How often do you interact with the police? I ask because being an old white guy I have been reflecting on how seldom I ever have contact with law enforcement.
I say this while knowing that some of my black friends get stopped regularly while driving and that the presence of a cop in their life is much less comfortable than it is in mine.
Over the past few years our contact with Law Enforcement was limited to two kinds of officials.
Border Patrol inspection stations and Federal Park/Facility officers (park rangers, etc..).
The border officials never did more than look at us, ask us one or two questions and flag us on. That’s at the same time that we saw vehicles pulled over to the side and their contents being laid out on the tarmac for inspection.
Our contact with park rangers and Forest Service Law Enforcement were all from the “other” side of the equation — they and we were on the same side and I had a lot of contact with them to do background checks for volunteers I was considering hiring, and from time to time I’d “sic” them on someone in a campground who was giving a volunteer a hard time. But that was all very different from having them look at us askance and wondering what we were doing, or if we were breaking the law. In fact, during our stay in Oregon we were domiciled in a Forest Service bone yard where the L.E.O.’s kept their gear so they were always coming in and out of our compound and we were quite friendly with them.
Today as we returned from our roadtrip to Wisconsin Dells it happened that when stopped at a traffic light we happened to be surrounded by patrol cars. One in front of us, and one on either side. I thought to myself about the many highway stops we’ve seen over recent years where a single car has been stopped and before you know it there are three, or four, or even five squad cars assisting the initiating officer. I have looked at those incidents as we passed and idly wondered what the person did to attract that much attention and quickly forgot about it.
The thing is, a lot of fellow citizens do not have such a agreeable experience of law enforcement. For some it’s just because of the skin color. For others it’s a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. By that I don’t mean anything culpable — but Peg and I aren’t the sort to be out at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning in a part of town known for trouble. We tend not to put ourselves in situations where danger could lurk. It’s not that we don’t do things we want to do, but we are judicious about when we do them.
Similarly, I don’t stop at Interstate rest areas if there is only one car. And I am aware of where we are on walks, and who is nearby. We try not to make ourselves targets. There was a time when I was younger and more of a ‘hunk’ and I didn’t worry about people wanting to pick a fight with me — no one ever did. But as I age I’m more aware of the fact that there are a lot of guys with more training than me, and in much better physical shape than me and “discretion is the better part of valor“!
I’m thankful that I “happen to be” white and that I do enjoy white privilege. There are times when I feel a bit guilty about that. But I know too that there are a lot of folks who are just as honest, and sincere, and law abiding as I am for whom interacting with the cops can be a life and death situation — not because they are or have done anything wrong but just because of the color of their skin. I know parents who have teenagers, who have given their teens “The TALK” about how to behave if they are stopped by law enforcement — that for them it’s a matter of life and death. So, yeah, I’m thankful for a privilege I did nothing to deserve but for which I am daily aware. And I wonder about others — how often do YOU find yourself confronted by law enforcement? What has your experience been like?