This One Cool Trick Could Save Your Life

Black men getting killed by cops? Cops getting killed by black men? Waterbury Police Chief Vernon Riddick, Jr., wants to end the bloodshed, bring us closer together in the spirit of cooperation. Who doesn’t want cooperation? Who doesn’t want to survive? All you have to do is cooperate. Radley Balko asks if that’s so hard?

I understand the argument that you shouldn’t mouth off to cops. I get the argument that you shouldn’t needlessly provoke them. I certainly agree that you shouldn’t physically resist them. It could get you killed.

But this is a police chief who, in a town hall meeting spurred by a rash of shootings both by and of police officers, is asking that citizens submit without question if an officer requests to search a vehicle, home or person. In the interest of “cooperation,” he’s asking a black audience to give up their Fourth Amendment rights.

Riddick isn’t just a police chief, but an African American police chief. When he walked into the Mount Olive A.M.E. Zion Church to speak with “a mostly African-American crowd of more than 200 people,” it wasn’t cop-splaining, but a person who shared the lived experience of being a black man in America. Would he steer them wrong?

Police Chief Vernon L. Riddick Jr. brought a message of cooperation with police to a mostly African-American crowd of more than 200 people at Mount Olive A.M.E. Zion Church on Wednesday night.

If an officer stops your car, if they ask to search your person or vehicle, if they demand entry into your home, comply and then complain later to the department’s internal affairs office and police chief’s office if you feel your rights have been violated, Riddick said.

Let’s assume that this advice is given with the best of intentions, in the spirit of cooperation. Putting aside the fact that compliance isn’t an assurance that one will survive an encounter, Riddick’s “advice” is certainly a pragmatic expression of the reality that they have the guns on their side, the law on their side, and they will use it. The problem isn’t that the cops violate your constitutional rights, which Riddick admits by describing scenarios that involve unlawful conduct by police, but that we make them kill us while they are violating our rights because we’re just not cooperating well enough as they’re violating the Constitution.

Radley points this out.

I realize things are tense right now. We should certainly respect and be aware of that when interacting with law enforcement officers. But to verbally refuse a request to search is an exercise of one’s rights. It isn’t a provocation. That Riddick and other police officials seem to see it as the latter is telling — and a big problem.

Perhaps Riddick’s advice failed to make the problem sufficiently clear.  Riddick’s cooperation is “comply now, grieve later.” That it won’t work isn’t the point. At least you will be alive later, which beats being dead. Try grieving when you’re dead. But what doesn’t appear to be clearly understood is that the concept of cooperation offered by Riddick is a bit one-sided.  It doesn’t involve the police honoring constitutional rights. It doesn’t involve the police cleaning up their own impropriety. It involves you cooperating with cops, not cops cooperating with you.

And what makes a black police chief see this as the solution to the “tense” situation?  Another black police chief provides a clue.

David A. Clarke, Jr., is the elected sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and he is a righteous, angry, belligerent man.  If Don Lemon didn’t keep the tone under control, you kinda get the sense that Clarke might have pistol whipped him for his insolence on air.

But this wasn’t anger or belligerence directed at Don Lemon, personally. This was a guy who wasn’t about to broach any lack of “cooperation” from anybody.

To his credit, Clarke minces no words.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to make something very clear: Blue lives matter in America.

Want to argue the point with Clarke?  And that’s what Riddick meant by cooperation. Clarke is a very dangerous person.  Clarke is the road rage guy who kills the person who didn’t let him merge when he wanted to. Clarke is the guy who one would hope would be denied a carry permit because of his lack of self control and reflection. Clarke is fucking nuts. And instead of being on a list of dangerous nutjobs the FBI should have under surveillance, he’s the Milwaukee Sheriff.

Riddick may well have told the good people at the Mount Olive A.M.E. Zion Church to willingly give up their constitutional rights because there are guys like Clarke around who, from all appearances, will kill them at the drop of a hat rather than suffer a minute of their insolence. Whether this is true or just Clarke pretending to be a threat to all that is sane and rational is unknown. But do you really want to test Clarke?

And there he is, put on a national stage to satisfy America’s favorite pastime, simplistic slogans that appeal to the thinking challenged. Make America Safe Again! How cool is it that you can stick pretty much any word into the slogan and it works, if only we squint a bit and don’t think too much.  Make America Free Again! See how that works?

It almost makes one appreciate those in law enforcement who acknowledge that cops have gone over the top, too militarized, too warrior, too little guardian. It may be that the “reasonable” voices in law enforcement are still far too married to their own concerns, their own safety, their own vision of cooperation being us complying with them for our own good. But at least we need not fear that our “national conversation” won’t result in an angry, belligerent sheriff pistol whipping us for challenging him.

Radley rightly notes that our exercise of constitutional rights isn’t a provocation, but that only applies to people with whom we can speak without fear of their killing us for saying so.  Does Clarke see any lack of compliance as provocation? It sure seems that way.  And there is no arguing the point with a bullet from his gun.

Contrast the few moments of purported reform that never actually happened with this newfound threat of comply or die. It’s not just a big problem, but a big problem that’s about to get worse rather than better. Hope you enjoyed the few minutes of hope that reform, even if tepid, was around the corner. It’s gone.

22 thoughts on “This One Cool Trick Could Save Your Life

  1. B. McLeod

    Meh, 4th Amendment. Why not just let the police come riffle through your stuff whenever they want? And be sure to drive to the station for interviews if ever requested. After all, if you aren’t guilty (of whatever) there is nothing to fear, right?

  2. REvers

    My local gendarmerie has put out a brochure that gives out this sort of advice. I especially like the part that tells people to open the door and answer questions when a cop comes calling.

    There’s no word of whether they’re going to fly the hamicopter over the poor part of town and drop the brochure as leaflets.

    1. SHG Post author

      If they attach a coupon for a free ice cream cone, people will flock to the police station on their own.

      1. Conner Leo

        Free police ice cream has too many nuts for my taste, though fewer nuts than most people think. It also melts down even when things are cool, and you incur penalties for eating too much/not enough.

  3. Mike P.

    I suppose it’s not worth mentioning in a room full of lawyers, but might have been nice at a town hall meeting , that once you “let him” or “answer him” that you no longer have anything to complain about. But then it’s always consensual, isn’t it. Coerced? Afraid? Where’s the proof? Good luck.

  4. PVanderwaart

    “Cooperate” means “comply” or”submit”. George Orwell’s Newspeak in real life.

  5. kushiro

    Make America LARP Again
    Make America Poop Again
    Make America 18 Again (starring George Burns and Charlie Schlatter)

    Checks out.

  6. Keith

    Is “Riddick told me to comply” a valid defense when the cop tells the judge that you consented to the search?

      1. Keith

        That was one of them rhetorical questions. This is a law blawg, I figured everyone here knew that 😉

  7. John Barleycorn

    Complain latter?

    What could possibly go wrong!

    Afterall it’s a FACT that Judges and prosecutors are nearly as accommodating as police officers when it comes to “complaints”.

    P.S. From a public relations perspective it is going to take a white evangacial Police Chief over the age of 50 with a shaved head and a pair of shades stuffed into his front pocket, who has personally shot at least two kittnes to save them from a life of methamphetamine addiction (one of whom has had to have survived even if they are paralyzed) in his career to pull off the:

     “The time has come to reexamine our State’s and the Nation’s “reasonable officer standards” and claify difinitively by law when it is, and is not, necessary for us to shoot the kittens that can’t be saved for their own safety.

    It will be a slam dunk if he can get the black woman who just got released from prison, whose toddler he and his wife  happened to have adopted back in 1989 to stand beside him.

    She was a single mom who couldn’t even afford  bail on her nurses salary and got popped for few grams of crack she was gonna do at a house party with her friends  after her shift because her kid was with grandma for the weekend and was sentenced to 25 years, on a friday by a judge with an eight ball of powder under his robe, because she got busted for selling weed to get through college and carried a gun in her purse because she had to walk ten blocks in the middle of the night to the train station for her shift.

    Anyway, she is just got out in February  because she got jacked with a misdemeanor assault charge on a prison guard that wouldn’t take no for an answer and her PD told her to take the deal they offered because the guard would surely testify against her and he didn’t have even one single bad mark in his 20 year file and to make matters worse  he also had great teeth and all his hair even if he was 80 pounds overweight.

    But she is over it and you see her brother would have been able to raise her son if the cops hadn’t gunned him down for his own safety because he missed  the last train home when he was across town asking his girlfriend’s father for permission to take his daughters hand in marriage and he had to walk home because her parents were Baptists.

  8. Jim Majkowski

    Let’s see. The recommended approach is to change the behavior of the populace at large, without allowance even for the differently abled, because that’s a better plan than to attempt to change the behavior of an organized and readily identified cadre who are decently paid, purportedly professional, subject to inculcation of structured initial and continuing training, education, and indoctrination, part of a clearly defined hierarchy, and deemed by political officeholders to be sufficiently skilled, educated, and trustworthy to be granted wide discretion in the enforcement of complex law, often in emergency and immediate circumstances, including the power to seize others’ persons and property and even to employ deadly force. Got it.

      1. Billy Bob

        Easy for you to say! It is hard, damned hard, to…. wrap your puny little head ’round,… We have known a few “decent” cops, but they are few and far between. And the gulf is getting wider. Not like when we were kids and they did not have all that armament and artillery, not to mention K-9 dogs and robots equipped to kill on command. This is torrable.
        Better dayz are comin’, we trust.

  9. Nick L. EMT-P

    Another cool trick
    Rochambeau this time
    A swift kick in the prick
    For every search
    That yields no crime.

  10. James McLynas

    [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

    I thought Clarke said that “hands up, don’t shoot” was a dam lie? A false narrative. Never Happened. Anyone that says that is just stirring up Anti-Cop Rhetoric. What do you say now Clarke?

  11. Daniel

    I was a former white cop working partly on an Indian reservation (that is, the Indian reservation was partly within the county). There is definitely racism by cops against Indians, and that racism included Indian cops against civilian Indians.*** Indian cops and white cops had a sort of camaraderie, going beyond race so there didn’t seem to be much conflict among the police. Thus, while I believe there is a fair amount of racism by cops against blacks, I think it is also a problem of power (the police) versus no power (the citizen), as much as it is a problem of racism. Racism with power is a bad situation. I think the power-problem is what ails Clarke.

    I speak of Indians only because I worked where there were few black people, and don’t have much law enforcement experience when it comes to blacks. There was only one black person in the county I worked in, and he was a very likeable and funny rodeo clown, who effectively did his job (saving the bucked off bull riders).

    ***For example, an Indian cop once told me that he was going to start opening closed alcoholic containers of Indians so he could write them tickets for “open container” when they came off the Reservation to drink at the bars off of the Reservation on the weekends. Fortunately, I had some authority over him and told him to never do it. I never wrote open container tickets in the first place because I think they are among the dumbest laws ever.

    1. SHG Post author

      That the issue isn’t strictly black and white has been discussed here before. At the top level, it’s cops v. non-cops, and people who contend that more black cops will change the equation reflect a misunderstanding of the nature of the problem.

      There is always a most disfavored group among the non-cop contingent. In your case, it was Indians (who are often a forgotten group in this discussion). Same idea, different disfavored group as a matter of demographics.

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