Sunday, May 31, 2009

Post No. 122: You Don’t Get Old by Being No Fool

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Sometimes we draw our inspiration from movies. Last week, TCM aired a musical comedy with Fred Astaire.

Astaire plays a popular dancer pursued by female fans. He employs subterfuge and fleet of foot to escape the crowd. He sneaks into a cab and thinks that he has pulled it off. To his surprise, Joan Fontaine, a member of nobility whose family expects her to announce who she will marry any day, scurries into the cab. She’s trying to avoid being caught by the family’s Chief Steward. They desire that she marry a boy from another noble family; but she’s in love with a city boy.

While trying to enter the cab to retrieve her, the steward gets into a fight with Astaire. A London Bobby arrives and decides to arrest both. Astaire wiggles out by participating in a street dance routine performed by someone imitating him. The Bobby is so taken with his performance that Astaire is able to fade into the crowd.

For those incapable of “dancing out of danger,” the world’s a more serious and dangerous place, for the Police and the populace.

In the 60’s, we were a bit more innocent. Vietnam took care of that. Some say Nixon ended the war upon realizing we were pulling a disproportionate number of poor kids from the projects, training them as guerilla fighters, and dumping them back into the ghetto… a practice any one could have seen would not end well.

Take a group of radicalized middle class college students occasionally bombing or occupying government buildings, toss in a few government scandals and VP Cheney’s take on our constitutional rights, and you have a recipe for paranoia… on both sides of the badge.

Running down “bad guys” is now a national obsession, and something of which America seems to be proud.

Police car chases are so popular that stations interrupt any broadcast, repeat, any broadcast, to provide updates. There’s even a website devoted to freeway pursuits.

Our target audience for our Common Sense and Personal Responsibility seminars is college students. There’s a high probability that they will, at some point during their educational experience, have an encounter with the law.

(The O.J. “cruise” with Al Cowlings highlighted a couple of Common Sense differences between your run of the mill teenager, and a seriously skilled dancer. O.J. never threatened anybody other than himself, and he kept his speed below the posted limit.)

Here are some things students might want to consider:


If you’re afraid of the Police, or feel some urge to call them dirty names, drive someplace with lots of people (with camera phones) before you pull over. The Police are well aware of the consequences of beating on you in public while being recorded.


Comedian Chris Rock has a funny piece about talking to the Police when stopped. His advice will get you arrested.

The Police don’t know who you or your Daddy are, they don’t wear body armor to fill out an over-sized uniform, and you may never get a second chance to make a good first impression. (Just ask Sir Charles Barkley.)

Be cooperative; and cognizant of the 25 or so pounds of weaponry he or she carries around all day, every day, along with the steel toe, shiny boots, and be contrite.


DUIs, drugs, and traffic offenses have become major sources of income for many of our local constabulary, particularly during this economic meltdown. Their income and equipment depend largely on muck-ups, and the number of tickets and convictions they are able to amass.

Keep in mind that management consultants have infiltrated police departments across the land. Law enforcement is now a business, along with prisons. Line up a lawyer and assemble a bail fund in advance if you want to sport your own haircut and flashy set of wheels.


Leave the party favors at home. If you need to transport the stuff, consider FedEx. If you insist on driving zapped, so you will be. Best thing to do is keep cab fare in reserve, providing you the ability to impress your chosen companion, and get things going early.

Last week, we ran across an article reflecting how things can go bad in an instant. Sixteen year old Robert Mitchell was a passenger in his cousin’s car. Police stopped the vehicle for an expired license plate. Mitchell, a learning disabled boy with a clean record, jumped out of the car. His cousin said he was absolutely freaked and starting sprinting.

The 5’2”, 110 pound kid fled to an abandoned house. Though the Police tried to corner him, he resisted. They responded with their version of non-lethal force, using a 50,000 volt TASER.

Mitchell died shortly thereafter.

One poor choice can chase one for one’s full life, no matter how short. It will undoubtedly also haunt the officers.

Where did it go wrong? What was the first indicator that things were about to spiral?

The Laughingman contends that telling the truth will always set one free. He also maintains that when things go wrong, there are worse things than getting arrested.


  1. I know this isn't your point and that I am being pedantic but your title translates to "You get old by being a fool". Ah, the joys of the double negative.

    I have always cooperated fully with law enforcement (outside the lie or two I thought I might get away with) and I always was polite, affable, and friendly (but not too... that just makes them suspicious). I understand the long term consequences of even small mistakes that affect others, especially those with any kind of power. Sometimes, it is the mistakes of others that impact your life. In my case, that would be my older brother's actions which created a bias regarding me. "Sins of the father" were, in my case, "sins of the brother." But I also managed to make my own which I then had to overcome at some later time. A universal condition which begot the lament:

    If only I had known then what I know now.

  2. Thanks for visiting our forum chicamom85. We hope that you return often.

  3. It is my contention that many--probably a majority--of the persons who go into police work go into it because they are basically thugs who want their thuggery legitimatized and legalized. I think that the recurrent, continuous evidence of police brutality bears out my contention. I don't say that every cop is that way. On the other hand, however, those who aren't that way almost univerally tolerate in their midst, and even protectfrom proper disciplinary action, those that are. A tendency towards sadism seem to be a common characteristic of the personality type that sees police work as desirable. Cops tend to be a necessary evil. Your best bet is to avoid them like the plague.

  4. I am employed by a law enforcement agency so I have direct, almost daily contact with the “thugs” described by Rodak. Those "thugs" come to the job from a widely varied backgrounds. We have a teacher with a masters degree who wanted to be a cop, we have a mechanical engineer who always wanted to do what he is doing now but went to college first, we have some who came on the job because they wanted the financial security and retirement offered by our agency. We have individuals in our agency with degrees in finance, and nearly every one of them worked at manual labor before they took the test, passed the interviews and were accepted to the schooling required to become some of the finest people I've ever worked with.

    Since one of the premises of this blog is personal responsibility let me start with this.

    1. If someone feels an urge to call the police dirty names, resist it. Don't just try to avoid the consequences of having done so by hiding in public hoping to avoid the consequences, don't do it to begin with.

    For the jurisdiction we cover, the things you mention that "have become" major sources of income "have always been" a portion of the income we generate.

    Where did the incident that you cite above go wrong? When the owner of that vehicle did not renew his registration as required by law. As a matter of personal responsibility.....and what the owner was required to do for the PRIVILEGE of driving a vehicle.

    I really really really hope this doesn’t turn into a cop bashing post. Law Enforcement Officials have a very difficult job. On any given shift we may deal with mental illness, drugs/drug users/drug dealers…some of whom are extremely violent, traffic violations, warrants for violent criminals, fugitives from justice who have stated they will do whatever necessary not to return to prison, individuals who seem to think that we are “out to get them”, homeless people, unruly children, domestic violence, combative intoxicated individuals or groups, or reckless drivers. We deliver bad news to families who have lost loved ones and sit with them if necessary, we do detailed investigations into fatal traffic accidents, suicides, homicides and deal with Megan Law offenders and/or their victims. Sometimes, the victims we deal with we also know outside the job, and we are expected by those who don’t do the job to just deal with it. Most of the things we deal with daily don’t make it out to John Q. Public. Certainly the media doesn’t care about the incidents that are resolved quickly and without drama, which is the way we LIKE to have it end.

    This doesn’t even address the issues of scheduling where we miss holidays, birthdays, sporting/school events for our kids, work on wedding anniversaries, during all kinds of weather and on weekends. Our job covers 24/7 for the jurisdiction we are responsible for.

    Please don't take the personal comments listed above as a whine. I'm very proud of where I work, who I work with and what I do.

    The next time you think cops aren’t good for much or don’t do anything, remember cops, medical personnel and firemen run TOWARD trouble, not away from it.

  5. Holly: Thanks for your very thoughtful comment concerning law enforcement. It is a very complex issue, and there are many contributing factors which dictate the view of those on the other side of the blue line. Thanks for bringing some of these factors to light in a non-argumentative manner. We always appreciate your comments.

  6. Thanks for the visit to Threedonia Reggie Greene...

    I'd also point to Cincinnati a few years ago. Po-po make bad decisions sometimes and even a few do intentionally bad things, but pull the cops out and the thug element literally burns the place down. The cops do a lot to protect civilization -- even in the "worst" neighborhoods -- as do good law-abiding citizens of every race, creed, and standard of living.

    The issue is not that "complex"... people take care of their business and, except for the bad 1% of cops or so there's no sweat. If it's wrong to stereotype minorities based on a few bad apples (and it undoubtedly is) -- it's wrong to stereotype cops based on a few bad apples also. Hope to see you around some more. Any post that has Fred Astaire and cops has me hooked!

  7. Thanks for commented on my post about this incident. I agree with your third point, that many have made assumptions (some quite erroneous) regarding the incident. I've actually posted an update as well and, currently, consider this mess to probably be a misunderstanding one both sides of the aisle. Still, I maintain that even if a police officer is being uncivil that aggravating him/her (through insults) will only increase the likelihood of you being arrested and, frankly, you have to be kind of dumb to start shouting at a police officer (unless, obviously, you are calling for help).

  8. But is avoiding arrest the only concern that the general public should have? Or should we perhaps take an interest in whether these arrests are constitutional?

    It is not against the law to be "uncivil" or even insulting to an officer. A core aspect of the First Amendment is freedom to complain about the government, and police officers are the most powerful agents of government that most Americans ever encounter. If I don't like how I'm being treated by the police, I have a Constitutional right to complain about it without losing my liberty (getting arrested and jailed) for complaining.

    Even using bad language in my complaint is not justification for arrest. See Lewis v. City of New Orleans, 408 U.S. 913 (1972) (Supreme Court voids, as a violation of the First Amendment, a statute that makes unlawful "for any person wantonly to curse or revile or to use obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to" any city police officer serving in the line of duty).

  9. PG:

    Thanks for joining us.

    Frankly, we do not have sufficient, first hand, credible, corroborated evidence upon which to arrive at any conclusion regarding this particular incident.

    That being said, yes, avoiding arrest is the first line of defense. (BTW, that's what many black folks learned to do during the Jim Crow era.) If one finds oneself being arrested, questioning the Constitutionality or propriety of the arrest might be appropriate in theory, but it need not be openly expressed at the time of the arrest.

    What does the arrested person gain by doing so at that particular time? Are any of his or her interests going to be advanced? Do you think that by leveling a protest at that point that there is a high probability (or even 51%) of one convincing the officer to change his or her mind?

    In the realm of counterbalancing considerations, does whatever benefit the arrested person THINKS he or she MAY get by protesting at that point, outweigh the prospect of pissing off the officer because the person has openly and publicly challenged his authority, or perhaps "resisting arrest," which is a separate and distinct additional charge?

    Why shouldn't the arrested person assert their rights following the arrest (in this case 4 hours later) using the legal process available to them?

  10. We managed to locate the "advice" provided by comedian Chris Rock regarding police stops. Click on his name within the text on point number 2 above, and you will see the video.

  11. Not sure why you want to present police officers as terrified idiots. This bugs me a bit, since I worked in some of America's highest crime areas - in the 1980s no less - and chose not to feel like either.

    I do not believe that we really want to live in a society where citizens must grovel before any government agent - simply because.

    Perhaps my police education was far superior to yours - or to the cops in Cambridge - but I was "taught better." And we functioned successfully, made our streets safer, and never felt the need to arrest anyone for being "angry."

  12. Narrator:

    First and foremost, welcome to our forum. We hope that you visit often.

    If you would kindly quote the language in our piece which suggests that we view police officers as "terrified idiots," we'll try to address your concern.

  13. "The Police don’t know who you or your Daddy are, they don’t wear body armor to fill out an over-sized uniform, and you may never get a second chance to make a good first impression. (Just ask Sir Charles Barkley.)

    "Be cooperative; and cognizant of the 25 or so pounds of weaponry he or she carries around all day, every day, along with the steel toe, shiny boots, and be contrite."

    Listen, I was taught a couple of things as a new cop. The first was, "First, do no harm." The assumption has to be that things are not peachy when cops arrive, so we know emotions will be high and flammable. If you bring a "I'm scared - I'm wearing a bulletproof vest" attitude to that table, things will explode. Yes, we've all worked with cops like that, we've all suggested retirement. The second, which might have helped a lot, was the knowledge that we were probably outgunned. This was surely true in Brooklyn North or The Bronx in the 1980s. It meant that no matter how much weight in weaponry we carried, we were not looking for confrontations. Any cop who is, is a fool. And the third was that you respected everyone you met. You did this because - if for no other reason - almost everyone was capable of being valuable to you and community safety at some point, and you never wanted to make enemies. "It's their neighborhood kid," I was told, "Gotta respect that."

    So we used politeness and humor to keep ourselves safe and things in check. If we really wanted to be attack troops depending on body armor and weaponry, well, that's a different line of work.

    Over the years I've met many cops. The good ones would never, ever, find themselves in the situation that the Cambridge Sergeant did, or the other "amusing" situations you describe.

    My son describes the classic NYPD "action" - crossing a street he stepped in front of police car. The cop honked, gave him the finger, and drove away. Point made. No arrest necessary.

  14. Narrator:

    First, are you suggesting that we suggested that a law enforcement officer who wears body armor or a protective vest is “terrified?” Actually, it seems like simple common sense to us, if one does not want to get injured. And that’s no different than a football player, or a catcher in baseball, or a worker in a factor wearing protective gear.

    Second, as hard as we looked for it, we could not anything in your quoted language, which either explicitly or implicitly suggested that law enforcement officers are idiots.

    If we, because of our poor or inappropriate use, or inartful use for that matter, of the English language, maligned you or any other members of the law enforcement profession, we hereby formally apologize, and state, unequivocally, that was not our intention in any way.

    The spirit of our piece was to suggest that those stopped by the police be polite, cooperative, and contrite, even to the point of being submissive if necessary and even if one felt that he or she was inappropriately stopped. Why be confrontational with someone in a position of authority if it does not advance one’s interests at the moment?

    It was indeed our fault if any other message could be gleaned from the piece.

  15. See, here's the thing. We, as cops, should be able to function intelligently even if people are not polite, cooperative, and contrite. And I don't want anyone to think they need to be submissive. Cops - as humans - are perfectly capable of rising above dog culture.

    I always viewed it as my job to win those who were not polite or cooperative over. That's a human relations skill, but you can't do that if you are afraid all the time - and - yes, I may have superimposed my own experience on your words - the cops who behave as the Cambridge Sergeant did do so because they are afraid - maybe of black males - maybe of your own questions about your 'masculinity' - maybe of everything. If you allow a "confrontation" with a middle-aged professor in his own foyer to escalate into an arrest - you have gotten their because of fear.

    Please America, don't settle for second rate police forces. It is not easy to be a good cop, but just like doctors and teachers, cops should be the best.

  16. Ah hah. Narrator:

    Now we understand YOUR perspective. Those are very legitimate and well-articulated points. And you are to be complimented for establishing such a standard or code of conduct for yourself.

    However, our article was not directed at law enforcement authorities, but rather the public at large who they encounter. There is a phrase in the law, applicable to many things in life - "Steer far wide of the danger zone."

    Simply put, in our humble opinion, it is far better and more prudent for any person stopped to simply not do ANYTHING which might be viewed as confrontational in nature to a police officer.

    The person stopped has no idea whether the particular officer in question adheres to your standard, and has been trained properly, or whether some other factors might be at work.

    There's no need to find out. Why?

  17. Good point. I need to addressing the other side, as I continually try to do.

    Just video everything folks. as the London Metropolitan Police are learning, its a double-edged sword - this zero tolerance thing

  18. I've been following this story and the various blog opinions about it and I had to comment here just to commend narrator for his very refreshing comments. I'd be curious to hear his/her opinions about the mentality around the "banding together" of cops (and the police union), even when what one cop did was wrong/stupid. It's funny that he should make an aside comment about doctors, because we also see the "banding together of doctors" when one doctor totally screws up.

    To the owner of this blog...I think your piece is very good, but to pg's point, I will ask you this: If everyone put their own personal interests first, would that help society? If all of us went into a situation with a police officer who was wielding his authority in a wrong/unconstitutional manner and decided to be subserviant for our own personal interests, is that really a good thing? Thank goodness for those who put their own personal interests at risk so as to make a bigger, more newsworthy, issue out of it. Filing a complaint *after* the arrest is likely to make no news and not make any bigger impact on society.

    That said, based on what I've seen of Professor Gates, I don't believe that he's a person who cares about the many "regular" citizens, black or white, who have gotten hassled unjustly. He seemed quick to play the same card that a rich white guy might use (do you know who I am?). Of course, that also requires that I believe the police report and, as you've detailed, there is much about that that would call into question Crowley's honesty.

  19. Scott R: Thanks for visiting our forum and providing your insightful comments.

    We plan to generate a piece, on what the Gates incident may have revealed to us about ourselves, within the next 24 hours.


"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense Should be a Way of Life"™