Blue Meanies’|Lives Matter

     This is the only way the United States can ameliorate our crisis in police-community relations.
     This is not a joke or a diatribe.
     I’ve known quite a few police chiefs and I liked them all, though I didn’t like all of their cops. I met the chiefs through my jobs, as city editor and reporter for six newspapers, and a freelance reporter for dozens more.
     I am white, 65. Mostly I worked near the Mexican border, in what we Yankees so charmingly call “minority majority” cities.
     Two of my favorite police chiefs were bosses of violent cities in Mexico. I didn’t like what they did, but I liked them.
     Now I will tell a story about two police departments in the United States.
     I will not name the cities, because I come neither to praise, nor damn or bury.
     So. These cities shared a city line and were nearly identical in every way. Similar population and demographics: age, race, class, income, education level — everything.
     One city had a police department that people liked. One had a police department that people feared.
     I became friends with one police chief. I asked him, not as a city editor, but as a friend, why people liked his cops but didn’t like the cops next door.
     He said it was simple. Every day before he sent his cops to the street he told them: “I want you to have as many friendly contacts today as confrontational ones.”
     And he asked them about it when they came off shift. He demanded it.
     People in his city liked their police.
     The other police chief wouldn’t talk to me, so I talked to some of his detectives and officers. Just chatting. I asked why they had such a bad reputation.
     “We want it that way,” a detective told me.
     A police detective, by the way, is no beginner. It takes years to become a detective. This detective, and other cops, said they wanted their town to have a bad reputation — so the bad guys wouldn’t come there to commit crimes.
     I understand that. When bad guys robbed the nice old lady who ran my corner store, I hoped the cops caught them, and between you and me, I wouldn’t have minded if they’d beat the hell out of them.
     Here, at last, is my point.
     Just as the good police chief ordered his officers to have friendly contacts every day, you, me — all of us — should try to have as many friendly contacts as we can with police. Every day.
     I know it’s not easy. I’ve lived in Chicago, Louisiana, the Los Angeles Basin, New York City and Mexico. I’ve been arrested and thrown in jail for nothing. When I was a city editor a sheriff called our bookkeeper and asked for my Social Security number, to try to trace me and pin something on me.
     I know how cops work.
     You don’t have to like them.
     But it won’t kill you to be kind to a stranger once a day. Whether he’s in uniform or not.
     We hear a lot of calls for love and forgiveness today.
     Anyone with a brain knows that white cops have murdered black men every day for centuries, and the only reason it’s in the news today is that people have cameras.
     Here is my humble opinion: Screw love. Screw forgiveness. Just be polite.
     To cops? Yes, to cops.
     You don’t want to be friends with a cop? Fine. But you can be polite to them.
     As editor of this page, I see summaries of 1 million lawsuits a year. I’ve seen a lot of videos of police violence. And you know what? Usually the cops start the stop by being polite.
     I know, I know. I saw Philando Castile die, live on the Internet. I saw the immense class of his fiancée Diamond Reynolds, talking to the cop who killed him — calling him “Sir.”
     Politeness did not save Philando Castile.
     Will it save the next black man on the wrong end of a gun held by a white cop?
     Probably not.
     “When will this end?” President Obama asked.
     I don’t know, but I know this: We have reached a tipping point today, a point predicted by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King — the point at which every act of oppression is rebounding upon the repressors. As well it should.
     As a privileged white man, I have no right to ask this of my black brothers, but I do ask it:
     Be polite to a cop today.
     As my grandma used to say, “It can’t hurt, and it might help.”

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