Saturday, December 12, 2009

How not to get beat by the police

This post is an oblique response to an incident on the US/Canada border that involved a Canadian SF writer and US Border Patrol personnel. Indeed, it is not so much in direct response to that incident as the persons who expressed their opinions on what happened. No one but the principles truly know what happened on that day, and I am certain that the truth will out when all is said and done.

My post is more in regards to the general contacts with law enforcement in the course of their day to day duties:

The worst people in the world for law enforcement to contact are people who have an awareness of their rights but an inaccurate assessment of _when_ to excercise those rights.

The street or border are not the place to stand on one's rights unless it _starts_ as an emergency matter or the person wishes to make new case law or raise public awareness by causing a confrontation.

Do not argue with the citing/arresting officer. Set your brain on record and be sure to remember what is said. Ask if you can turn on a recording device. Remember the reply. Do not tell the officer what you think is going on. Just recall, with as little emotion as possible, what is happening. Do not speculate as to why things are occurring. Certainly do not do so aloud.

All you are doing is moving the incident from the professional to the personal by stating that you think you are being pulled over based on your race, bumper sticker, car color, sexual orientation or immigration status.

If one does start a ruckus, be aware of the fact that your actions should dictate the actions of the law enforcement personnel you face: If you are six foot tall and have an angry expression on your face, repeatedly refuse to comply with orders such as ‘Get back in your car!” and outweigh/outsize the officer you have decided to argue with, prepare for a justified use of force to gain your compliance.

It will be painful, but you have moved the incident into that arena through the potential for violence you represent. Officers are not required to get hit or even be swung at before gaining compliance with a reasonable level of force. In the U.S. the standards for what is a reasonable level of force is not set by anyone but what another officer of similar training and experience would do in a similar circumstance. In other words, if you haven’t been there and done that, you are not setting the bar for excessive or reasonable force. Your opinions don’t count.

This is a case where the little man complex can get civilians into trouble. If the officer is smaller, lighter or generally not physically imposing and knows it, they can go to the force continuum much earlier than someone who outsizes/outweighs you. This is because they can be justified in using force when someone of greater stature would not be threatened by the relative size of the person contacted.

The courts are fairly well set up to deal with these situations in an environment where no one needs to raise their voice, let alone give/take a beating. Go to court and kick ass in that setting, it is generally much easier on you.

All of these guidelines that I have set forth are in relation to an officer upon first contact. If the officer shows a true inability to reason, then things are beyond the scope of this post. One must take comfort in the knowledge that the truly abusive of power rarely get away with it for long, and Karma is a bitch.

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