Via Ex-Cop Lawyer, a video of traffic stops and police encounters gone stupid.
No, this isn’t to say that the police officers’ handling was laudable, but that there are a great many people who are ridiculously obstinate in their interactions because they believe that they know the law, their rights, the Constitution, and what they are entitled to do. And they’re wrong. Sometimes humorously. Sometimes frustratingly. Sometimes, just insufferably stupid.
It’s one thing to argue that you don’t agree with the law, that you think the law should be different. Most of us do, though we don’t usually agree with what we would change to make the world better. Indeed, some would have the law go in exactly the opposite direction that you think it should. Never assume that most people think like you.
Watching this video, there is a strong likelihood that some will argue that they think one or more of the people in the video is within their rights, and the police are wrong. Or more to the point, that they see the driver as morally correct and the officer as unreasonable, so they would argue that they would side against the cop.
But that’s a view of the law as we would want it to be. It has nothing to do with what the law is, for better or worse. Each of us does not have a right to pull law from our butts, make it up as we go along and then expect others to comply with our personal vision of law.
My favorite line in the video comes at 17:06, where court officer “Pete Barnes” says, “that’s a nice speech, but you’re still not coming in.”
One of the most dangerous aspects of the internet, the availability of information and commentary online to anyone with a keyboard and the interest to look, is that they may well find information that misinforms, sometimes disastrously so, about the law. Websites that provide some very useful, very interesting, very sound content also, on occasion, stray from their mission and introduce some terribly wrong and dangerous ideas to the mix.
Many people on the internet are looking for magic tricks that will allow them to deal with the police on their terms. When someone offers up a magic trick, with a rationalization that makes sense to the unwary, they seize upon it. Should they try to use it, full of confidence that they have the secret that will not only allow them to skate past the evils they see in the system, but make them internet famous when their video goes viral showing how they pwned the cops, they end up in serious trouble.
Notably, how many people in the video kept repeating the question, “am I being detained, am I free to leave?” The answer is that they are being detained and they are not free to leave. Why? Because it’s a traffic stop for a violation of traffic laws, and the police are authorized to detain you. More to the point, you are obligated to provide license, registration and, according to your state, proof of insurance.
And during the course of a traffic stop, police are authorized to order you to remain in the car, get out of the car, open your window or close your window. The police are authorized to issue whatever orders they feel are necessary for their safety, and almost never will a court second guess an officer’s order for that purpose.
There is no law that requires police to wear or not wear sunglasses, and a driver does not get to demand that a cop remove his sunglasses, no matter how they make her feel. There are some departments which have dress policies that forbid reflector sunglasses, but that’s a matter of departmental policy, not law.
Regardless of what anyone on the internet said, myself included, if you are not a lawyer, you don’t know the law. You may know the words of a statute or the Constitution, but the law is more than words. The law is the concepts underlying the words. The law is the caselaw applying the words to a million variable situations.
The law is what protects you from that other flaming nutjob’s conduct, as he’s in a car just like you, and if his bad driving causes his car to hit yours, you may well die. Just as we all bitch about some other driver who has no business being on the road, we too are obliged to follow the law, and just as we wish some cop would stop that other moron, or not violate the law himself, we too are subject to stop for our violations.
Yes, there is no shortage of gripes about how the police perform their function, and indeed, these videos leave much to be desired in the interaction between police and the public. While the cops may not be legally in the wrong, these are not all videos of police who deserve medals for their courtesy and respect of the public. And significantly, the use of Tasers as compliance tools strikes me as deeply problematic, though many departments allow them to be used for that purpose and many courts have no issue with their use in this fashion as well.
For some, doing anything less than refusing to be compliant is an act of blind submission to authority. This is almost traitorous to some, as if being in the wrong, doing as they’re ordered by police who are acting fully within their authority, makes them cowards to the cause. What cause?
Living in this nation involves accepting the reality that there are laws with which we have to comply. We may not like them. We may not agree with them, But we must still abide them. You can fight to change them later, but if you refuse to adhere to them on the street, you will end up on the wrong end of an encounter.
Remember the video of the guy yelling at the female officer that she doesn’t get “civil disobedience”? He’s got that backward. If he chooses to engage in civil disobedience, then he pays the price for doing so. That’s what it means, not that police have to let you do as you please when you utter the words.
As much as you may disagree with the police, hate the fact that unarmed innocent people have been (and no doubt will be) killed, and think that the laws of this nation and all its subdivisions impair your rights, whether legal, natural or cosmic, that doesn’t entitle you to make up your own set of laws or rules and expect the police to cut you a break.
Sorry if the law as taught you on the internet hasn’t panned out as you hoped, but for the most part, it’s wrong and complying with police officers’ requests and commands for name, license, etc., will get you home safely and promptly. Just because some nutjob on the internets told you otherwise isn’t going to change that.