Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What role for police in keeping the peace?

Last night I was driving back from a Jobs with Justice meeting in Northampton, coming down Rt. 91, and going about 60 miles an hour in a 65 mile an hour zone. I noticed a car travelling quite close behind me for nearly a mile. Finally the car pulled into the left-hand lane to pass, but instead of passing, it exactly paced me. After a few seconds I risked a glance to the left and saw that it was a Massachusetts State Police cruiser. After my glance the cruiser dropped back and melded into into other traffic.

What the heck was that about? I wondered. The cruiser was behind me long enough to run my plates, which clearly came back clean; so why the side by side pacing? I have a lot of bumper stickers, but nothing mean or threatening , and no "Stop Police Brutality" stickers (I'm dumb but I'm not that dumb). Boredom? Intimidation? Just doing his job? (But wasn't his job done after my plates came back clean?)

Yesterday I had lunch with Betty Agin from the Health Disparities Project-- just checking in with each other. I gave her a copy of some notes an Arise member had given me from a meeting about how to stop youth violence because I knew youth violence had been the topic of her most recent forum.

I admit I haven't had a high level of enthusiasm for recent community efforts to end youth violence. I've seen many similar efforts through the years in Springfield and the impetus of the projects usually fades away, leaving little change. It's tough, I know: good strategies have to come out of identification of root causes, and that's so discouraging, it's easy to despair or to come up with strategies that are eight or nine steps away from the root cause.

But even with that as a given, I asked Betty why, if group organizers want people to use the police more to report the potential or actual crime, changing police attitudes toward the public never comes up as a strategy? How do we regain that "The police are your friends" mentality?

This summer I wrote about a 15 year old kid. Delano Walker, who backed away from police right into the path of a car which crushed him to death-- turns out he had a knife on him that he shouldn't have had and didn't want the police to find it. I never did hear any more about this, but it was a tragic and traumatic situation for all involved.

Of course half of the fear and suspicion people have for the police have nothing to do with the police at all; it's about what happens when people get entangled in a criminal justice system that can't tell a molehill from a mountain-- maybe I shouldn't say "can't" but instead "won't", not when there's money to be made and paranoia to be milked.

This March an Indiana grandmother bought two boxes of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine in a one week period and found herself arrested (at her home, and then handcuffed) and convicted for violating Indiana law 35-48-4-14.7, which restricts the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, or PSE, products to no more than 3.0 grams within any seven-day period. Don't Tase Me, Bro. The same site reports that a Michigan woman who was willing to wait with neighborhood kids at the morning school bus stop if their parents had already left for work was threatened with fines and jail time for running an unauthorized day care.

This morning CNN reported on a Connecticut blogger who was arrested in 2007 after taking a picture of the Connecticut governor in a parade. Turns out he was being followed closely by one of the 72 Homeland Security fusion centers because he had criticized the governor, was politically active, and had been arrested for civil disobedience. (Jeez, all those things apply to me, too!) It's not up on CNN's website yet, but you can read the whole story at The 40 Year Plan.

I think it's time for a refresher course in the Bill of Rights .

Photo from Mark Sardella's photostream at Flickr.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

get over the paranoia... he's doing his job