Do Cops Treat Blacks And Whites Equally? Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 5 2015 @ 7:33am

Many readers are pouncing on this email from a white police officer:

While off duty, I’ve been pulled over at gunpoint and have been treated like crap and yelled at for no reason by cops. Every time it was my fault because I had committed a traffic violation.

WHAT?!  Since when is it normal/acceptable for a routine traffic violation to turn into a drawn gun? If a cop thinks that is normal, there may be a bigger issue with policing then profiling.

Another reader on that quote:

Look, I know cops are people too, and can have a bad day like the rest of us. But the entire reason basis for entrusting police officers with the power of the state to threaten and inflict violence, even lethal force, is because we trust and train them to be professionals and act that way. What the reader describes is nothing more than state-sanctioned thuggery.

Several more sound off:

Perhaps those accusing the cop of racism have had the experience of being pulled over, stopped or frisked so many times they start to suspect every time. It’s human nature. The reader’s experience only confirms that these men have been overwhelmed with bad experiences with cops.

I’m a white male. I’ve only been pulled over for no reason once in my 50 years, while I was driving my brother’s red Porsche. I’ve never been followed in a store. But my 13-year-old black adopted daughter, a straight-A student who is honest to a fault, has been followed in stores, stopped by police or questioned by strangers at least a dozen times, almost all of them for no reason whatsoever. One time I watched a store manager follow her around for 15 minutes while all the white kids in the store went unnoticed. These would be all anecdotes except that the data supports the anecdotes, including the one you just posted about off duty black cops.

A lot of white people just need to wake up and develop a bit of empathy.

This reader did:

The latest post from the cop who got accused of being store security reminded me of an incident that happened almost exactly ten years ago. I was waiting for my wife to get off work at the Macy’s at the local mall so we could do some Christmas shopping, so I was wandering the departments. After about half an hour, a black woman confronted me and asked if she could help me. Lost in thought, I mistook her for a sales associate at first and said no. I don’t remember what she said next (okay, I admit, I was a little stoned at the time), but I do remember her gathering up her kids and exiting the store, leaving a basket behind with some items in it.

When I asked my wife later, she figured the lady had mistaken me for security. Apparently that store was locally notorious for their “Loss Prevention” tactics and would follow and sometimes harass people. I’m 6’6″, white, and at the time was recently discharged from the Navy and still sported a relatively fresh military haircut. I was probably wearing my Navy Exchange boots at the time. I probably looked just like a cop trying to blend in.

Anyway, I really felt for that lady. She was having a bad day and I made it worse without even realizing what was going on.

P.S. I guess an alternate explanation is she didn’t want to be in a store with an enormous stoned guy. But I was keeping to myself!

One more reader excerpts another quote from the cop:

Re: “The truth is, people perceive racism when there is none in order to avoid taking responsibility for their actions” … this is part of the poison of racism. It makes it difficult for everyone, of any race, to perceive situations as race-free. If you’re accustomed to you and friends and family members being racially harassed by cops, then you perceive cops as engaging in racial harassment even when they’re not. It may have nothing to do with whether or not you’re willing to take responsibility for your actions.

As Lord Chief Justice Hewart put it, “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.” The purpose of a justice system isn’t merely to settle affairs of private conduct; it’s also to assure the public that the government is fair. Racism corrodes that assurance, even when the government is trying to be fair.

Update from the white cop who wrote in:

To clarify, it’s not normal or acceptable for a routine traffic violation to turn into a drawn gun, but not every traffic stop is routine. Out of the thousands of stops I’ve done, I may have drawn my gun 10 times. The point I was trying to make wasn’t that it’s normal for a stop to go that way; it was that when they do, it’s rarely a result of race. Perhaps I should have went into more detail in my story.

It happened around 2 or 3 am and I was driving home from my parents, half asleep (no I wasn’t drinking). When the cop turned on his lights to pull me over, I looked down and realized I was speeding. At the time I was driving a car that had really dark tint on the rear window. The tint made it extremely difficult to see into my car from behind. I reached down for my wallet and suddenly I hear the cop ordering me out of my car with my hands in the air. I get out and see I have a gun drawn on me. I identify myself and show my badge. The cop then approaches me and explains he couldn’t see through my rear window very well and saw me reaching for something. He was worried I was reaching for a gun and took precautions to protect himself.

At the end of the day it was my actions that led to the encounter. If I had left for my house earlier or slept at my parents, I would have been better rested and perhaps been more cognizant of my speed and not pulled over. Also, if I waited until the officer approached me to retrieve my wallet, I would have never been ordered out of my car.

Personally, I understand why the cop did what he did, but realize some (most?) people are going to read that and think the cop overreacted. In the cop’s defense, yes I was only reaching for a wallet, but what if I had been reaching for a gun? It’s easy to judge a cop’s decision in hindsight, but the question is what would a similar person do in the same situation.

Admittedly, 99% percent of the time a cop draws his weapon, it turns out to be unnecessary. The problem is we have no way of knowing which time will be the 1% when it is necessary. People often say we knew what we were getting into when we took the job. The thing is we agreed to risk our lives, not sacrifice them. As cops we do what we can to minimize the risk to ourselves.