Are we really surprised to realize that white American culture is inherently violent?
Every year, we celebrate our independence from imperialism with explosives to mimic the sounds and sights of WAR. We are the only country in the modern world where people actually think they’re exercising their free-dumb by carrying a war weapon to the 7-11 and then whine and cry when people think there’s something wrong in their brains and that they must have small penises. We are also the only country in the modern world where people worship the police and treat them like both rare orchids and superheroes, but rare orchids that need military-grade weapons in case an eight year old black girl sasses them and superheroes who specifically target and kill the people they’re supposed to protect.
Twice I have had a gun pointed at me, both times by white men. One was on meth, but mercifully, the gun wasn’t loaded. The other time it was by an inbred backwoods idiot who pointed it at me in the dark from across a gravel road because he thought I was breaking into the house across the road that I was housesitting because he knew the owners weren’t home, but I somehow had a key to get in.
So both times I have had a gun pointed at me, it was by a deranged white man with brain damage who is probably too stupid to handle a gun safely.
I can’t recall ever actually being in actual fear of my life because of a person of color. I can’t recall ever actually being in danger of losing my life because of a person of color. Even if I can go back to all those moments in my life when racism kicks in, when you remember the voice of your grandparent or some other concerned citizen telling you put your hand on your purse or to not be too friendly with black people because that might make them angry, and they get violent when they get angry (yeah, I was literally told this as a kid. Someone better tell all the black people in Chicago this because I’m always shooting the breeze with strangers there, and you better believe that Chicagoans of all kinds will converse with a stranger.)
But in all my years, I also can’t recall a single time in which the police were there to help, or when one actually protected me. They always come after the fact, and depending on how they feel about you and the neighborhood they came to, they may not be so eager to “protect and serve.”
I don’t need to respect the police.
Now, I know what you’re going to say. “Miriam, if you don’t like the police, then you better just call the funeral home directly never time you need help cause why should they help you if you don’t like them?” to which I say:
You’re a fucking moron.
It doesn’t matter what I think of the police because they’re civil servants. All civil servants have to do their jobs to serve the public, which I’m a part of. Fuck — even in the private sector, nurses and doctors, security guards, etc., have to just do their jobs no matter who they’re serving.
I’m also a civil servant, and when I am appointed to represent someone, I still have to represent them to the best of my ability as attorney and guardian ad litem no matter what that client thinks of me, no matter how they treat me, and believe me, you may not see eye-to-eye with an impetuous teen, but I don’t simply stop doing my job because I got called a bad name and they questioned my work. [I also don’t wrestle my clients to the ground, or shoot them in the back, or rip their children from their arms, or all that stuff.]
And really? That’s your argument?
Do you know that people who work fast food ALWAYS have to serve people who don’t like them, people who don’t respect them, people who are rude to them, and fuck: even people who harass and try to attack them. And they keep doing it because it’s their job and no one falls to the floor licking their shoes and designing them flags, even though frankly, most Americans have more use for fast food workers than cops.
The difference is that fast food workers have to learn and use pro-social skills to get along with people because they don’t operate in a bizarre parallel world in which they have somehow become convinced that they’re the ONLY THING standing in the way between the American public and complete starvation.
If we can’t expect cops to do their jobs for people who don’t like them the way we expect every other fucking adult in America to do their jobs, then they need to find something else to do for money, preferably something with less guns.
Until the country drops to the ground and starts licking lawyer’s shoes, I will not think of cops as any more than the lowest rung of the executive branch of government.
I don’t have to like the police.
And I don’t like the police. I’m a middle-class white woman at nearly 41, but I still don’t like the police.
I’m a lawyer now, I work for the government, and I am often surrounded by sheriffs deputies, but I remember my growing up, and I remember what cops were like. I’m not like a lot of the poor white bootlickers who have this sudden wave of amnesia and forgot what the cops are like when they came into our neighborhoods and when they dealt with us.
Auburn, NY didn’t have a lot of black people and barely any other people of color back then, so the cops went right down to the poor white people to get their kicks and flex this muscles. And they were slow to arrive in our neighborhoods and slow to help. You’d be lucky to get them to do anything to help you, but god help you if you crossed them. Sometimes, they’d just follow you all around town for no reason. Sometimes they would stop you and force you to talk to them because they could, because no one would stop them from harassing you, and the excuse always was:
Well, if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to be afraid of.
And that was just the way it was.
A police officer in Auburn, NY tried to abduct me and a friend when we were 15.
When I was fifteen, a friend of mine and I decided to tell each other’s mothers that we were staying over at the other’s house so we could stay out all night. It was the very beginning of my junior year, and I had a few months before I turned 16, and my friend just began her sophomore year. No car, no jobs, no money. Not much to do in Auburn, NY in autumn but walk around and try to stay warm, especially when you’re that age, but we were kids. There was no curfew, and on foot, there were still places to go where we could hang out until the sun came up.
It was just going to be us two girls being bad, whatever that was going to mean.
We left her house, two girls with backpacks and a night of possibilities, and went south on Grant Ave to go to Hunter’s Diner, because that was open 24-7, and we could stay warm, smoke cigarettes, get enough coffee to help us stay out all night.
We were walking down Grant Avenue about equidistant from her home and mine, a few blocks in either direction, when a cop car pulled up to us. It was one cop, a young man. I don’t remember his name. I don’t recognize his last name. I remember that he had dark hair, but not much else because the inside of his squad car was all dark, which is unusual for a cop driving around stopping people.
I remember his radio wasn’t on because at one point, in fear of what he was going to do to us, I asked him to get on his radio and confirm what he was telling us was true.
This cop told us that he stopped us because we matched the description of two runaways from a home in Syracuse and that he would have to take us back.
Now, imagine being fifteen and growing up afraid of the cops and one telling you and a friend while you’re out sneaking around the town you have lived your entire life in, not very far from the house you grew up in, that you’re a runaway and he’s driving you both to Syracuse, and the home will determine whether or not you’re really the runaways…not you.
It 10 p.m. at night, and the last bus from Syracuse would have come and gone hours ago, and it was otherwise about an hour’s drive away along either an interstate or a bunch of roads in the country, so the logistics of two runaways on foot making it to Auburn, NY would have been nearly impossible, and if we got a ride to town, why are we walking in the cold now? A taxi would have been prohibitively expensive. Then there’s the question of even why two runaways would bother going to this town which would have certainly been a dead end, and not say, a much larger city, especially when Greyhound left Syracuse for New York City every few hours.
The story didn’t make sense.
It also didn’t make sense that my friend and I matched the descriptions of two runaways, because I looked rather distinct at that age. I still had the face of a young child and would get mistaken for a weird-dressing 12-year-old with breasts. I had naturally red hair in a buzz cut and an eyebrow piercing before it was really common. That night, I was wearing a vintage wool jumper from the 70s, an old Army coat, and a pair of combat boots. My friend may have dressed less strangely, but she was biracial in a place where that’s not really common.
What were the odds of that two girls who happen to look JUST LIKE US ran from a home in Syracuse that night? Why did he have no choice but to get in the car, go to Syracuse with him and let this unnamed children’s home decide if we were the runaways or not?
I even had a school ID on me saying I was a sophomore at Auburn High School, but he refused to accept it, telling me that he couldn’t know if it was really mine, that it could be fake, so how was he to know the difference? Because yes — a teenage girl runs from Syracuse in the middle of the night to Auburn, NY by mysterious means and somehow manages to also get a fake high school ID all in one night and then just walks down the street like she lives there or something.
My friend had her school ID that clearly, obviously was her and he refused to believe it, because again — how would he know it was real? The high school’s closed for the weekend.
He wanted us to get into his squad car so he could take us back to Syracuse. He said that because he couldn’t be sure we were who we said we were, he had no choice but to take us “back” to Syracuse.
This was the point where I was genuinely afraid that we were not going to have a choice but to get in that car and that something very bad was going to happen to us.
I remember asking him if he knew what home in Syracuse. What about the girl’s names? Were those supposed runaways even FROM Auburn? Because there was at the time one girl I could think of who kind of looked like me, but she was definitely not a runaway from Syracuse. Auburn is not a big city, and I knew every freak from high school, and I couldn’t think of a local doppelgänger who was at the time in a home in another city in another county.
The cop said he didn’t know which home in Syracuse, nor did he know their names or their ages, or any of that really basic information that you need to file a missing persons report, or that say, the actual home the girls ran from would know. I mean, you would think that if this home alerted not only the Syracuse police but also the Auburn police, which is an entirely different jurisdiction, that the girls ran, the home would know it’s name.
Somehow, this piece of shit rapist pig only knew the girls’ EXACT description, which happened to be exactly what my friend and I happened to look like that night.
I asked him to get on the radio and ask the station what the girl’s names were and where they were from. He said he couldn’t, that the radio was off, and since he was off-duty now, he couldn’t turn it back on.
For as little I knew about police procedure, I knew that was clearly a lie. He was off-duty and yet stopping us on the sidewalk to insist that we get in his car so he could drive us an hour away to Syracuse even though he just said he didn’t know where the fuck he was going to take us because he didn’t even know what home we supposedly ran away from or who he was even supposed to return since he didn’t know our names.
At no time did he turn on his radio at all, much less to ever inform the police station that he found the supposed runaways and was taking them back to Syracuse despite the fact that he was seemingly so convinced that he found them/us.
And just so you know, there wouldn’t have been a child protection warrant issued that late at night, and you can’t that without at least knowing the names of the people you’re looking for. This cop had no legal authority WHATSOEVER to be detaining any child and transporting any child to any home. Absolutely none.
This was an attempted kidnapping by coercion by a police officer.
It is quite clear that this man wanted to do something bad to us, and we knew it, but we didn’t leave.
What could we do?
We didn’t do anything but try to talk him out of making us getting in vehicle. We thought that all we could do was stand on the sidewalk and try to convince this predator to drive off, that even though he was telling us that he had no choice but to make us get in the car and go to Syracuse, that something would click in his brain to make this not worth his time anymore.
We didn’t know that we could walk away, that we weren’t be detained. We believed that even though he was lying, we could be forced into his car anyway by some means, some threat. No one around there questioned what the cops did; they just endured it. No one knew the law or anything about civil rights, because that was all left up to the cops.
This was 1995, and we didn’t have cell phones to call our parents, and frankly, I did not want this cop knowing anything about me, like my parents’ name, like my address because who knows what he would do later with that information? What would happen if he followed us to my house? What lie would he tell my parents?
We couldn’t tell our parents or let him follow us home because we had also just lied to our parents.
I didn’t have the kind of parents who would have been on my side or have even listened to my side, and they were definitely going to know that I lied to them about staying at my friend’s house, and that would be enough for my Dad to throw me to the wolves.
I would for certain get my ass kicked if my parents found out that I lied, let alone for whatever lie that would tell him. My father doesn’t have a normal human heart: he’s the kind of parent who slaps a toddler in the face for tripping on the sidewalk because their clumsiness annoys him. Maybe I would be safe from the cop if he left me at my house, but I definitely wouldn’t be safe from my father.
I’m sure the fact that my friend and I didn’t default to going to our parents was a big sign that we couldn’t.
Now, my friend’s mother is saint, and she would have helped us for sure. The trouble is that she lived a housing complex for the disabled, and she is also a minority that the police always get away with hurting; she would have no influence over the cop; in fact, seeing her might embolden him more because then he would know that at least as far as my friend was concerned (because that kind of shit still happens), he could do anything he wanted to my friend and get away with it.
It was up to me and my friend to get out of this safely.
Now, understand that we were white (for the most part), but we were not middle class. Middle class people have a confidence with the world and with authority figures, and they instill that in their children. A middle class child could raise a stink, demand to speak to their parents, and expect to be protected. They could tell the cop that that’s not me, I live down the street, I’m going home, if you don’t believe me, ask my parents…parents who probably know your boss and can afford a lawyer.
But we were poor kids. That was obvious. We knew what this man could make us do that he shouldn’t be able to make us do, but we didn’t know we could refuse an order from a cop without being harmed one way or another. For people like us, telling our parents that we refused to do what a cop said, no matter how obviously predatory his behavior was, was a fight we would not win. It could mean legitimately get in trouble with the cops, even though we were not the runaways, for some reason we didn’t understand, because they all seemed to move in mysterious ways and create new rules that no one could really keep track of.
We used to get forcibly frisked by the police when we were at the park for spurious reasons such as “someone said you guys were smoking pot!” And if we said no, they would threaten to take us to juvie, just like that, even though that’s a violation of the fourth Amendment.
And I’ll stop you right here: minors still have a Fourth Amendment right to be secure in their persons and their papers, to not be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures. The police may also not arbitrarily demand to see a child’s ID, to know who they are, what they’re doing, where they’re going, or anything else they cannot already perceive with the five senses, the same as no other adult has the right to demand those things from a child, just as no other adult has the right to detain and demand information from another adult.
Just because the pigs did it didn’t make it lawful. And just because we didn’t like it didn’t mean we had anything to hide. They never found anything, and even if they did, they couldn’t do anything but steal it because every state’s attorney and every public defender knows of the fruit of a poisonous tree when it comes to illegal searches. It’s entirely possible that the cops knew that, too: they were just looking to feel up and harass some teenagers.
And in our country, a person has a legal right to disobey an unlawful request from any law enforcement officer without any presumption of guilt. You do not have to comply with an unlawful search, and refusal to do so has over and over again been ruled as not being reasonable suspicion for a search.
No one apparently told the Auburn PD that. Who would tell them? They don’t study or interpret the law: they just enforce it. And who would stop them from being bad cops? The kids who hung out in the park didn’t have parents who could protect them. We weren’t going to go to the police station to file a complaint because everyone knows how mysteriously complaints tend to disappear at the Auburn Police Department. No one was going to get us a lawyer from the ACLU. No lawyer who wanted to live peacefully in town every again would have taken up the cause for us.
Not that the police would have even taken our complaint seriously. They were cops; they were going to protect each other, and no kid was going to get over that steep blue wall, much less make themselves a target for future harassments, because we all knew someone who stood up to the cops and couldn’t even drive to work without being pulled over for no reason.
Fuck — when I was thirty, back in 2010, I was back in Auburn temporarily and lost a license plate, and I had to report it. The cop was pretty cool until I gave her my parents address, and when she figured what neighborhood that was in, her demeanor changed. She was rude and condescending. She didn’t write up the report at all, so when I went to the police station the next day to get it, I had to stand in the station for two hours while they tried to find it and then get someone else to do the actual report so I could take it to the DMV to get replacement plates.
Even in my thirties, even driving a decent car I own outright they’re still picking and choosing who to protect and serve based on geography.
So back to 1995: there we were, fifteen years old, standing on the sidewalk on Grant Avenue next to this cop car, cars passing by and looking, my friend and basically begging this guy to leave us alone, that we were from Auburn, NY, we really are Auburn High School students, we really were not these nameless runaways from the unknown home in Syracuse.
We struck a bargain with him.
We said we were going back to her mother’s house, and NO: we don’t need a ride. We don’t want a ride. No really, we don’t want to get in the car.
We know those cars can be locked by the driver, and you can’t get out.
I don’t know how we managed to finally convince him to let us go. It could have simply been our persistence to not get in his vehicle and he was losing precious time he could have been using to try to kidnap some other victim, and the fact that truly, the only way he could even make us get in the car is to get out of the car and make a scene, and by then, maybe someone probably had already come to their window to see what was going on, because whenever there’s a cop car pulled over for that long, there’s a show.
The cop said he was going to watch us walk back to her mother’s house, that he was going to follow us in the car all the way there to make sure that’s where we were going.
So my friend and I started walking back up Grant Avenue. She and I walked briskly, shaking from the cold and the fear.
But we came up with a plan. See, there was another big apartment complex with buildings on winding driveways that abutted the woods near her mother’s complex. We made a pact that when we got across the street to the corner where this complex was, we’d head into that complex on the grass away from the roads and then run in two separated directions through two different parts of an apartment complex green space and into the woods so he couldn’t follow either of us, and then meet at the edge of the woods directly behind her mother’s apartment as soon as we got to the corner of that apartment complex.
I’m not much of a runner, but I was that night.
And I remember when I had gotten far enough from any roadway, I looked back to see if he was still there. He was. He didn’t even drive through the complex. He didn’t even leave the road.
Then he turned around and left.
And no, we didn’t tell our parents what we did, but we stayed out all night, hiding from this rogue cop, unsure of what just happened, numb to the injustice of it because it wasn’t like we could change it.
So we didn’t go to Hunter’s. We didn’t really go anywhere except maybe Wegmans and we would have done that as quickly as possible. I remember spending the night hiding, talking, waiting for dawn, trying to figure out what to do.
And no one else stopped us that night, which is odd because it was getting later and later and even though again, there was no curfew, if there were two runaways who looked like us and the APD was looking for them, surely someone would have said something.
And no one ever stopped either one of us the next day or the next to ask if we were these runaways.
I mean, no one else ever stopped me insisting that I looked just like a runaway from Syracuse and needed to go back, and I’m pretty sure the same never happened to my friend, either. There was never anything in the newspaper. There was never anything on the news broadcasts, which came from Syracuse, which was odd because there was always a missing kid or two on the news back then.
Nothing at all. These girls never existed.
I never told my parents.
I never told any adult in my life.
You know why?
I didn’t want to be told that I was wrong.
I didn’t want to be told that I was wrong to not somehow believe the cop when he told me I looked just like someone I clearly was not and that I should have let him drive me to Syracuse to a home I never lived in. I didn’t want to be told that the cop was doing his job, and I was just being a rebellious teen. I didn’t want to be told that I shouldn’t have given the cop a hard time. I didn’t want to be told that I was being paranoid for no reason. I didn’t want to be told that if I had just done something else that night, that I wouldn’t have been targeted, and that this was my fault. I didn’t want to be told to look at it from a “mature” point of view and assume that this man was just worried about us girls walking around at night.
I didn’t want to be told that the cop wasn’t wrong.
I didn’t want to be told that I was wrong.
And the older I get, and especially after becoming a lawyer, I am absolutely sure that this was wrong. This was still an abuse of power. This was still predatory. This was still a lie he made up to try to get us to get in his squad car. This man had ill intent and was looking to harm two children.
This was still an attempt to abduct two fifteen year old girls.
And now, as a lawyer, someone who has had to study criminal law and criminal procedure, I know now that there was nothing to justify his behavior at all. Nothing he was doing was above board. Nothing about this was standard procedure. it was illegal. It was all a lie.
The only thing that makes sense is that the cop intended to abduct us, and God knows what would have happened to us if we got in his squad car.
But can I even talk about this? Does this compromise me as an attorney now, especially an attorney for children? Is my desire to minimize all my client’s interactions with the police for their safety or because of my own lifelong fear? Does it even matter, boots on the ground, so to speak, what my intent is so long as there is the desired effect?
And I just spoke to her tonight about it for the first time in I don’t know, twenty years? She remembers it, and she didn’t tell anyone either.
My friend and I are both alive and well, adults with careers and responsibilities, but I do wonder what might have happened to us if we had gotten in the back of the squad car.
Would we even be alive? Because I hate to say it, but the way these things usually go, the girls don’t get to live.
And that could have been us.
And I still have not warmed up to the police nearly 25 years later. I am still on my guard. I am civil but I don’t ever relax. I always mentally prepare for a fight or to simply have to assert my rights against someone who wants to take them away.
I understand, intellectually, that not all the cops are out to hurt me. Some may actually be the good cops we keep hearing about, wherever the fuck they are. I understand, intellectually, that I am not that same vulnerable fifteen year old that I was.
But I still feel that way. I was still conditioned that way.
And I also know that I can’t possibly be the only white person who remembers how cops treated us back when we were in the kind of position in which they could treat us however they wanted, so I can’t understand what all this bootlicking is for.
White people know damn well about police corruption and brutality.
We know what cops are actually like to us when there’s no photo ops. We know how they treat us, and acting like they’ve suddenly become our heroes is a complete re-writing and denial of our own personal histories. The police was invented by rich white people to intimidate and oppress poor white people to protect rich white people’s property interests [because at the time, any white person at all could do whatever they wanted to a black person; they didn’t need to dress up with badges and call themselves “law enforcement” to justify their behavior. They could just do it.] The fact that the police prefer to direct this dark energy toward people of color doesn’t mean that they’re somehow protecting us, because it was never, ever about protecting us, and guess what? It still isn’t about protecting us, no matter how many boots you lick.
I didn’t want to write about this when George Floyd died, or when the grand jury came down on Breonna Taylor’s case. White people do not know what it is to be black in America, and we don’t know what it means to be black and dealing with the police. As sympathetic as we can be, we cannot empathize. That’s how institutionalized racism works; you’re not supposed to be able to really empathize.
But we’re not sitting here clueless about what cops are really like as if we have been so served and so protected that we can’t imagine these saints ever dropping the ball, much less abusing their power to harm someone else.
We know damned well what cops can do to someone when they can do whatever they want, and anything less is a lie. White people aren’t ignorant about cop behavior; they’re very knowledgeable on the subject and just flat out lying about it.