Quotable Quote of the Month

What does it take for Republicans to take off the flag pin and say, 'I am just too embarrassed to be on this team'?".- Bill Maher

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Black and Blue

I consider my family exceptionally fortunate to be living in an area right outside of Chicago that is considered one of the most racially and culturally diverse areas in the country. The teens attending our local high school were born in 72 different countries and 75% of them speak one of over 50 different languages, other than English, in their homes. 

Adding to the mix of cultural and racial diversity are the financial differences between the families in the immediate area. While the majority are considered middle class, I would say that 1 in 5 students would probably be considered wealthy by most people’s assessment, while another 20% are from low-income families living considerably below the poverty level. If you stand still in the school’s parking lot and look to the south, you see huge homes...mansions, really, with an address located in one of Chicago’s most affluent suburbs. These homes are meticulously maintained by maids and landscapers and luxury automobiles adorn the driveways.

If you look to the north, you see slumlord apartment buildings and government assisted housing located up and down the blocks of several streets. This area is not part of the affluent suburb. It is owned by Cook County and it is run down, filthy and unfortunately, chock full of drugs, gangs on the street corners, violence and an almost constant police presence. 

These two neighborhoods do have something in common, though. When school gets out for the day, you see children of all races and ethnicities crossing the street to the north, as well as the south. Just like my own middle class street, the neighborhoods themselves are diverse.

A rather lengthy intro, but I felt that it needed to be described. If there’s one thing I have learned growing up and living in this area is that it is ridiculous to “stereotype” anyone based on race, their name, where they live, where they came from or what religion they may or may not practice. It just can’t be done and anyone who believes it can really is quite shortsighted.

I also bring with me a perspective from working at a police department in this same area. I hold an Associate’s in Law Enforcement and a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice. I worked for ten years as a Police and Fire Dispatcher and 911 Operator. My husband has been a police officer for 20 years and is not an ass, a racist or unkind, nor are any of our police officer friends. This certainly doesn’t mean that these types of people don’t exist in police departments.  There are racist people everywhere, but to say that all people who wear blue are “like this or that” is no different than putting any common stereotype onto anybody else. It just can’t be done. 

I’m leading up to something here, I swear.

What led me to ask Malcolm if I could contribute to Diversity Ink was the previous post entitled “Police Detains NFL Player Whose Mother-In-Law is Dying” written by Pjazzypar. Pjazzypar and I are bloggy buddies. We are frequent visitors to each other’s blogs and, in a lot of ways, share similar ideas, likes, senses of humor and I’m crazy about her, even though she always knocks me off the podium at Malcolm’s weekly trivia games. 

Pjazzy ends her post with the following question: “Was the officer just being difficult or is this incident racially motivated?” I have to say, based on what I see on that tape, neither

We have to remember these tapes are seen with a gift of knowing the outcome of the story before seeing the video. This hindsight is something that the officers and the people involved in exchanges like this do not have as it is happening. 

At the start of the video, I see an officer attempting to stop a vehicle for (what we are told -it’s not on the tape-the taping starts when the lights are turned on) running a red light. I’m also going to say that based on the distance between the two vehicles, that the officer has no idea of the race of the driver or even how many people are in that car. For the next 60 or so seconds, all that officer knows is that the driver is ignoring his signals to stop. He does not know who they are, where they are going or why they are not stopping. It could be Mother Teresa, Ryan Moats or Ted Bundy. He can run the plate, but that doesn’t mean the registered owner is driving that car. 

Traffic stops are a dangerous thing to do even when people comply. When people refuse to stop, it puts the officer and the general public in an even more dangerous situation. Police officers are human beings, when they get stressed or perceive a threatening situation they respond with the same biological responses we all do... increased heart rate, anxiety and way more adrenaline pumped and reactive than they would normally be outside of those circumstances.   

It is a dangerous job and situations like the one we are watching on the tape can and sometimes do end in tragic situations for all parties involved. One of my police officer friends was involved in a low speed pursuit similar to this one. He had no idea why the guy wasn’t pulling over. My friend followed this vehicle through a turn and by the time he had completed his own turn, the driver of the pursuit vehicle had exited his vehicle and pumped 4 bullets through the windshield of my friend’s squad car. One had struck him in the chest but he was saved by the bullet proof vest. My friend shot back through the windshield, striking “bad guy” in the head and killing him. It turned out that this guy had just committed an armed robbery, although my friend was only pulling him over for a minor traffic violation.  

Not only did Moats run a red light, he also committed the act of fleeing by not stopping. Fleeing from police, while never a good idea, is a misdemeanor in a lot of places. I looked up Texas’ statues and there it’s a state jail felony, punishable by no less than 180 days and no more than two years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $10,000. 

There’s no doubt that Moats is ignoring the officer’s request to stop. The officer has no idea what is going on and is getting ready to make a felony stop. He should have his gun drawn under these circumstances. He’d be an idiot if he didn’t. 

The vehicle does pull up to the emergency room parking lot and all of the occupants immediately start exiting the vehicle. All of them are obviously agitated, not exactly listening to him and the officer still doesn’t know what is happening at this point. 
We then hear Ryan Moats yelling something to the officer while he is calling in the location of his traffic stop and requesting backup. The officer asks him for his driver’s license and Moats starts yelling that his mother is dying. He’s asked again for his driver’s license and his insurance and first Moat’s tells him he doesn’t have any insurance. When the officer tells him he will have to tow the car, Moats then says he does but tells the officer to “go get it” because he doesn’t know where it is. 

Moats is, what some might call, uncooperative and is setting the tone for this entire incident. 

I do understand Moats is upset, as anyone would be under similar circumstances. He is experiencing a personal emergency. A personal emergency is when an individual finds themselves in a situation that causes them to believe they are in an emergency situation when they really aren’t. It can be a tragic and emotional situation, but neither Moats nor the occupants in his vehicle are in immediate danger of losing their lives, physical health or property. A personal emergency does not give anyone the right to break laws, ignore the police and possibly endanger their own lives and those of others, nor can the police give anyone the right to do these things, even though there’s a common misconception among people that it does. 

Because the officer and Moats are different races, though, doesn’t mean that this incident has racial undertones, nor do I feel that Moats was being harassed because the officer drew his gun or detained him while he wrote the ticket based on what happened. The officer is not obligated to verify his story. Moats is obligated to obey the law. 

Monday morning quarterbacking allows us to make judgements and come to conclusions that we might not normally make while involved in a situation. We all come with our own experiences that alter how we perceive things and we’ve all been in situations where, in hindsight, we all wish that we might have acted differently. But, just because one of the parties in this incident is black and one wears blue does not automatically mean that what we see on the tape is racism or harassment.

Was Moats out of line? Very much so. Was the cop rather jerky at times he didn’t need to be? No doubt about it, but I can understand why they both behaved the way they did at the time. It doesn’t make it right.

It makes them both wrong.