25 June 2004

LA confrontational

You'd think perhaps that the police in LA would maybe have learned something by now?

And I am not trying to pile on the police here.  I can't imagine what it must be like to be a law enforcement officer in any major city, much less Los Angeles.  It is unfathomable to me to see myself in a situation where by going to work every day, I am risking my life.  Thus I have enormous respect for police officers.  I could never do their job.  

I saw this video, and I can't quite understand what would compel these officers to react the way that they did.  Ultimately, the burden and blame should be placed on the person committing the offense.  He ran from the police, he shouldn't be surprised if they do not trust him once he puts his hands up and decides to surrender.  The whole situation would have been avoided if he had just not ran.  But this is LA.  It seems like everything gets videotaped there, and any wary police officer has to know that.

I used to manage a retail drug store at a very busy intersection in Chicago where a couple of different neighborhoods met.  We used to get an extremely high amount of shoplifting, and some of the offenders were pretty mean dudes.  Every once in a while, we'd get the chance to confront one, and as silly as it seems now, there were some violent confrontations.  Every one of these were caused by the shoplifter being hell bent on not being detained, and it wasn't until one bit me on the arm that I realized that it was assinine to worry about capturing anyone so long as we got our merchandise back.  But it took a few episodes of broken glass, knocked over displays and freaked out innocent bystanders to understand that.  We were lucky that no one ever was seriously hurt.

Anytime there was a confrontation, it was initiated usually after an offender "gave up" and was cooperating.  He/she (and yes, there were a few violent females) would wait until someone dropped their guard and then try to break away.

Every once in a while we catch a shoplifter who was easy to control.  We'd get them into the office and wait for the police to arrive, and sometimes we'd have some lengthy waits for officers.  Inevitably some would start mouthing off or try to break away.  There was many a time where I could feel my blood pressure rise and think how satisfying it would be to smack someone, but I never did, because I knew that once I did, everything would change.  I'd be no better than the offender, and I'd probably be guilty of a crime as well.  I admit it was really tough sometimes, and I did plenty of talking, but I never did anything I regret.

I thought about that a little bit when I saw that video in LA, which I realize is somewhat ridiculous.  I mean, who knows what real danger a cop in LA faces from someone who won't stop running, especially when such a chase descends into a rough neighborhood.  But still, you have to know what the situation is, and given the tone of law enforcement in LA since Rodney King, I wonder what these officers were thinking.  I don't try to pretend that I am fit to pass judgement on them, but I am intrigued by the circumstances.  I just hope this doesn't cause a huge race implosion, and that it is handled correctly.

Speaking of Rodney King, I actually had an employee of the same name work for me at this store.  He was a receiving clerk, which means every time there was a delivery, he signed his name.  You can imagine the grief he took every day when people saw his name.  One day I had a compliance officer show up from the traffic department ready to bust the "smart-ass receiving clerk" at my store who was forging his name on all store invoices.  It gave me great pleasure to take that particular pompous ass back to the receiving department and introduce him to Rodney, who shook his hand and then asked him if he was aware of a term called "civil rights."

Rodney was cool about stuff like that, but I can only imagine how his life changed overnight because of something that happened 2,000 miles away, and it makes me think about other unlucky people who find themselves sharing names with people of infamy.  How'd you like to be Jeffrey Dahmer living in Fresno twelve years ago? 

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