Having been on the planet for a while, I’ve had the occasional experience with the police. Some of those experiences have been positive, some less so. I thought it might be instructive to describe some of those experiences and what I learned from them.
While one my way home driving down the interstate, my car bucked. And then it did it again. “Please, God,” I prayed, “just let me get home.” But God had other plans. On the exit ramp, my car screeched to a halt as if I had pressed the brake, and it would move no more. The engine was running, but the care wouldn’t move.
This was in the days before cell phones, so I walked to a mall, borrowed a phone to call AAA, and walked back to my car, which was obstructing the ramp. Other cars drove around it. Well, there wasn’t anything I could do except wait to be rescued. It was summer, so I took my book (I always have a book with me) and sat in the grass alongside the road to read it while waiting for AAA.
A police car pulled up and four large policemen stepped out of it.
“Sir, what are you doing?”
“My car broke down and….”
“You can’t leave it on the ramp, sir.”
“I can’t move it!”
“Get in the car, sir.”
“Put it in neutral.”
The policemen — and these were big men — attempted to push the car and couldn’t.
“Put the car in neutral, sir.”
“Please step out of the car sir.”
I did, and another officer stepped into the car and said, “Hey! It is in neutral!”
It was only at this point that the officers realized that I was a motorist in need of help and not some loon. I explained that I had walked to the mall and called AAA, but that was 45 minutes ago and they hadn’t shown up yet. The police called AAA. By the way, the policeman in charge was black. “We get all kinds,” he told me by way of apology. “We thought you had just stopped the car and decided to meditate alongside the road.”
A very apologetic AAA eventually sent help.
I had been walking home in my town when two men began yelling at each other on the other side of the street. I couldn’t understand all the slang, but the upshot of it was that one man accused the other of doing something to his sister. The accused picked up a fallen tree branch, and the accuser charged him, another man (his friend I assume) right behind. The accused (a smaller man) dropped the branch and ran, but the accuser picked it up and chased the smaller man, beating him into unconsciousness with the branch. The accuser and his friend at this point seemed uncertain what to do, and two women who appeared to know them managed to convince them to leave the man there. They four disappeared into a house across the street. I was left, also uncertain what to do. This was still before cell phones. I prayed silently over the man. Eventually a lady rushed to the fallen man who was regaining consciousness and swearing. “Don’t worry,” she said, “Your Uncle Tony will take care of this.”
The police arrived, and I described what I heard and saw. I was complemented by the young officer on my memory, and I was free to go.
The Old Guy
Because it was drizzling, I took an umbrella with me for an afternoon walk instead of a run. I met an elderly man, drenched to the skin. He had a gentle smile on his face. His demeanor was so odd, I engaged him in conversation. It didn’t take me long to realize he was confused and lost. He couldn’t tell me where he lived and wasn’t sure where he was going. I put my umbrella over him and tried to convince him to come with me, but he absolutely refused.
Again, this was in the days before cell phones. So, I stayed with him. Eventually, we passed a fast food restaurant, and I convinced him to rest there while I “called my wife” to let her know where I was. He agreed. I intended to call the police for help, but the manager of the restaurant didn’t want to get involved with a call to the police. So, I asked if I could call my wife instead. He agreed to let me do that, and I asked her to call the police on my behalf. I told her where we were, but I also told her if the elderly man wouldn’t stay, I would try to walk with him.
And sure enough, he didn’t want to stay. So I walked with him. Eventually, I saw a police car and flagged it down. The car had been looking for us. I expected a commendation for keeping this poor, confused man safe, but the young policeman was unhappy with me. “Why didn’t you call us right away?” he asked in an accusatory tone. “Why didn’t you stay put?” He was gruff with the older man, but the man surrendered his wallet to the officer, and the officer eventually got him home. And while the police officer was annoyed with me, the family later called us to thank me. Their grandfather/father had become increasingly senile, and and he would wander off and get lost.
The Bad Left Turn
I pulled up to a street light that said, “No Left Turn between 3:00 and 6:00 PM.” It was 5:50 PM, and no cars were coming, so I turned left.
Bad choice. The policewoman who stopped me was very polite. “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“Uh… the left turn? There was nothing coming.”
“That’s what the last guys said.”
But she ticketed me. Politely, of course. I no longer turn left there, or right if the sign says “No right turns on red.”
The Demise of the Stop Sign
My youngest son lost control of his car on snow covered roads in our development, and he killed a stop sign. He drove home, explained what happened, and I went with him to survey the damage. Yep. The sign was dead. But there were signs of oil drippings that indicated the possibility of damage to his undercarriage.
We walked back and called the non-emergency police number in the phone book, but no one answered. So, we called again. But no one answered. We called AAA to pick up my son’s car and take it to the garage for a check to make sure it was safe to drive. We kept trying to call the non-emergency number.
Eventually, the police came, because people in our development saw the accident and saw my son drive off. They gave the police his license number, and they tracked him down to our home. We were outside, shoveling snow. My wife was inside the house calling the non-emergency number from time to time.
A policewoman and very tall policeman got out of the police car. “Is this your car?” the policewoman asked. Her partner never said anything the entire time.
“It’s my son’s car.”
“We have a report of a hit and run with this car.”
“My son lost control of the car because the streets haven’t been plowed yet. He was upset, and he drove the car back here.”
“Why didn’t you call the police?” Her tone was accusatory.
“We did, but no one is answering the number.”
“What number did you call?”
“I don’t remember the number. It’s the one in the phone….”
“Why didn’t you call 911?”
“It wasn’t an emergency.”
It became obvious that she thought I was lying. And then the tow truck arrived.
“I thought you said you called the police number.”
“But I see you called a tow truck.”
This got worse and worse. I still get angry when I think of the way she treated me. She even interviewed the tow truck driver to see when our call to him came in. She was unimpressed when I provided her the number we had been calling.
What I learned
Here are things I learned from this:
- If the sign says, “no left turn between 3:00 and 6:00 PM,” don’t turn left at 5:50 PM. It doesn’t matter if it’s safe and no one is coming. It’s the law. And the police may be nice about it, but they’ll still give you a ticket.
- The police sometimes are not inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt because they often interface with criminals, drunks, and people who are high.
- This is a problem, of course, when you just need help. It’s a problem when you are assumed to be lying. It’s understandable. We all make mistakes, and even policewomen are human, but it is also wrong.
- There are times the police are necessary.
- I am glad someone was there to help that elderly man.
- I am thankful that there was someone there to intervene during beatings.
- I am glad that someone called AAA again for me, because AAA had misplaced my call.
But then, I am white, and I am not inclined to assume that every bad experience I have had with the police is because of my skin color. It’s not that I am unaware that there is “racial profiling.” One young man (he is African-American) in our church has been stopped twice for no reason. At least when I was stopped, there was as reason.
And what do you do when you know a policeman? One of our church members is a policeman. I can assure you, he is no racist.
But to me, my experience means that skin color is not the only explanation for a bad experience with the police. I am white, and I’ve had bad experiences with policemen. Someone might caustically reply, “At least you’re alive.” But I understand that more white people are killed by police than black people, and yet it is only the black deaths that we hear about, and only those deaths that create protests and riots.
Unwarranted police action is a reason to train our officers better, not to abolish them. If “defunding the police” continues, soon, only those who cannot get another job will want to be policemen. Policing is already a high-stress job. We need to support our police, not denigrate at them and treat them all as if they were criminals.
And sometimes, the police are there to help a stranded motorist and protect the weak from the evil. I assure you, there are people out there who will not be stopped by a social worker and an appeal to their better natures.