Why Fearing the Police Is Not Irrational

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There was
a day in America when we, the people, had great respect for the
police. When they would ask you how you are doing, they sincerely
wanted to know because they cared. That day has passed with barely
a whisper or complaint. Today when a cop (they prefer to be called
Police Officers, as they feel "cop" is somewhat derogatory)
asks you how you are, they are not doing it because they care
but rather to set you at ease so you feel that their follow-up
questions are friendly and benign. Since for most of us, our likely
contact with the police is during a traffic stop (this is actually
an arrest. If you do not believe this, try and leave the scene
of the top, or not stop in the first place), and the follow-up
questions inevitably will be:

  1. Where
    are you coming from (sic)?
  2. Where
    are you going?
  3. What are
    you doing?
  4. Do you
    have anything illegal in your possession?

What they
are not doing is being friendly, but rather they are fishing for
information to give them probable cause to search you and your
vehicle. There are so many laws today that almost everyone is
guilty of something at all times. It is unreasonable to think
every individual will know every law for which they may be held
accountable. We think "I’m not hurting anyone so I’m not
doing anything wrong." While this seems reasonable to most
of us (no victim, no crime right?), the law and especially the
cops do not see it this way.

Take this
for example. You are heading home on a Saturday morning from your
bank downtown, and get stopped by cops for some perceived infraction.
You answer the questions above: "The bank downtown,"
"Home," "Nothing," "No." This seems
perfectly reasonable and safe; you are just complying with the
friendly police officer. What you do not know is that a different
bank downtown was just robbed and you have given the cop probable
cause to search you and your vehicle under suspicion that you
are one of the robbers.

Maybe this
example hits closer to home. You are heading to your diabetic
parents’ home for a visit and are also going to deliver a box
of 100 insulin syringes. You think nothing of it and mention the
syringes to the police officer; clearly, you are only being friendly
and answering the questions honestly. Well congratulations, if
you live in Illinois you just admitted to a crime. Possession
or transportation of more than 20 syringes by anyone not a health
professional is a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and
a Class 4 felony after that. Welcome to the slammer and the humiliation
of processing.

Every single
piece of information the cops need during a traffic stop is contained
on your license, registration and proof of insurance. While there
are a plethora of reasons why you should not even have to provide
those (a huge topic all on its own), in my humble opinion the
potential hassle of not complying far outweighs the benefits gained
by attempting to circumvent these pieces of documentation. They
have no reason to know neither where you have been nor where you
are going. It is none of their business and has nothing to do
with a traffic stop. So, do not tell them anything. Do not talk
to them and do not even open your mouth. Remember they are not
your friend. All they want is to find some reason to take you
to the station and toss you in a cell, confiscate your vehicle
(along with all the contents), put you in a situation that will
cost you tens of thousands of dollars to get out of (if you are
lucky) or a guilty plea-bargain to avoid jail time (congratulations
on the felony record, no more guns for you and good luck finding
a new job after you lost your current one during the 9 month legal
battle). They will ruin your life if you give them the chance,
just to advance their petty careers.

And the final
question with which you will be faced: "Do you have anything
illegal in your possession?" How are you even supposed to
know? Can any of us be sure that at any particular moment we are
not committing some innocuous "crime"? I certainly do
not know all the 70,000 pages of triple column, small font text
released in the Federal Register every year let alone all the
Local, County and State ordinances currently on the books for
which I can be held accountable. So by them asking that question
they have just set you up for a second charge on top of any others
they can think up. "Obstructing an Officer" will tack
on an extra 6 months of jail time to your sentence. Of course,
the cops can lie to you all they want with impunity.

Lastly comes
the really scary part. How often have you heard of an on-duty
cop who has done something horrible and then get prosecuted? The
tasings, shootings, beatings and occasionally murders by the police
go mostly unpunished. Sure, they might get two months of administrative
leave (with pay) but nothing is really going to happen to them.
They know this. They know that if you make them angry they could
just pull you out of your car and beat you to the brink of death,
and there is nothing anybody will do about it.

The police
care about only one thing: Compliance. Do what they say, when
they say without question or you will suffer. They will see to
that. The men and women so many people depend on to serve and
protect them have become thugs whom we fear. And this fear is
not irrational.

3, 2009

Brian Cohoon
[send him mail] is a software
engineer working in Denver.

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