Saturday, March 24, 2012

This Florida Thing

It was a long time ago, but I was a teenager once upon a fairy-tale time. I was not one of those who stayed at home and studied, no, I spent my time "out," "doing nothing." (As in, "where are you going?" "Out." "What are you doing?" "Nothing.") My unsupervised friends and I had any number of semi-social interactions with the New York police. They brooked no nonsense, and they were not loathe to inflict the occasional extrajudicial physical punishment, even on teenagers as famously White as we were. So I learned a few things about dealing with police.

I have two sons myself, and when they came of, let's say, high school age, I shared these lessons with them. God bless them, they took these lessons to heart, and each of them, as adults, has shared with me a certain gratitude for the advice (with examples of their efficacy).

I told them that the police officer was like the umpire in baseball, always right, if he says it was a strike, it was a strike. Arguing gets you nothing, unless it's called out two innings later on a ball that was in the dirt. The police officer has a license to fuck with you, he speaks "ex cathedra," like the Pope. The best course is to be unfailingly polite, look them in the eye gently, keep your hands in plain sight and don't make any sudden moves, smile, and call them "officer." "Yes, officer," and "no, officer." Make it clear that you are going to comply with their requests, with no reservations at all. If you have made a mess, offer to clean it up before you go, to be much more quiet, and never to do it again. Police respond to this kind of treatment, most of them are not particularly looking for trouble.

This guy in Florida wasn't a policeman, but he was the guy with the gun, and he had adopted for himself the police role, maybe he was even looking for trouble. It's a different thing altogether, I know. Police have some training, and some confidence in their roles, and a job that is worth keeping, and at least a modicum of brains, while this Florida guy seems to have none of these things.

CNN is talking about Black parents instructing their teenage sons on how to act when they are out in public in these situations, desperately trying to save their childrens' lives. So my question is: how different must the instructions be for them and their children? My instructions were sufficient for my White sons, would they work so well with Black teenagers?

No, I don't think so. The racial information is controlling.

This dichotomy is obviously a problem, and one that is resistant to solution. "Post racial," my ass, this is still something that we need to work on.

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