What if police and suspects treated each other with humanity, compassion and kindness?

Fairfax criminal lawyer on reversing the tension between police and many in the general population.

Jul 10, 2016 What if police and suspects treated each other with humanity, compassion and kindness?

A psychodrama of a traffic infraction stop after the recent police killings of civilians in Baton Rouge and Minnesota, and sniper killing and wounding of many police in Dallas, might take the following path from a police officer’s and suspect’s perspective:

Police officer’s perspective:

“My trainers tell me that the first few seconds of a traffic stop are critical for the police officer to assert control and to minimize any potential violence from the driver.

“I have been taught to use a traffic infraction stop as an opportunity to check for open arrest warrants of any of the car’s occupants, driving while impaired, and possession of illegal drugs and other contraband.

“Tensions are particularly high in the last few years between police and many of the civilians they stop, with widespread accusations of racist and abusive police actions after the Ferguson police killing and the police killings that followed. The smallest thing can set off some suspects to escalate the encounter into violence.”

Suspect’s perspective:

“I am scared from the moment the police officer approaches. Too many police are killing black suspects with handgun hair triggers. The officer is not smiling. He is speaking and acting from a position of control.

“I was stopped only for a burnt-out tail light, so why is the police officer asking if I have any drugs or weapons? Why is the officer asking where I am coming from and going to, and why my eyes look bloodshot? Why is he asking me to pop open my trunk to take a look inside, and to let him search me to assure I am not armed and have no contraband?

“I am tired and just want to get home. Why is the officer harassing me rather than simply writing me a ticket or a warning and letting me get going on my way?”

If the psychodrama goes well, the next time the psychodrama-participating police officer and suspect encounter a suspect and police officer, they will start off with less tension,  have more compassion for each other, and will have more understanding for each other. Doing so does not necessitate agreeing with the other. Certainly, I am not pleased how often a police stop for a minor traffic or vehicle equipment infraction becomes a drawn out, seeming police power play of a fishing trip for more than simply issuing a traffic infraction summons or warning and releasing the civilian back to his or her liberty. On the flip side, police do not like being stereotyped as power-mad, violence-mad fascists; nobody likes being stereotyped.

Ram Dass wisely observed years ago that in a sense, hippies create police and police create hippies; we create our polar opposites. Instead, we need to see our seemingly polar opposite is ourself, to be able to move forward. He says that as long as we are focused on individual differences, we approach people as subject and object.

Which of these two polar opposites is going to make the first move towards mutual compassion, human-ness, and reduced fear?

I will make the first move. Next time a police officer stops my car, which on average happens every one to three year, I will say a metta prayer for the cop rather than creating my plan for how I will interact with the police officer, because I already know how I will interact. I already know how to get some great evidence and discovery from police in the courthouse by being open, kind, and not unnecessarily confrontational, so I will use that for dealing with the police officer approaching me, with the exception that I will assert my rights to remain silent and to decline searches, both because I want my clients to know that asserting these rights is do-able, and also because police can intentionally, unintentionally, and mistakenly twist around and mis-state every piece of data that they obtain from and about suspects.

Of course, tense confrontations are less likely between me and police, versus between police and the people too many of them are adversely profiling. Moreover, police will not feel tension from me, rather than confidence. Whereas police are in a position of control when they make a traffic stop, I am in a position of control with them when I cross examine them in court; I can see the approach, then, from both sides.

Each of us can do our own share in reducing the world’s polarization, which breeds mistrust, hatred, racial prejudice, senseless violence, terrorism, and psychological and armed warfare. We can try relating with each others soul-to-soul rather than role-to-role. It is easier for one playing a civilian role to get angry with a police officer, and a police officer playing his police role to get angry at a suspect. Once we relate to all people as souls, we can transcend the roles and treat each other as humans.

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