Last Saturday, a ruckus took place on Fillmore Street. Emerging from a café with friends, I heard screaming on the east side of Fillmore near California. Crossing the street, I saw two or three police officers attempting to restrain a young man. He was black.
The man was on the ground screaming and cursing. He directed his invectives, mostly to the tune of “fuck you,” not only at the police but also at bystanders, several taking videos, perhaps as a restraint against police overreaction. After several minutes, the police—as many as eight had gathered—cuffed the man. Then they placed him in a patrol car. No weapon was brandished, no baton wielded, no chokehold applied.
As I heard it, the man had entered the nearby Wells Fargo Bank screaming. Such behavior tends to frighten employees and customers. Was he mentally disturbed? Off his meds? Did he have a knife or gun? I don’t know. I’m sure no one in the bank did either when he entered and went off. The security guard called the police. The man left and was identified to police answering the call. I only know how he reacted. And how I’ve reacted in the past.
Police have stopped me twice. The first time, a New York State highway patrolman pulled over several fraternity brothers and me as we drove back to college after spring vacation. We weren’t speeding. He checked the trunk. For alcohol? Drugs? I have no idea. The search may well have been illegal. Motivated by what? Beats me. He was less than pleasant and not at all apologetic when he let us continue on our way. If any of us were black, might there have been a violent confrontation? I can’t say. State trooper stops four Jewish guys? You never know. But none of us was about to provide him an opportunity to escalate the stop into an arrest or worse.
The second time, I was living in San Antonio. I went out for a late-night walk. A policeman stopped his patrol car and asked for my identification. Yes, people have a right to walk in their own neighborhood. Or someone else’s for that matter. But I wasn’t concerned with protesting a violation of my rights. You have to realize that Texans generally refuse to walk as much as a block to get beer at the corner 7-Eleven. That’s why God gave mankind the pickup truck. The policeman saw something unusual. He investigated. He was polite the whole time. Of course, I’m not black. That could have been another story. Or not. After verifying that I was a local resident, he said thank you and left. Now consider this: I’m glad he stopped me. He was keeping my neighborhood safe.
So yes, we know some police have used weapons or deadly force too quickly. That’s wrong. And no, my appearance doesn’t attract a lot of attention. But police have a job to do, including apprehending those who disturb the peace and keeping an eye on neighborhoods. It’s critical that they do it the right way. It’s also critical that we recognize the difficult and often dangerous nature of police work.
Not every ruckus should turn into a disaster. Then again, not every ruckus should happen in the first place.
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