Tag Archives: police

Confrontation Calculus

I am pretty sure everyone involved here knew the math.anaheim

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I Once Saw a Black Man Hug a Cop

I once saw a young black man hug a Philadelphia cop, and the cop hugged him back. It was almost midnight, in the middle of what could be described as a riot, and the Phillies had just won the world series.champs

It was the make up of a rain delayed game 5 and John Hollingshaus convinced me to go down to the stadium without tickets. He thought that maybe some of the ticketholders from the day before wouldn’t show up leaving a bunch of empty seats. MLB doesn’t like empty seats on TV so maybe they would let us in. About 5,000 other people had the same idea and we all watched the game on the jumbo tron as we were smashed up against the gate.broadst-2A fortuitous rush at another gate allowed us to enter for the final pitch. It was bedlam. Wonderful, joyful, bedlam. The stadium eventually emptied out onto the street and everyone kept marching up Broad st. toward City Hall. Everyone was cheering, old men were crying, and strangers hugged each other.broadst-4While some kid without a shirt was pulling a potted tree out of the sidewalk someone else was launching fireworks that bounced off the skyscraper walls exploding in the urban canyon. Everyone cheered.

And that is when I saw the young black man and the cop hug.streetsignIt blew my mind.

I am not truly a baseball guy but that sight, that whole experience, taught me something about collective experiences. It taught me something about the power of elective common identity to occasionally cross boundaries otherwise insurmountable.

Sometimes there are snapshots in time, though temporary, where we glimpse a possibility.

Happiest riot ever. Congratulations Cubbies!

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BLM, Police, and Kids These Days

When I was 14 my friend Matt and I were supposed to be sleeping over at Eric’s house, but we all snuck out the window. We didn’t have anywhere to go, or even anyone to meet, but it was summer, we were bored, and we were going to manufacture some adventure in any way we could. In my pocket I had a brick of firecrackers my dad had brought back from Wyoming where they were legal. We headed off for the gully where it was rumored devil worshipers held strange ceremonies involving kidnapped children. Where else would adventure seeking suburbanites go? When we got there we did not find the pagans, but we did find a lone cop, sitting in his squad car with the windows rolled down.usguys1

Eric told me to wait in the bushes and he would be back in a minute. I dumbly complied. About two minutes later a string of firecrackers lit up the inside of the cop car. I could hear the officer shouting in shock even louder than the pop-pop-pop of the Black Cats. Eric came hurdling over the bushes and ran down the street not waiting to see if I was following. I was.IMG_0496

That was more than 20 years ago and I have told that story a million times to thousands of people. Eric is a responsible well employed adult now- no harm no foul. Funny thing is this story gets different reactions depending on who hears it. Most of my white friends laugh in wonder at the foibles of youth. Most black people with whom I tell are at best, annoyed. Some are quite upset.1923755_1165089124994_2895697_n

You see, most of my white friends, more than you might think, counter with their own stories. Thanks to them I have quite the collection of stories about idle vandalism and general teenaged delinquency; enough to re write American Graffiti ten times over. But this would be a very white movie. None of the black people I know have the same sorts of stories. No, that isn’t quite true. They do have those stories but the endings are very different. The black stories I hear trend towards much less actual destruction and much more police involvement. It is possible that the black people I know are just lames. Maybe they were blerds. I of course have not met all black people, nor do I represent all white folks, I am just a middle aged collection of anecdotes. But with that being said, we, my black friends and I, are all Americans but we did not grow up in the same world.

This reality was made even more clear to me, and more alarming, last night.IMG_2749

I attended a local public forum on race and policing. Up on the stage were a row of chiefs. There was the local police, the county sheriff, even the school district pd. The mayor, a black woman, sat there too, joined by another row of pastors and local clergy. Out in the auditorium the public lined up behind two microphones to ask their questions, make their comments, and the chiefs gave their answers. It was a mostly cordial event. I support having more of them. Yet there was a theme coming from that stage that troubles me.

More than one officer, and a couple pastors, even one black officer from the crowd, talked about how the youth are different today. They talked about how the youth of today don’t respect the police. One officer suggested kids are responding to things they see about cops in the media and two pastors said this is all a result of the lack of Bibles in school. There was a common thread that the police wanted to understand, more so to be understood, and that they are constantly frustrated by the public’s lack of cooperation.IMG_0503

The challenge of policing in a violent racialized society is definitely complex and difficult. I get that.

But I also get that American Graffiti was released in 1973. I also know that I knew all the words to that Officer Krumpke song from West Side Story when I was ten.  That movie was released in 1961. I know that all through my youth the cops were the ones who got mad at you for throwing water balloons or eggs, chased you when you hopped the neighbor’s fence, and cops were the ones who stopped your car when they got calls of possible gun shots coming from a black Tercel. The car was blue, not black, and the sound wasn’t gun shots, it was the noise made when a bat hits a mailbox.

We were never respectful, we were too annoyed that our spirits were being oppressed.IMG_2750

But maybe I haven’t spoken to enough young black kids today. Maybe they are the ones who have changed. Maybe it is the black people of my generation who would never have dared to throw a lit firecracker into a cop car or who got arrested for being out too late. Maybe the black kids today would hit the mailbox or would throw the egg.

Does this mean things have gotten worse?meandpetedisco

Maybe bad guys and cops have both been pulling triggers for generations and the only thing different now is cameras. Maybe the black folks who never threw eggs back then are more afraid of bullets and are now willing to throw bricks. I know that plenty of the guys I grew up with, the ones who did the same things as me, have grown up to be cops. These are great guys. I love them.choirhazing2

But did we forget? Where is the empathy? Why has the phrase “kids will be kids” been replaced by the word thug? Is it because these kids today, these thugs, are worse than we were? We, the Dazed and Confused kids were just messing around but these thugs are a real danger? Really?highschoolgroup

I struggle with this. I struggle because in 9th grade I watched my classmates smoke weed and shoplift. In 10th grade I watched a bunch of kids hop out of a car at a strip mall and beat up a stranger for no reason. I saw one kid beat another with a bat behind the movie theater over a girl. Jed got stabbed at school. My good friends did meth, dropped acid, sold coke. Stole a car, drove drunk, walked away. I saw all of that. But we are all older now and we have learned our lessons. We have matured now and we teach our children better. We were kids.highschoolgroup2

Really, the biggest difference I can see between us back then and the kids today, is that for the most part, we were all white.

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Whose Life Matters?

I was mostly offline for more than a week. Then I came home…

A friend of mine posted the question “I see people shutting down traffic on highways to protest the death of black people, why aren’t they stopping traffic for the police who get killed?” I didn’t respond  on Facebook. I normally don’t. Occasionally I will push back against something I see that is blatantly off base, but for the most part, I just post pictures of my family and observe. But I will respond here:IMG_0936

A regular part of life in Philadelphia is to have the freeway blocked for long stretches of time to let a funeral procession that includes hundreds, actual hundreds, of police cruisers, sirens blaring, pass as they escort one of their fallen brothers or sisters. Any time an officer was shot in the line of duty all the porch lights in my neighborhood would install blue bulbs to show their support. Protesters don’t shut down freeway traffic for fallen officers because the freeway already gets shut down for them.

In Philadelphia I never saw a freeway shut down for a murdered black kid.

I see that a number of states and officials are trying to get harming a police officer listed as a hate crime. These states and organizations believe police need extra protection. I do not, nor do I know anyone who does, advocate killing cops. But I do recall watching on the news as a group of officers severely beat a man suspected of shooting a cop. Turns out it was mistaken identity. None of the officers faced any charges in the beating and public sentiment brushed it off. Any time a cop got shot, the public stepped back and let the police handle it any way they saw fit even if it meant beating the wrong person. The cops were allowed to protect themselves.

There were no special light bulbs for any of the black kids who were regularly killed.

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I have seen several of my Facebook friends state, or post a link, saying something to the effect of “The biggest danger to black people isn’t the cops, it is other black people. Why don’t #blacklivesmatter spend their time on that instead of those who are trying to help?” Black people have been crying out for help and justice in the inner cities, and everywhere else they live for that matter,  for decades. That is part of the point. The amount of unsolved murders in black neighborhoods is ridiculous and it has nothing to do with black people not caring or making attempts to address it. It has much more to do with poverty and lack of power. This community’s lack of power is part of what makes policing so problematic. There are black people crying out for help and justice, but instead they are disproportionately arrested and injured. When you are law abiding and the system treats you as if you are not, it is hard to have faith in the system.IMG_0937

Quite a number of my friends push #alllivesmatter when confronted with conversation, Facebook posts, and news stories dealing with #blacklivesmatter. These are good people, most of them white, who really want a more racially harmonious society. They don’t hate anyone and are put off by the hatred they see in the world. I also know quite a few people, a lot really, who are active in the #blacklivesmatter movement. Every single one of them-every one- believe that in reality all lives matter, even the blue ones, but the entire point of #blacklivesmatter is that despite all lives mattering, the black people’s lives, are not currently treated as if they matter as much as the lives of others. Hence the need for the hashtag. Everyone in the movement I know gets this. So to my friends who feel that #blacklivesmatter is reverse racism, just know that for that to be true, you would have to argue that racism against black people doesn’t exist in our current system. Are you, those of you who feel #blacklivesmatter is racist, prepared to argue that black people are treated fairly in the American criminal justice system? If so, then let’s have that conversation.copandfire

Being a police officer is one of the most difficult and under-rewarded jobs in America. I respect those who engage in this work. We need cops. We need good cops. We ask too much of them and pay them far too little. But this job, this role in society, is so important that the answer to our undervaluing them cannot be lowering the bar or lowering our base expectations. When we give someone a badge and a gun, with the understanding that they will approach danger on our behalf and indeed protect and serve us, we are placing in them a high level of trust. This level of trust is so high that if that trust is breached, the fall back down to Earth can, and I say should, be somewhat devastating. But I say, seriously, that if that trust is breached, there should in fact be a fall. That is what I am advocating for. This is where I stand. If you want my opinion here it is: There are millions of black people who are law abiding and some who are not. Some law abiders occasionally don’t. Just like all the white people I know. I place a great faith in the police to enforce the laws that exist. I respect them and their work. We should pay them more. I have seen data, and had multiple personal experiences, that have shown me that black people are not policed fairly. White people like me are not policed the same as those who are black. This crushes the spirit of every day black people. This places black people not only in in fear for themselves and their families, but places them in fear of their own governments. Sadly, this fear is repeatedly justified. This is every day folks. People who didn’t sign up for it. People who just want to mind their own business. They aren’t on some payroll for being black, they didn’t go to an academy to get their black skins. It is in large part because of this fact, that the bulk of the responsibility for improvement lies on the shoulders of those who DID apply for the job, for those who ARE on a payroll. Those who are given a gun and a badge are justly given a higher level of responsibility, and should be given, more accountability. That is what I believe.

If you kill someone who posed no threat to you, that is a murder.

If you are overly afraid of your job, don’t do it. Get another job.

Those empowered to enforce the law should never be above it but rather be bound much tighter to it.

I am not a cop. I get that. Do I “get it”? Probably not. I cede that point. But When I, who am neither black nor an officer, stand back and look at who signed up for this and who holds the power it becomes obvious to me who already matters.

So I agree with those who believe that it still needs to be pointed out, that

Black

Lives

Matter.

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I Can’t Breathe and Orange Light Bulbs

When you are a witness in a criminal case they don’t let you sit in the courtroom during the entire proceedings. I’m not sure if it is to keep your testimony pure from the taint of other people’s stories or to simply add some dramatic flair with a dramatic reveal. “Your honor, the state calls Dalyn Montgomery”, the doors swing open and there I am cape fluttering in the wind. Whatever the reason, I once found myself in a sort of holding lobby outside a Philadelphia courtroom.shoes (7)

I wasn’t alone. With me were two police officers, the ones who caught the guy stealing the radio out of my car. There wasn’t any doubt as to the defendant’s guilt, they caught him in the act and the thief left his phone in my car when he tried to run. We were the prosecution’s bull pen and we were sitting around, waiting for our numbers to be called. We were there more than an hour, plenty of time to get to know each other.

I already knew the one with the shaved head. He used to be my FedEx delivery guy. I once had this job where the company would send me packages every week, sometimes more often, and the guy would call me on my cell phone to see if I was going to be home. My street was really narrow and he didn’t want to drive his truck down that little alley if I wasn’t going to be there. It was odd seeing him in this different uniform but I knew it was him right away; he had a scar in the shape of an x almost right between his eyes. He told me it was from his brother stabbing him with a Phillips screwdriver when they were young and ever since people have mistaken him for a Charles Manson follower. “I’ve been doing this (serving as a police officer) for almost a year now. You still get giant boxes in the mail every day? Your street sucks for big trucks.”

I told him the deliveries had stopped once he was no longer the driver.

The other guy had blonde hair and a bad disposition. “Quit f- – – -g around and let’s get this together,” he instructed his partner. “Now read me what you got.” My FedEx guy pulled a queue card from inside his hat and read off an account of the night in question.

“We received a call from the owner saying his car was in the process of being robbed. We stopped our car at the end of the block and proceeded on foot toward the car in question. The driver’s door was open and as we approached, the accused jumped out of the car and started running toward the other end of the block. I pursued while my partner cut through the alley off to the right. At the top of the block I saw the accused hop on a bike and turn down the street to the right. When I got to the top of the block I saw my partner had caught the accused and was in the process of handcuffing him on the sidewalk.”

The blonde guy looked over at me and said, “That’s what happened right?”  I replied I had no idea since I was asleep during that whole scene. “My neighbor had been having a beer on his stoop at three in the morning and the guy didn’t notice him there when he broke into my car. My neighbor is the one who called you guys. By the time I got pants on and answered the door you already had the dude in the back of your car.”DV IMAGE

“Mother f- – – –  ,” the blonde one said to the other. “This is the type of s- – – –  I can’t stand.” The officer looked to be in his late 20’s, maybe thirty, close to my age. “Sorry about that. I just get frustrated about these little things because this is how lawyers ruin the work we do. We arrest the bad guy and then these mother f- – – – – put ‘em right back out there again because your neighbor is the one who made the call.” I admitted that I could see how that would be frustrating. “This happens regularly, lawyers getting the person off the hook?” “All, the f- – – – – -, time.”

“Dude, your mouth. This guy doesn’t curse like that.” The bald guy told his partner. “F- – – – you, he doesn’t care. Now re-write your card so you don’t screw it up.” While the junior officer scribbled on the card inside his hat I talked to his partner.

He said he had been on the force long enough to remember when things were better. He told me he liked his job when Rizzo was the police chief. He said that down at the station there is a huge poster with a picture of Frank Rizzo holding a Billy club with the words “There aint no courtroom that can dispense justice better than the end of my night stick.” Frank Rizzo was no longer the police chief, and by the time we had this conversation he was also no longer the mayor. The blonde officer explained that it had gotten so bad in the court rooms that he does everything he can to be the first one to catch a perp, hoping that he can have a couple seconds to himself before the other officers show up. He wanted just a little time to dispense some justice before the crowds arrive.

“Really? You want to beat somebody? What if the guy you catch is the wrong guy?”

He looked at me blankly as if he didn’t understand the question.

“Haven’t you ever caught the wrong person?”

“No.”

He answered me flatly and with no sense of irony. He meant it.

“In all the years you’ve been a cop you have never once caught the wrong person? Never brought in an innocent suspect?”

He looked up in the air as if trying to recall something, looked back down at me and with a shrug replied that, no, he had never arrested an innocent person. I could not hide my surprise and must have chuckled just a little bit. My chuckle opened up a barrage of stories from these two about incidents where police officers have injured each other while attempting to injure a captured suspect. I was told of a plain clothes officer who while in pursuit of a bad guy was caught by an officer in uniform and given three broken ribs before he was able to produce his badge. The bald guy showed me a scar on his calf that he said he received from one of his comrades who beat the wrong leg with a baton in a multi officer melee.IMG_9353

After listening to this for a while I told them the story about my friend Terrell. I told them about how he was ID’d by the victim despite his eyes being swollen shut at the time of the ID. I told them how the victim testified he never saw who hit him and had never met Terrell before. I told them about how the cop testified it was easy to catch Terrell because “the accused is fat and slow.” Both of these officers sat silently listening to the details. When I finished they sat there silently for just a moment.

Then the blonde one spoke up, “F- – – – that. Your friend did it.”

Eventually a bailiff opened the door and told me it was my turn. Sadly there was no theme music as I made my way up to the witness stand. Once seated I was able to settle in and take a good look into the eyes of the thief. I had never seen him before. He was a scrawny little white guy in a suit three sizes too big. His hair was cropped short and he had the sort of beard a person grows when they haven’t hit puberty yet. I told my story to the lawyers while the judge looked at me intently. There was no jury. After my ten minutes was up they all thanked me for my time, by all I mean those employed to be there, the accused just sat there hunched over uncomfortably, and I went back to the bull pen.

I got to go back out for the decision, guilty, and the sentencing. The judge listed off a series of other convictions, then noted the defendant was an expecting father and an addict. He ordered that I be paid restitution equal to the amount of the damage of my property and that the accused, now the convicted, enroll in a substance abuse rehabilitation program. It sounded fair to me till the prosecutor leaned over and whispered to me that there was no mechanism in place to make sure I was actually paid what the judge had ordered, blood from a turnip and all that. He told me I should just be happy with the moral victory.

Six months later I was summoned to the court to hear the appeal. The conviction was overturned on account of the officer’s inability to recall what color hat the defendant was or was not wearing at three o’clock in the morning of the night in question.

My neighbor was upset but not surprised that the guy got off. “I bet that was the same little pissant that stole Paulie’s radio. How much you get for a stolen car radio, five bucks? Ten maybe. Stupid Kenzo.” A Kenzo is someone who lives in Kensington, the bad neighborhood that started 1oo yards west of my good neighborhood. It was always the Kenzos that caused trouble, and by Kenzos they meant the new Kenzos as everyone in our neighborhood grew up over there before the black folk moved in and ruined it. My neighborhood was filled with retired school teachers, guys in the carpenters union, and the parents of police officers. Philadelphia is a tough town in which to be a police officer.

Police get killed in Philadelphia. It was surprisingly normal for I-95 to be shut down to let a motorcade escorting a fallen hero travel unobstructed. Whenever an officer was killed in the line of duty my neighbors would replace their porch lights with blue light bulbs to show support. On one such occasion there was a frantic search for the killer who had evaded capture. Having spotted an individual matching the description the authorities gave chase and we all watched it on television. The news helicopter got a great shot of a huddle of blue clad men beating something or someone for a good five minutes. It turned out the man they caught was the wrong guy. While in the hospital he was charged with resisting arrest.

I sat on my stoop talking to my neighbor the next day and she didn’t see it the same way I did. “I can’t blame ‘em. That mother f- – – – – killed a cop.”

“No. someone killed a cop but that was the wrong guy. They beat an innocent guy.”

“Innocent my a- -. They know what they are doing.”

“Wait, what? I get that the guys were a little charged up and its dangerous but they put the guy in the hospital and it was the wrong guy.”

“Yeah. You say that because it isn’t you. They kill cops out here and you have to watch out. I’ll listen to the cops and not some reporter on channel 9. They know what they’re doin.”DV IMAGE

We had lots of conversations sitting on the stoop. She never doubted the officers. Not when they were caught on camera shaking down the corner store, not when the five guys were caught running a steroids ring out of the precinct, especially not when they pulled over the black guy, patted him down and never gave him his wallet back. Turned out the black guy was retired officer himself but my neighbor took the side of the current duty boys. She kept the faith all the way up until that one party around Thanksgiving.

Some folks a few blocks over threw a birthday party for their adult son. One of the guests was a cop. He knocked back a few, because it was a party, but then he got in an argument with the home owner. They sent the cop home. Ten minutes later he came back with is service weapon and shot the birthday boy to death. The whole neighborhood was up in arms and mobilized when it looked like there weren’t going to be any charges filed. The same people who normally went around distributing blue light bulbs, came around again, but this time they were giving out orange. The whole block, as well as the next one over, lit up their porches with orange light to show their support of the victim’s family.

I sat on the stoop and asked my neighbor if this made her doubt all those incidents from the previous year. “You can’t hold everyone responsible for one bad cop. This guy is a disgrace. They need to charge him with murder.”

“Oh I agree. You can’t blame everyone for the mistakes of the bad ones… But what about those guys from last year? The ones who shook down the corner store over in the black neighborhood?”

“See, you don’t get it. The news is out to get these boys and its war on Cops on the streets. Naw, these boys know what they are doing. That’s a whole different thing.”

The officer was eventually tried and convicted of murder and all the bulbs are back to blue. I’m not there anymore but I’ll bet my neighbor thinks all this “I can’t breathe” stuff is bull. I would wager that she thinks those cops in Brooklyn knew what they were doing and that the guy deserved it.  It is indeed war on the streets. A war on truth, a war on reason.

I think being a cop must be the hardest job in the world. I respect that. They should get paid more. We need not just cops, but good cops. We need great cops. How hard it must be to pin on a badge that feels like  target for $50K a year? How hard to clean puke out of the back of a squad car, argue with people who claim they didn’t just punch that woman while you just watched them do it. Hard to keep catching the bad guy because a lawyer insisted the perp was wearing a hat you never saw. A hard job.

I also know Terrell never beat that guy.

I also know you can’t shoot someone because you got in an argument at a party. I know that no matter how flawed the courtroom is, the answer isn’t a nightstick. I know too many black folk who know too much about both courtrooms and nightsticks.

At the end of the day I know that bad guys are going to be bad guys. Because of this, the good guys need to be even better than good, they need to be great. Part of being great includes recognizing when you aren’t acting as such.

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