I'm a 40 year old white male, living in a sleepy southern city. I teach in an inner-city school in a larger city, so I get to see both sides of the issues between police and minorities. I always try to explain both sides to each other, believing (probably naively), that if we communicate enough, we can stop hating each other so much.
A lot of that changed last week when I was pulled over for "not wearing a seat belt," (Which, of course, I was wearing.)
So, I'm driving to the pharmacy, exhausted after a long day and my 6 month old is crying in the back seat. All of a sudden, I notice a police cruiser come flying up behind me and hits the lights. I haven't been pulled over in nearly 20 years. The roads are tight, so I couldn't just pull over. I moved up the road and found a parking lot and pulled in.
My baby started screeching, so I turned around in my seat to try to reach for his binky and I accidentally hit my door knob with my elbow, opening the door slightly. I know that I should have just sat there with my hands on the wheel, but like I said, it had been a long day, and my head hurt.
All of a sudden there was screaming. I looked in the mirror and saw a young female police officer pointing and yelling at me as two more cruisers swerved into the parking lot behind her.
I put my hands up and turned around and sat at the steering wheel. I lowered the window as she eased up. I noticed she was putting her weapon back in the holster.
She wanted my drivers' license, registration, and proof of insurance. "Sure." I asked her what was wrong, and she said she pulled me over because I didn't have my seat belt on.
That really threw me off. I NEVER drive without a seat belt. Ever. My father was a race-car driver, and he really instilled in me the necessity of seat belts. I told the officer that I always wear it, and she looked me over. I feel as if she was surprised. Maybe the real reason they pulled me over was they were looking for someone? I don't know.
She took my information back to her car and came back in less than 20 seconds, letting me go this time. The other two cars pulled away and she was gone with them before I could even think to look and see what PD she was with.
This really surprised me. In a sleepy town, the cops are pulling over someone for "seat belt violation," and pulling weapons on us? It takes three cars to check the safety of this seat belt?
It continued, however. I wrote about my experience on Facebook, just to see what others thought. I was hit immediately with people telling me that I needed to get over it. That police shouldn't have to risk their lives so that I could "feel safe." That I should be thankful, and next time I have to call cops to my house, I'd better have a different attitude about the police. That over 1,000 police officers have been killed in the line of duty in the last 10 years.
When others on the other side responded, they were quickly shot down, too. It was so bad that I deleted the thread, as this was an account that I have students on, and I didn't think they needed to see their teachers and parents acting like this. Of course, I was immediately set upon again about why I deleted the thread, and that I was wrong about this.
I calmly responded that not everyone agrees with you, that this was excessive, and that while I am very sorry for the police that have been killed in the line of duty (a good friend of mine was a member of the Illinois State Troopers and killed by a roadside pull over, so I get it), I was curious as to just how many unarmed civilians have been killed by police in the last 10 years?
Some of my students wanted to know more about what happened, so I talked about it, staying very neutral so as to let them kind of make up their own minds, when one of my students (a white, red-haired young man who is one of my top students) raised his hand. He told the class, "My Grandfather is retired _PD. He says he doesn't like police, today. He says they're too militant. They shoot first and ask questions later. In his day, crime was worse, but a police officer would rather try to take down an armed man with his bare hands than shoot him. Things changed after 9/11."
I guess the big issue I have with all of this is that it feels like the Police in this country are trying to make it all "us vs. them." If you don't 100% agree with them, then you're an enemy. If you complain in any way, you're an enemy. If you don't love them, then you should never call them in an emergency.
Now, frankly, I'm nervous when I see police in public. As a Middle School Social Studies Teacher who teaches all about the Constitution and Rights, it's not really a good idea from a PR standpoint to make it an "Us vs. Them" kind of thing.
You're more than welcome to disagree or get angry in the comments. But, from what I'm hearing from a lot of good, upstanding citizens, I'm not alone in these fears.