The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


I am stubborn. It is not just my wife who tells me this, it is something that's been told to me by parents, teachers, superior officers, colleagues, bosses, salespeople, repairmen, and just about everyone who has known me long enough to get into a discussion with me.

I am not, of course, stubborn. What I am is right. Well, mostly. It is only when I am wrong that I am stubborn. When I am right and it isn't acknowledged it is the other person who is stubborn, is it not?

In any given disagreement, one side is more wrong than the other. You will note I did not say "one side is right and the other is wrong." What I am saying is that disagreements happen when each party believes it is right. The art of avoiding argument is to acknowledge the possibility of being wrong. And that is where the mutual wrongness comes into play.

Recently, there was a disagreement between a police officer and a citizen in Boston. You may have heard or read about this incident. I'd like to examine it carefully and objectively, if I may.

To summarize the incident as objectively as possible, a police officer was called to an address to investigate a possible break in. The initial report came from a neighbor of the house where the possible crime may be being committed.

After a short period of time, according to witnesses, the resident of the house was arrested on his front porch while being loud and agitated.

The resident is a professor of African-American Studies at nearby Harvard University.

The above entails all of the actual facts that we know to be true. The rest, at this point, is all hearsay. We do not know what the actual verbal exchanges were between the two principals in the matter.

Now, let me relate an incident which happened in my youth...

I was driving a car between Orlando and Hallandale in Florida. I was on a state highway, traveling at the speed limit (about 30 MPH at that point) and exiting the town of Pahokee. I was 17 at the time. The car was loaded with clothes in the back seat and various other items in the trunk.

A Florida Highway Patrol car moved up behind me and with flashing lights and a burst of his siren, indicated that I should pull over. Not being stupid, nor doing anything criminal at the moment (or relatively recently), I complied.

The officer walked up to my car, asked for my driver's license and registration and queried me about where I was going. He was polite. So was I as I complied with his request.

Without telling me why he had pulled me over, he asked me to open the trunk of my car. As we walked back to the rear of the car, another Highway Patrol car pulled up behind the first and that officer got out, joining us at the rear of my car.

I opened the trunk and stood slightly back away as the officers peered inside. The first officer noticed a box. Specifically an old .50 caliber ammo box. I informed him that it was my toolbox when he asked me what it was doing in my trunk.

I then said, "Here, I'll show you." And reached in to open it.

At that point, the second officer grabbed the butt of his pistol and started to remove it from his holster. The first officer merely grabbed my arm and told me to stop.

He then said, "Let me do that." And opened the box himself which revealed... tools.

I spent the next half hour or so while the first officer verified my driver's license, ascertained that there were no warrants for me or the car, and basically checked out my story that I was in the process of moving to Hallandale with my parents who were a couple of hours ahead of me.

Had I gotten indignant about being stopped for no apparent reason other than that I was a teenager driving through this remote town with a plate that identified me as coming from about 125 miles north of it, things could have gotten a little ugly. Had I moved a little faster to open that box, or the first officer mimicked the second on resorting to pulling his gun, I might have been facing a couple of .357 magnums up close and personal.

Why do I relate this story along with the previous? Simple.

Even as a young man of 17, not yet out of high school, I knew it was not smart to be impolite to a police officer.

Right or wrong, I would have suffered the worst of it.

Why does a college professor of 58 years not also know that simple fact?

7 comments: said...

You aren't a person of color.

It is a fact that people of color are subjected to more of these random stops than white people.

Until you walk a mile in the other guy's shoes...
(I'm white.)

Douglas said...

Sixty - So you are saying that people of color are conditioned to escalate confrontations rather than seek to diffuse them?

Steven said...

Unless I was in a dire hurry to get somewhere, I'd politely refuse to open my trunk. Not going to rant, but I will state my reasoning in the form of a question:

Why do I get so annoyed by the public safety signs around my city that say "P.A.C.T. - Police And Citizens Together?"

Steven said...

Oh, and I think the Professor started out being somewhat in the right, but was a jerk and has a huge chip on his shoulder. From what I've read, though, the charges he was arrested for amounted to "insulting a police officer," which I don't think is a crime. Still, he's a jerk.

Makes me think of my wife getting pulled over yesterday in our convertible, and getting a warning for "too fast for conditions" on a dry and sunny day, because the officer didn't like the fact that our car can safely make turns faster than his, I guess.

Not that I'm anti-traffic-police, but it's tiring being a young-looking person who can't drive a nice car due to MANY instances of being pulled over, insulted, harassed, yelled at, door ripped open out of my hands, frisked, and searched for no good reason. Most of those were separate incidents. And I've never been anything but polite. It's true that the job attracts a certain type of person that craves authority. (Going to make the disclaimer that my generalizations don't apply to all, and dealt with two very nice and helpful cops during a fender-bender in downtown Atlanta on Saturday night, and one very nice and funny backup cop after my frisk and during my search a few years ago.)-


Douglas said...

Steven (and Sixty) - My story was about my youth. I was 17. I am 63 now (do the math). At the time (1964), the police could pull you over for no apparent reason, search your car without probable cause, and generally annoy you for entertainment purposes. As a teen, I was stopped on a fairly regular basis; some months, I would be stopped weekly. (IOW, Sixty, I walked that "mile"). It was much later that the courts began to bestow some rights and restrictions on what cops could do during a legitimate traffic stop. Even into the 70s, because I chose to wear my hair long and a beard, I was stopped for imaginary offenses. I am well aware of how the police can and do act. I have experienced that behavior.
What I learned to do is be cooperative, even helpful. When you do that, there is no way any escalation can happen unless it is entirely on the part of the police. I do not express any resentment whatsoever, no matter how right I am.

And I am not a Harvard professor. I am not someone who assumes that things can easily get out of hand. I am simply someone who learned to avoid confrontations whenever possible.

Steven said...

Agreed, always treat everyone with respect, avoid confrontations, and don't be a jerk. That's the way I behave, probably even to a fault.

This article about the incident just came up in my feed reader. I thought it was pretty interesting.

I can't imagine being a bearded long-hair in the 70s. Probably not as bad as DWB, but there had to be a lot of issues...

Douglas said...

Steven - Perhaps I am biased because I have had many friends who worked in the police departments, because I have done a couple of stints on Shore Patrol, and have gained an understanding of the difficulties of the job. Yet I also have been on the receiving end of apparent police abuse of power and so I have gained an understanding of that also. We do not improve relations with the police by being antagonistic nor by viewing them as thugs. We just continue to make things worse.
I think I need to expand on this theme. And thank you for that link, it was interesting.