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.