Color Blind

Imagine you’re driving with your four young children in the car—maybe on your way home from the grocery store, or from picking them up from school or swimming lessons—when out of the blue you see a police car behind you with its lights flashing and sirens blaring. Imagine pulling over wondering if you’ve blown a brake light or forgotten to signal a lane change, or maybe knowing you were going a few miles per hour over the speed limit and hoping the officer will let you off with a warning.

Now imagine, having pulled over, seeing two or more officers jump out of the police car with their guns drawn as they order you to exit the car and everyone else in the vehicle to put their hands outside the window. Imagine getting out of the car, placing your hands on your head, and being shackled and cuffed in front of your children while trying to explain to the officers that the other occupants are all ages ten and under, and worrying about how frightened they will be in the car by themselves surrounded by people with guns.

This is exactly what happened to a woman in Forney, Texas last August after police responded to a report of four black men in a beige or tan Toyota brandishing a gun out of the window. According to the article in the link below, not only were their no black men or guns in the car, the car wasn’t even beige or tan—or a Toyota. On top of that, if you watch the video, you’ll hear an officer—falsely–explaining to the distraught woman that they were responding to a report of a car matching the location and description of hers, and with the exact same license plate, whose occupants were brandishing gun.

As was mentioned in the last post, we all make mistakes. But as was also mentioned in the last post, we expect more out of people in certain occupations, like those whose mistakes have the potential to kill or maim. Because the stakes are higher, so too must be the standards.

So maybe the stakes in the cases I’ve highlighted so far aren’t so high. After all, no one died as a result of these errors. But several people were traumatized, including four children and a mother who, knowing she had done nothing wrong, and knowing her three youngest kids were incapable of putting their hands out the window, must have been terrified that they might be killed if the police took their inability to comply as aggression and started shooting. And let’s not forget about the Georgia retiree who stood by helplessly as a SWAT team swooped in to confiscate his okra, or the folks up in Alaska who were not informed of their son’s death in a timely manner because the authorities thought they had already been notified. All of these events are, to use a technical term, so not cool.

Others may disagree. But what I keep coming back to is how this sort of thing happens. How do you mistake a black woman and four little kids for four armed black men? How do you mistake a burgundy Maxima for a tan Toyota? Are certain members of the Forney police force color blind? Or are they simply unable to distinguish one Japanese vehicle from one another?

And what does it say about these officers when, upon realizing their mistake, one of them takes the woman aside and—as can be heard on the video—instead of simply apologizing for pulling over the wrong car, invents a story about a report someone made about her specific license plate, and then asks if she may have had an altercation with someone on the road, as if the call they were responding to had been made by retaliation for something she did to offend another driver, thereby suggesting it was her OWN fault they pulled you over, not theirs?

To be honest, on that point I am not at all unclear. I’m 99.99% sure the officer by then was in CYA mode. After all, no one ever wants to look like an idiot. It’s just a shame he wasn’t man enough to admit they had jumped the gun. My only hope is that afterward one of the officers made an attempt to explain, in terms that small children can understand; that their mother had done nothing wrong; that they were looking for some bad guys; and they just wanted to make sure the bad guys weren’t in their car.

In this respect, invention is not only acceptable but warranted, and not for the sake of allowing these cops to save face, but to mitigate the damage done to the children’s ability to trust in the police as their friends and protectors. The alternative, of course, is to let them grow up in fear of the police, which does no one any favors.

At least the cops where we live didn’t try to blame their actions on the Jarhead. There are no videos available of the incident, but according to the Jarhead himself, the police who detained him didn’t attempt to cover their butts by inventing a report about an armed intruder. Nor did they claim that the neighbor who called the sheriff had said anything about a robbery, or suggest that the neighbor made the call do so in retaliation for something HE had done.

As I stated two posts ago, I don’t like to pick on the police. By and large they are decent people and literally every one of my personal encounters with law enforcement have been positive. But because, like surgeons, their work requires them to carry tools that can maim or kill, it is reasonable to expect them to know the difference between beige and burgundy and to distinguish marijuana from okra. Above all, we should not allow them to lie their way out of their mistakes, or otherwise conspire to cover their butts.

Instead, they should admit their mistakes and dissect them. That way, they may be less likely to repeat them.