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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Don't make me chase you!

There has been a lot of discussion about police take-down tactics in South Florida over the past week or so, ever since a group of police officers was caught on tape allegedly roughing up a suspect who had led the cops on a long, dangerous car chase.

The chase started when the cops tried to pull this guy over, 'cause his car was similar to one they thought had been used in a crime. Turned out later he wasn't involved in the other crime. At the end of the chase the suspect bailed from his car, ran to a nearby strip of grass and literally dove to the ground face down, before the officers set upon him. Later the suspect, who was recently released from prison, said he fled, because he was driving on a suspended license.

Debate has ranged from the cops being justified to the cops being accused of brutality, since the guy was already face down and spread-eagle when they started to "subdue" him. I've been sort of on the fence. That was until I saw a kid and his mom in a "standoff" outside my barbershop Wednesday morning, and a real time analogy unfolded before my eyes.

I was actually sitting on a bench in the shop in downtown Miami, waiting to get my hair cut, when I noticed just outside the door of the shop a woman speaking in warning tones to a young boy - I'd say either her son, nephew, or someone she was babysitting. I'm thinking son, though.

Anyway, the kid couldn't have been more than 4-years-old. And who knows how old the mom was? What I do know was she kept telling him to come to her, but she didn't have the speed or athletic prowess to make him comply.

First it was "come here, please." When he declined and scooted further away from her, mom graduated to "come here." When Junior still didn't listen, mom took a quick step toward him and reached out. Junior sidestepped her hand and laughed. Mom didn't. She then moved on to "get over here" through gritted teeth. Junior danced just out of arm's reach and laughed some more. Then she said it. Mom raised her voice and snapped "get your narrow behind over here!" And that's when Junior stopped.

His facial expression changed. It hovered somewhere between I still think this is funny, 'cause she can't catch me, to I still think this is funny..., but I may just have pushed her too far.

Finally, as Junior contemplated his situation - and I mean you could see the gears turning and his face screwing up as he weighed his options - mom saw her chance and she lunged and got that little...angel by the collar! She gave him a shake - just stern, nothing abusive, in my humble opinion - and then proceeded to give him a hardcore tongue-lashing as she dragged him down the sidewalk and into a store. Memories of Homer Simpson chasing son Bart and yelling "Why you little!" followed by a soothing "I'm not gonna hurt you boy!" flashed through my mind.

I will never condone police brutality. I've been scared half to death before by a couple of cops who hassled me for no good reason. And I don't know - the cops involved in this chase may have a history of overdoing it with suspects. But in that moment in the barbershop, after thinking about the number of times my mom, huffing and puffing, scolded me "boy, don't make me chase you," I sort of felt for the cops involved in this particular pursuit.

Seriously, I would not make a good police officer, because if I told someone to "freeze!" or to pull over and they didn't listen and they made me break a sweat and chase them and stress my bum knee, I'm gonna be pissed off when I catch up to them. I ain't saying I'd beat 'em. But I'm admitting I'd want to.

Yeah, yeah. I know cops are public officials and therefore held to higher standards and expected to keep their tempers in check. But humans are humans.

And without justifying the alleged roughing up, don't forget this situation would never have happened if the guy had just pulled over and stopped when he was first told to. Of course, he chose not to stop, because he knew he shouldn't have been driving in the first place.

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  • When the police tell someone to stop, or pull over or "freeze", just do it. Running makes everything worse. There was recently a kid (22 or so) killed here in Cleveland on his crotch rocket because he ran from the police on it. They weren't actually going to chase him because of the dangers associated with pursuing a motorcycle that can go in excess of 150mph, but he ran anyway. He ended up going headfirst through both sides of an enclosed bus stop.

    My neighbor went to the funeral because the young man was her godson. If he had just listened in the first place, it never would have happened.

    Are there bad police out there? Of course, there are bad people in every profession, but in the end, they are the first people we call when something goes wrong....

    I know that this debate has raged for years, but that is just my opinion.

    By Blogger ADW, at 11:39 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger M@, at 11:50 AM  

  • People who carry guns to enforce the law should have better impulse control than say... me. It's called being the bigger man. I mean, unless the suspect grabbed you by the testicles or something, you don't have the right to punish him physically.

    I hate how cops try to lecture and pass moral judgment. No moral judgment, please. Just legal judgment. There's a big difference.

    By Blogger M@, at 11:52 AM  

  • It's like the old saying:

    "don't try to run.. you will only die tired."

    By Blogger Hammer, at 1:18 PM  

  • Great analogy there, James. I'm not condoning police brutality or harrassment, bias, and the like but boy, I know how angry I could get at my kids when they didn't pay a lick of attention to my requests or admonitions to "cease and desist." And, if I were a cop, being led on a high-speed chase that could easily endanger my life, the person fleeing as well as numerous others, innocents who may have happened into the scenario, you better believe I would be darned ticked off when it all ended and my anger most likely would want to be vented on the root cause - the person doing the running, ya know. Ok, maybe it's a good thing I'm not a cop, just saying that's how I'd feel if I were - I think.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 2:53 PM  

  • If nothing else, the guy should be cited for stupidity in trying to outrun cops.

    We can't condone any abuse of power or we are saying that incidents like the Rodney King beatings are acceptable.

    Like it or not, there IS a greater responsibility on those who are paid to uphold the law because it is too humanly possible to take advantage of that trust.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 3:23 PM  

  • We all need to learn to deal with each other better. We're just citing examples now.

    By Blogger The CEO, at 10:55 PM  

  • This is where I have to say, I defer to Chris Rock's wisdom. "if the police have to come and get you, they're gonna bring an asskicking with them"

    By Anonymous og, at 7:39 AM  

  • You know, I've never thought about it that way, James. I have to agree with you. It's only human that the police would want to get a little rough with someone who they have to chase and it may explain that "head bump" some people get as they are led into the cop car.

    By Blogger GrizzBabe, at 10:01 AM  

  • James, What do you think of that shooting incident in Texas? I can't believe Texas and Florida have "no-retreat" self-defense laws. It's absurd.

    By Blogger M@, at 12:10 PM  

  • Oh, the 'mom' story brought back memories. My own kids are 18 and 20, but I remember similar moments.

    I don't know anything about this particular story, but if you run from the cops, you've got to know that when you get caught (and you will get caught), they're just going to be more pissed off. I know criminals by definition aren't that smart, but you'd think self-preservation would kick in at some point.

    By Blogger SWF42, at 1:01 PM  

  • Damn James, this one made me laugh when you said you'd want to beat them if you were a cop. I admire your ability to be objective while still having experienced the bullshit cops put on black people.

    If someone runs from the cops they don't deserve to be beaten, they just deserve to get taken to jail. It's a game of cops and robbers essentially. Catch they guy, high five your buddies, slap on the cuffs and drive downtown. No need to put the beat down on the man...just because he deserves it.

    By Anonymous Calmerthanyouare, at 7:18 PM  

  • "It's absurd." the only thing absurd is that all 50 states don't have no retreat laws.

    By Anonymous og, at 10:08 PM  

  • I'll get to all the comments. But I'm gonna skip to the end, first. Matt, this'll disappoint you, but I'm agreeing with Og on this one.
    I think "no retreat" laws are fine, when applied by sane people. If someone shady is walking down the public sidewalk and happens to pass in front of your house and you shoot him 'cause he looks scary, you're nuts. And a "no retreat" law did not make you that way. Nor did it make you feel OK to shoot the wonky looking stranger. You probably would have done that, anyway. But if that wonky looking stranger comes down that sidewalk and comes into your house uninvited, you shouldn't have to run and hide. The only thing I think about "no retreat" laws is that they should state cleary the person who feels threatened has an obligation to verbally order the intruder/assailant to back off before shooting the intruder/assailant - sort of like a cop saying "Stop!" before continuing with "or I'll shoot." I absolutely like the idea of not having to flee from a dangerous person who is menacing me or my family. I like the idea of being able to stand my ground if I'm able. I had a friend who used to say that if someone broke into his house, he'd go and hide and cower in the basement with his family. I don't think so. I'd send my family to the basement or out the back door. But I'm gonna stay unless there's four of you and you appear to be better armed than me, and I'm gonna try to put the hurt of a life time on you. It's not about protecting stuff for me. It's about protecting my space and my "safe zone," that small invisible parameter around me that if breached in the wrong way makes me feel threatened. So you break into Casa de Burnett, you are either going to receive an arse full of giant dog teeth, an arse or some other (or multiple) body parts full of legal lead, two eyes full of insane-cat claws, a mouth full of Louisville Slugger, or perhaps even 100,000 legal volts, or all of the above. And while you may have "only" intended to take my stuff, unless you were wearing a sign to that effect, a sign bearing in bold print the results of your lie detector test in which insisted burglary was your only motive, there's no way for me to know that in advance. So I have to assume that you violated my space to hurt/kill my family and/or me.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 10:54 PM  

  • What's absurd about defending your life and property?

    By Blogger KurtP, at 10:57 PM  

  • Thing is, officers go through training specifically designed to ensure they keep their cool under pressure. I'm all for the police catching bad guys and a guy who runs, who was found to be carrying multiple drugs and driving with a suspended license is clearly a bad guy. That said, this isn't 1950 or even 1980 and there were numerous helicopters following this guy that could've allowed for the police to 'follow' or catch him in some other way instead of fueling his desire to escape- a desire that pushed the guy to drive in the wrong direction down main thoroughfareS. With all the advances and resources (i.e. cameras everywhere) police have other options now that allow for the safety of the public. The reason chases are bad is because of sheer desperation- a 'stop at nothing' attitude and many times innocent people die. The day after this chase a woman died in Florida City because she was carjacked and an officer chased the car jacker. What angers me most about the chase in question is that the guy who was chased, a guy who is clearly a criminal, will now become a millionaire from the pockets of every county resident just because the officerS involved couldn't control themselves. Sure he may go to jail, but when he comes out, he'll have a FAT settlement waiting for him and that's not fair to the rest of us who don't drive with suspended licenses while carrying drugs or try to elude police.

    By Blogger SUE, at 8:30 AM  

  • This is such a tough/complex issue.

    Criminals run, because they are criminals. Cops lower themselves to criminal standardss when they beat and abuse. human weakness.

    Sometimes innocents fight because they fear for their lives or because they panic. (Fight or flight)

    By Blogger Pamela, at 4:54 PM  

  • There are wrong cops, but a lot of cops are people like yo and me, and they spend their whole lives seeing people at their worst. I'll cut a cop slack whenever i can.

    By Anonymous og, at 7:40 PM  

  • i've met some great cops... and then i've met criminals with badges. it's a crazy mix out there.

    By Blogger minijonb, at 3:19 PM  

  • Some innocent people run because they're afraid. Some of you have never experienced treatment where one need not be guilty of anything to be accosted by police. Too many of our young men fit the "description" of criminals and it isn't impossible to become lost in the system with no support to rescue you.
    Unfortunately some of our youth know police as thugs. (like the shooters of the 92 year old grandma in her home in Atlanta). Does anyone believe this is the only time this group planted evidence and lied about innocent people?

    By Anonymous jali, at 9:25 AM  

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