue cops later.
Save your anger for later, and channel it appropriately. Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you. We have a justice system in which you are presumed innocent; if a cop can do his or her job unmolested, that system can run its course. Later, you can ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint or contact civil rights organizations if you believe your rights were violated. Feel free to sue the police! Just don't challenge a cop during a stop.
I can only address this argument if I believe that Dutta really thinks that people are supposed to have faith in internal and external investigations of cops, but I don't think he does.
He ends his piece by arguing that America's view of cops has been distorted by entertainment:
An average person cannot comprehend the risks and has no true understanding of a cop's job. Hollywood and television stereotypes of the police are cartoons in which fearless super cops singlehandedly defeat dozens of thugs, shooting guns out of their hands.
Yes, where would people begin to construct stereotypes of police. Certainly not in the pages of the Washington Post.
[image by Jim Cooke]