It is a tragic, embarrassing, unnecessary part of American life. You moderately well dressed, privileged 17 year old white kid like me gets his license, hops into the family car, and cruises around looking to pick up girls and get laid. A moderately well dressed, normal looking 17 year old black teen gets his license, proudly comes home, and is sat down at the kitchen table by his mother, father, grandmother or father, whomever his family authority family figure is for The Talk.
The Talk is a primer created solely for one purpose, to keep young African
Americans from becoming tragic statistics because a brake light was out, or a turn signal malfunctioned. Always refer to the officer as “Sir.” Keep your hands in plain sight. Obey every instruction. Don’t be a smart ass if you have friends with you. Don’t make any sudden movements or motions. Don’t raise your voice. And above all else, do whatever you have to do to come home again after the stop.
In his iconic, muckraking political bombshell book, Boss: Mayor Richard J Daley of Chicago, legendary Chicago political reporter Mike Royko laid out two short vignettes about black and white life in Chicago when it came to the police. As many times as I’ve read and reread the book, these have stayed with me through all of these years, and I think they have a purpose in the current conversation, so I’d like to share them with you.
The first was direct and to the point, when Royko wrote that There was a vast difference between an Irishman coming to Chicago, many of whom went on the police force on their first day in town, and a black man from Atlanta coming to Chicago to visit family, many of whom were thrown into a cell in their first day in town. Paints quite the stark picture, doesn’t it, possible sarcasm included?
The second one dealt with Chicago cops tactics when stopping a white motorist, Unlike with minorities, the cop had to be careful how he treated you. If you were young, acceptably dressed, and well spoken, the cop had no way of knowing what, were you maybe the nephew of an Alderman, in which case you could beat him over the head with his own bully club without a whimper of protest. Ah,m the layered approach to white privilege. Not only were you white, but who knew what kind of influential white people you knew?
The reason I bring these things up is that things are changing with lightening speed when it comes to the area of white men policing black Americans, and there may be an unexpected consequence to at least one of the more popular flash reforms being bandied about and in some cases already applied by cities and departments. You already know I come from a cop family, with outstanding bullshit stories. But wrapped around the bullshit stories is one inviolate rule. Your partner is your life. Even if a gun is never drawn, cops are going to go through doors, into unknown situations that can morph and escalate quickly. And a cop, any cop, has to have 100% faith in his partner before they go through that door. Anything less could lead to hesitation and second guessing, which could be fatal.
Pressure begets pressure. And increased pressure begets power. In the 23 days of active, massive protests since the police murder of George Floyd, the peaceful protesters have turned that pressure, and its popular public support on Governors, Mayors, county boards, and city councils. And it has led to almost instantaneous reforms on a practical level. And one of the more popular granular level reforms that are already being enacted is one that requires an officer on the scene to intervene if he sees an example of abuse of force or power on the part of another officer, lest he be held equally responsible for the outcome. This single reform has the potential to literally pit officer against officer in their understanding and practices in policing, especially policing black men. Which will place an incredible strain on the sacrosanct police street ethos of trust.
This was already twitching and burning in my fevered brain, but it was former ATF agent Jim Cavanaugh on MSNBC today that really did me a solid and crystallized it for me. Cavanaugh posited that if the new regulation was enacted seriously, and enforced, it could introduce a new and totally alien process in the squad room.
And that process I will title, The Talk: Part II. And with two new partners sitting in the break room or squad room before start of shift, it goes something like this; Look, Ok, your partner, right? I’ve got your back, and I’ll always have your back. I’ll go through any door for you, I’ll back your play, I’ll take a fucking bullet for you, because that’s what partners do. But what I won’t do is I won’t risk my career for you. I won’t risk my wife and kids for you, and I won’t risk 20-30 years of my life in prison for you. In short, I won’t lie for you, and I won’t cover for you. Are we clear on that? We do the job, but we do it by the book.
Wouldn’t that be a bitch? After generations of African American father, and father figures have had to have The Talk with their sons on how to simply survive what should be a non confrontational traffic stop with white officers, if squad rooms full of white cops are suddenly having to have The Talk on exactly how they are going to go about policing an unarmed black man during a traffic stop of street corner interaction? Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but God, I sure hope it works out that way. Because just maybe if enough white cops have to have a conversation on how to police unarmed black men, then just maybe black fathers can stop having The Fucking Talk with their sons. One can hope, can’t one?
To know the future, look to the past.before the insanity of the 2020 election, relive the insanity of the 2016 GOP primary campaign, and the general election, to see how we got to where we are. Copies of President Evil, and the sequel, President Evil II, A Clodwork Orange are available as e-books on Amazon, at the links above. Catch up before the upcoming release of the third book in the trilogy, President Evil III: All The Presidents Fen
Follow me on Twitter at @RealMurfster35