Update: "Blacks -- in particular, black men -- swap their experiences of police encounters like war stories." - Henry Louis Gates in the New Yorker (1995); from Liberal Cambridge Reflects on Racial Rift (Krissah Thompson and Cheryl W. Thompson) -
You, the reader—veteran, police, Marine, civilian, whatever—this moment are likely criminally responsible for breaking the law.
Be it federal, state, or municipal, you are criminally indictable for violating criminal statutes.
“With the law books filled with a great assortment of crimes, a prosecutor stands a fair chance of finding at least a technical violation of some act on the part of almost anyone,” said Robert H. Jackson.
That was in 1941.
It’s fair to say the sphere of unlawful behavior has expanded immensely since then.
In this reality, we should expect police officers and prosecutors at all levels of government to exercise a measure of discretion, intelligence, and empathy in dealing their fellow citizens, their fellow human beings.
Recent events reconfirm that even approaching this imperative is elusive. The last thing we should do as a society is deprive another of liberty. Only when there is no other way should we resort to this drastic action.
As seen in the actions of Crawley of the Cambridge Police Department or Dalma of the Madison Police Dept [Cambridge and Madison are surely among America' most liberal places with a deep tradition of working for civil rights], too many police, prosecutors, and other politicians seem determined to reject the sage advice of Robert Jackson and are hostile to liberty.
Take Crawley. Does he really not understand why accosting a black man arriving back to his own home would illicit indignation and anger? Welcome home, Prof. Gates.
Apparently not, Crawley just needs to arrest somebody who challenges his imperial vision of himself.
I have a lot of dealings with real police and military veterans through family and friends. And this type of cop or military officer as Crawley is universally reviled; Crawley’s a scumbag seeking out ass-kissers.
Here’s an example of discretion.
A couple summers back, my girlfriend was driving to her sister’s house to dog-sit and house-sit for two weeks. Jackie told me being alone in the house scared her at night, even with the dogs and wonderful neighbors. There had been several break-ins in the vicinity, with one right next door just the week before.
Ten minutes after Jackie left our apartment, she called and said some man was following her in a large black truck as she serpentined through numerous turns to get to her sister’s house. Then as she pulled into the driveway, the guy parked right in front of the house, blocking the driveway.
Jackie was still in her car as she spoke, “Come over right NOW.” It was already dark out, and Jackie was too frightened to walk from her car to the front porch with the man sitting in his vehicle staring at her.
I understood. I drove over fast full of adrenaline and slowly came up behind the car, wrote down the license plate numbers, flipped my brights on and off, got out of my car and walked briskly over to ask the guy what he thought he was doing.
The guy took off, very fast for this neighborhood where 25 mph mean 25 mph because of the number of children usually around.
We called the cops, and this Marine veteran dude came and talked to Jackie and me. We explained the situation and gave the officer the guy’s plates. Jackie thought the guy might have been objecting to her “Out of Iraq Now” and “Peace” bumper stickers since this had happened quite a few times before, but usually not this aggressively. I thought that, 'maybe the guy was just pulling over to make a phone call or to smoke a joint,' and said so to the cop. He nodded and said he couldn't say that, but that I could as the boyfriend.
The cop came back later and asked if we knew the guy in the black truck – he gave us a name and general address. Neither of us recognized the name.
The cop told us the guy in the truck didn’t have any record, didn’t seem to be dangerous, and would not bother us any more. The officer also asked if there was anything Jackie could have done to provoke the man’s actions – like cutting him off in traffic or doing anything that could have been perceived as threatening. She didn’t think so and reiterated that she had had trouble with what some people perceived to be “unpatriotic” bumper stickers. [Shit doesn’t happen when I drive her car I feel the need to add.]
The police officer assured us that after he spoke to the guy, the last place the guy would go to is the address my girlfriend was staying. The officer also would his keep an eye out on the house during the next two weeks while on patrol.
With the police officer’s assurances that he didn’t think the fellow was dangerous, I left. No charges were filed, and more importantly, Jackie felt that the officer had listened to her complains, and she felt safer for his having been there. It was a good example of how police officers should protect and serve. Everyone’s happy, no arrests. End of story.