Slow Poison
August 16, 2015 2:19 PM   Subscribe

 
This is a great piece, and beautifully written.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:27 PM on August 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Heartbreaking and too familiar.
posted by TwoStride at 2:41 PM on August 16, 2015


He eventually stopped trying to convince me, said that he was going to run my license, and walked back to his patrol car. When he returned, he told me it was possible he’d gotten the wrong car, that maybe in the time it had taken him to catch up, the actual culprit had escaped. He wasn’t sure how this could have happened since my car was so distinctive, but it was possible. He told me he had been mandated to catch drunk drivers, and as I didn’t appear to be drunk and hadn’t been driving erratically when he caught up with me, I was free to go.

None of this explanation made sense to me. How could he have seen the incident in such detail but not be close enough to pull me over sooner?


That's because after following you for a few minutes waiting in vain for you to make a mistake, he ran out of patience and manufactured probable cause to run you for warrants. "Genuine" (reasonable) mistakes are perfectly legitimate under the 4th amendment and if you had any scent of a warrant you would be going with him to jail.
posted by Talez at 2:50 PM on August 16, 2015 [15 favorites]


Kweku is also active under the name @theshrillest, he writes sometimes for/with the toast, as well.
posted by DGStieber at 3:11 PM on August 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. I was just reading the story of Radazz Hearns, the little boy in New Jersey who was shot 7 times by police (he survived, thank goodness) who were responding to a call about shots "in the area." Radazz was pulling up his pants when he was shot. He was unarmed.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:18 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


A beautifully written piece.
posted by greenhornet at 3:23 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this. His writing style is so beautiful.
posted by missmary6 at 3:29 PM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


That is wonderful, if depressing and rage-inducing.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:13 PM on August 16, 2015


Shrill is one of my all-time favorite people. He's absolutely hilarious most days. Which means when he writes something like this, it's all the more heartbreaking.
posted by naju at 4:48 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have been stopped many times, car searched, frisked, had police dogs called to sniff me and vehicles...more times than I care to count. I've also had many made-up excuses for why I was stopped: the usual "unsafe lane change," "license plate bulb out," and one time "suspicious ashes stuck to the side of the vehicle." (I kid you not; that's what he said!)

I was taken to jail once, held for 48 hours, then no charges filed and released. I found out later that this was to "teach me a lesson" because I "had an attitude." (In California, you could be held in county jail 48h while charges were "pending.")

One policeman I knew told me long ago, "If I want to stop you and search your vehicle, all I have to do is follow you for a mile or two and drivers will *always* give me a reason. Then, because I have the right to search the immediate vicinity for 'officer safety,' I can search your vehicle."

That same officer told me, "If you are being stopped, pull over, roll down your window, and sit there *with your hands on the steering wheel*. Don't start reaching under the seat or in the glove box to get papers, don't jump out of the car, don't make any sudden moves."

Gist: regardless of the law or rights or dignity or any other reason, be *very careful* around any police as some are new or nervous or have an attitude or whatever...and they'll take very aggressive action if they perceive any kind of threat/attitude/non-compliance.

Right or wrong doesn't make a difference if you are no longer with us.

Not all police are like this, of course. But *some* are....

I share this in the hopes that it might help someone somewhere stay alive....
posted by CrowGoat at 5:15 PM on August 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


Having read declassified narratives from the soviet era of agents working in hostile territory during routine travel, the precautions, hesitation, and utter stifling rage, I hate to say it but this writer would have faired well as an American agent.
The writing evokes that, what a few may reference as the barbed wire and helicopter ambience.
posted by clavdivs at 5:27 PM on August 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


I have been stopped many times, car searched, frisked, had police dogs called to sniff me and vehicles...more times than I care to count. I've also had many made-up excuses for why I was stopped: the usual "unsafe lane change," "license plate bulb out," and one time "suspicious ashes stuck to the side of the vehicle." (I kid you not; that's what he said!)

I'm 32 and I've been stopped by police twice in my life. Both times because they had a radar gun and I was 10 over the limit. The fact that people actually get pulled over for this flimsy pretext bullshit is fucking insane.
posted by Talez at 5:32 PM on August 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


The fact that people actually get pulled over for this flimsy pretext bullshit is fucking insane.

Really? You've never been pulled over for the old license plate bulb (fuck you Menomonee Falls PD)? Never been followed for miles by a cop with every light (except the red/blues) on it's brightest setting and he's so close to your bumper the inside of your car is lit up like noon but it's 2:30 in the morning and he's just waiting for you change lanes without signalling or edge over the speed limit (fuck you again Menomonee Falls PD)? Never had a cop hit a u-turn in the middle of the street just so he can ride your ass to the city limits waiting for a "lane deviation" (fuck you again thrice damned Menomonee Falls PD)? And I'm a white guy (apparently an unlucky one), I can't even imagine DWB.
posted by MikeMc at 6:09 PM on August 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


Mod note: Couple of comments deleted. "Let's come up with alternate stories about the cop's thought process" isn't a productive way to enter a conversation about this article.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:18 PM on August 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


I had a black co-worker who once related to me a story about being pulled over for "suspicious activity." The suspicious activity was this: He was going exactly the speed limit. The cop said "Nobody ever goes the speed limit on this stetch of road, and the fact that you weren't speeding is suspicious." As if he was being extra-cautious because he was carying drugs, or something. His car got searched.

So you can even be pulled over for not breaking the law whatsoever.

I'm pretty white, but got pulled over on the wrong side of town, and I sat in my car with my hands on the steering wheel while the officer sat in his car for 10 minutes, waiting for backup. The backup officer approached the passenger side of the vehicle, hand on the grip of his holstered pistol, and watched me through the window while the first cop, hand on the grip of his holstered pistol, approached the driver's window & asked me for ID & insurance. I siad "I am going to have to get my wallet out of my pocket & reach into the glove box, is that okay?" and waited for his assent before moving a muscle. I had an expired inspection sticker. In a majority black neighborhood. In broad daylight. Apparently, that requires two cops, both prepared to draw and fire. It's a 10 dollar fine in Texas if you can get your car inspected within the week of the ticket.

And yeah, this guy is a wonderful writer. I recount the above, because his article evoked such visceral anger & brought back memories. This shit has got to stop.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:37 PM on August 16, 2015 [18 favorites]


CrowGoat: That same officer told me, "If you are being stopped, pull over, roll down your window, and sit there *with your hands on the steering wheel*. Don't start reaching under the seat or in the glove box to get papers, don't jump out of the car, don't make any sudden moves."

For whatever it's worth, this is the exact same advice cops give to everyone about being pulled over.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:01 PM on August 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I cannot tell you very much about the policeman’s appearance. He had the comfortably borne features and bearing of an average, anonymous white male.

I see what you did there. Very clever.
posted by adept256 at 7:04 PM on August 16, 2015


I've been stopped 3 times. The first my registration was expired. The cop thoughtfully followed me home 20 miles to my driveway, then pulled the plates.

The 2nd was when I was speeding and talking on a cell phone. I got a warning.

The third was for what I don't know. The cop thought I might be feeling sick (he said- I think I was singing along to heavy metal). After said apologetic explanation, I was free to go.

In summation, I can't even....I mean, what the Jesus Christ, I mean, frack. If I feel this nervous and sick to my stomach, what must African Americans feel when pulled over? I feel like throwing up thinking about it.
posted by triage_lazarus at 7:32 PM on August 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I feel a lot luckier about the one time I got pulled over, especially since it was literally on the first day I owned my car (I was the DD driving my friend who I got the car from back to her hotel) and god only knows what came up when he ran the registration. I think I got so lucky on that one. Then again, I'm a short white woman with an innocent face and said "I'm lost" immediately upon rolling down the window--plus I had no alcohol on my breath, so maybe that was it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:34 PM on August 16, 2015


Great piece. I traced the California coast today, southbound, with Ta-Nihishi Coates' Between the World and Me as my companion. If Kweku's piece resonated with you, Coates's book shouldn't be missed.
posted by putzface_dickman at 9:55 PM on August 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was stopped by a cop in a car when I was walking to a friend's house with some čevapi. Officer pulled up behind me and basically stopped me for questioning. Her Cock - and - Bull tale involved an argument between a man and a woman further up the street. Supposedly I looked like the woman.
'Well Officer, I don't have anyone I had any kind of fight with, I was just going to a friend's house, they're expecting me'
She let me go.
I am older, female and White.
It was a weird experience. It's bothered me ever since. I can't figure out what it was about.
I don't do drugs. I rarely even drink. I can't think why she took any interest in me.
I was and remain at a loss.
Female officers almost scare me worse.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:53 PM on August 16, 2015


Oh and there was NO altercation further up the street.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:54 PM on August 16, 2015


I wonder whether automatic (driverless) cars with windows blacked out (or with nice lacy curtains borrowed from your mom) and lots of cameras visibly deployed would help shut a lot of this shit down? If they can't see how many people are in a car or what sex or race or age they are, can't even tell if anyone at all is in the car, and can't claim erratic driving because a computer is driving (so it shouldn't really matter whether you're all drunk anyway) and recording every millisecond of its own actions and relaying the information back to a home base, and if every second of the cops' interactions with the car and its occupants is obviously being recorded and is also relayed back to a home base, what do the cops get you for? They can't make the car so nervous that it makes a mistake and they aren't going to see the car forgetting to signal or whatever. So what can they claim? Suspiciously suspicious suspiciosity? I guess they might wait in neighborhoods they don't like, follow cars to their destinations, and try to get the emerging occupants for some non-vehicular infringement like letting their trousers sag criminally low.
posted by pracowity at 3:49 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


My experiences have been that State Police in NY mean business and don't skirt procedure, but Local Cops in NY and CT do whatever they want. The pretexts they make up to create probable cause aren't enough to get a privileged white person who actually commits them in trouble.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 4:44 AM on August 17, 2015


pracowity, they could get around that pretty easily, by requiring that all self-driving cars record who is in them and relay that to any police vehicle that requests it. Also that cop cars can signal your self-driving car to pull over and it has to do so.

Much as I love the idea of napping while riding to work, the more you automate the easier it is for the state to seize that automation control.

As for pretext, yeah, they'll have to work harder on that one. But probably not much harder.
posted by emjaybee at 5:12 AM on August 17, 2015


Yeah, this isn't a description of what it's like to be hassled by cops. I'm white, I've been hassled, it's annoying. Stop with the stories already.

This is a description of a bit of what it's like to live within the culture of fear where POC are murdered by cops on flimsy pretexts, and have been for hundreds of years.

There are many, many videos of cops killing black men, women and children, with the victim obviously unarmed. They almost always result in the cops getting a paid leave or desk job for a while, until the investigation finds no fault. There's nothing unusual or new about Trayvon, or Michael, or Tamir, except that most of us have heard their stories now.

Until we as white people demand change, nothing will get better. This is white supremacy in action. This is *our* feet on the necks of POC.
posted by Wilbefort at 5:25 AM on August 17, 2015 [25 favorites]


One of the most troubling aspects of the story, and others like it, is the degree to which the POC subjects-of-the-story act to minimize the fear of the police officers. I understand (I think!) why they do it - a scared person (cop or otherwise) is an unpredictable one, and police officers seem to be taught that they are in a lot of danger when they approach a car they've stopped.

It's such an inversion. The cop has all the power! Why are they taught to be so scared?
posted by Fraxas at 5:41 AM on August 17, 2015


Why are they taught to be so scared?

maybe they learn to be scared? i thought part of the problem with fixing this was that there is more crime, proportionally, committed in black communities than white (for whatever reason). and that gets extrapolated by the police into "black people bad".

if it were simply that the police were taught this way then fixing the problem would be easy, surely? instead, you need to address endemic differences in society (as well as the "natural" reaction of people to extrapolate, in a racist way, on whatever crude differences they perceive, like skin colour - something that is also difficult to do (see experiments on unconscious bias))

[i am not trying to be offensive or inflammatory. i'm aware i may be wrong and am happy to be corrected - this is the kind of argument i have read elsewhere.]
posted by andrewcooke at 6:02 AM on August 17, 2015


It's such an inversion. The cop has all the power! Why are they taught to be so scared?

Half of police deaths in the line of duty are because of traffic stops. This is one of the few times when they don't have all the power ("God created all men equal, Samuel Colt made all men equal.").
posted by Etrigan at 6:16 AM on August 17, 2015


Etrigan, that link isn't clear. Are the cops getting shot a lot more at traffic stops, or do they risk getting hit by other cars in traffic stops, plus some of the drivers are armed, pushing it up to 50%+?

It's dangerous to stop on the side of a busy road; people who break down frequently get hit by other cars, I imagine cops standing next to a stopped car have the same danger. But that's not the driver's fault.
posted by emjaybee at 6:53 AM on August 17, 2015


It's dangerous to stop on the side of a busy road.... But that's not the driver's fault.

No, but it still requires a heightened sense of awareness in all directions (as we've discussed previously, "Point Man Radar, which can be difficult to switch off). Regardless of the source of the danger, traffic stops are dangerous for police officers, and they are attempting to maintain as much control as they can. They can't control the traffic whizzing by, so they clamp down harder on the driver to minimize that danger. Which isn't really the best way to go about it, but it's at least understandable if not excusable.

And none of that excuses the fact that the cop is often creating the danger by pulling someone over without a better reason than "They look like they don't belong in these here parts."
posted by Etrigan at 7:06 AM on August 17, 2015


If they're so scared maybe a) don't be a cop or b) don't pull people over under shitty pretenses.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:59 AM on August 17, 2015


Why are they taught to be so scared?

Because recruiting, training and death benefits to survivors are expensive? Because keeping the first line over the populace scared and compliant helps keep the populace that way too?

Don't really know, but one thing that seems to be driven into cop's heads that "justifies" the hair-trigger response to "he reached for his waist" is the Tueller Drill which claims that a knife wielding assailant can cross 21 feet in 1.5 seconds and stab a defender enough that he or she will bleed out before an ambulance can arrive. To stop this olympic-level sprint and attack, one handgun bullet is not enough, so the defender must empty his or her clip.

Half of police deaths in the line of duty are because of traffic stops.

But policing in general isn't that dangerous. Logging, refuse collecting, fishing and construction are worse.
posted by morganw at 8:08 AM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


If it's fear that makes them kill so many people, give them bulletproof cars and a way to communicate without leaving those cars.
posted by pracowity at 10:58 AM on August 17, 2015


Half of police deaths in the line of duty are because of traffic stops.

That is not what your link says. This is what your link says, emphasis mine:
Many officers are killed each year and thousands more are injured in traffic related incidences. For example, in 1999, over half of all officer, line-of-duty deaths were related to traffic incidences. In addition, when the use of weapons at the traffic stop are added, the percentage of traffic related deaths is over 55 percent.
Traffic related incidences means "in the car or proximate to it." The vast majority of those deaths are in accidents while still within the car, though being hit while on a stop by another vehicle does happen. Note that we have "more than half" which when you include weapons rises to "over 55%."

So basic math tells us that "more than half" is >50.01%, with adding weapons moving it over 55%. The sensible reading here is calling that 56%, meaning approximately 5.99% of their deaths are violence in a traffic stop.

Of course this doesn't really tell us how likely they are to have an incident in any given traffic stop. For that we have to look at total police deaths compared to total traffic stops. We don't have good hard numbers on this but based on comparitive numbers I'd assert it doesn't matter.

As a self-reported number we have this from the Bureau of Justice Statistics: a survey of residents about police contacts in the last 12 months. From that we have an "estimated 17.7 million persons age 16 or older indicated that their most recent contact with the police in 2008 was as a driver pulled over in a traffic stop." So we can call that 17.7M traffic stops, though I'll even say let's round down to 15M.

By comparison, the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund lists deaths that have waffled between 192 to 107 per year in 2004-2014. We can call that 200 a year for fairness. They have causes too, which clearly show auto accident as the 1 in 3 cause, and indicate that struck by a vehicle as a less than 1 in 10 cause.

But we'll just call it 200 as if they all happen at traffic stops and from gunfire. That means with a conservative 15M stops and a generous 200 count we have a 1 in 75,000 chance of death when pulling someone over. (With realistic numbers it's more like 1 in 500,000 to 1,000,000) With 120,000 officers with law enforcement powers in the U.S. that allocates about 150 stops a year per officer but let's assume only 1 in 10 does traffic stops (so we weed out desk jockeys and FBI, for example). It'll take 50 years on the job before an officer has done 75,000 stops.

Now as far as who really should be nervous, police kill over a thousand citizens a year. It's a hard number to pin down because of reporting but Killed by Police came up with 1,106 for 2014 based on news reports, almost always by firearm. Compare that number to the actual 30-60 a year of officers who get shot and it sure seems like the person being pulled over should be about 30 times more nervous than the cop.
posted by phearlez at 11:27 AM on August 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'll bow to your statistical analysis, and admit that I did misread "traffic incidents". However, as regards this:

Now as far as who really should be nervous, police kill over a thousand citizens a year.

Yes. I agree. Note that I said in my follow-up that "And none of that excuses the fact that the cop is often creating the danger by pulling someone over without a better reason than 'They look like they don't belong in these here parts.'" But the question wasn't "Who should be more scared?", it was "Why are they taught to be so scared?" And it's still because (they believe) they're incredibly vulnerable during a traffic stop -- again, even when they create that vulnerability by using some bullshit pretext.
posted by Etrigan at 11:37 AM on August 17, 2015


I'm a middle aged, middle class white woman. But even I have had first-hand experience of the arbitrary prejudice of the cops. I've never been pulled over while alone in the car, and they ALWAYS want the passenger's ID. No cop has ever asked for my ID when I was the passenger. I may be privileged but I'd have to be blind to not know that cops act like this. I can't understand how anyone can even question the notion that cops target minorities in unfair ways.
posted by elizilla at 12:54 PM on August 17, 2015


Mostly unrelated... but a couple of years ago when hanging out at the mall was still the thing to do, there was a fairly large fight at one of the entrances that involved police and multiple arrests. For the next 30 minutes there were police stationed at the door. And for 30 minutes I watched every black person get questioned as to what they were doing at the mall, at the same time every single non-black person that walked through the door was essentially free to roam wherever they wanted to.

I, being more than a little upset, called 911 to inform them of what was going on at the time. I was informed in no uncertain terms that the person answering the phone wouldn't do anything, that it was the prerogative of the officers on location, and that even if what I said was true that it was a civil matter and not something they could respond to.

Essentially, it was a systematic "Fuck you, we'll do what we want to".

(If someone was wondering, I was the white teenager working at the Orange Julius just two doors away from the entrance.)
posted by Blue_Villain at 1:24 PM on August 17, 2015


“Don’t let yourself become bitter,” my mom once taught me. She did not say this to suggest I fulfill some idealistic piety, that I must forgive and forget. She said this because bitterness leeches out love, the love it takes to struggle, to fight, to live. James Baldwin once said that he could not afford the luxury of despair, and neither can I afford to maintain a deficit of love. It is a difficult accounting. I am doing my best.

I just had a brief back-and-forth with a friend about a Richard Pryor quote, that now seems serendipitous:

"If I thought about it, I could be bitter, but I don't feel like being bitter. Being bitter makes you immobile, and there's too much that I still want to do."
posted by Chuffy at 2:54 PM on August 17, 2015


I live in the Bay Area, and had a friend who explained DWB to me.

His dad was well-off, all the kids were highly educated. They drove BMW's and Mercedes Benz vehicles. My friend's rules were as follows:

Never drive if you've been drinking, even a little.
If you're in Palo Alto, expect to be pulled over - every black person driving a BMW is suspicious activity.
Never have anything in the car. No tools, no booze (that goes in the trunk), nothing.
Plan ahead for traffic stops if you have someplace to go.
Drive as close to the speed limit as possible, but not exactly the speed limit.
Make sure your lights work.
Use your turn signals.

Even after all this, expect to be pulled over.

True story.
posted by Chuffy at 3:24 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Last week on Market Street in San Francisco, 14 policemen responded to a call that a black man was "waving sticks around" and brutalized him in front of passers-by. Turns out he was using crutches, due to having one leg, as immediately established by people at the scene. Chaédria LaBouvier, a journalist with Medium, happened to videotape the incident, which lasted at least half an hour.
posted by psoas at 11:28 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


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