I was alone and going about my business in an upscale urban area. At one point I’m about to commit a minor victimless infraction of the law, less serious or obnoxious than dropping a cigarette butt and I hear a sharp directive: “Don’t do X!”
He’s White, older than me, hawkish face. Expensive athletic gear with small cargo pouches. He wasn’t some middle-aged weirdo I could shrug off; he had a predatory, highly intelligent face and dead-serious eyes. I recognize command presence from my Army days and he had it — not like an executive, but rather like someone accustomed to physical training. Maybe a retired colonel. He was smaller than me but looked fit and ready to pounce. This wasn’t some goofy citizen do-gooder. A cop? I wondered. More like an agent.
I asked politely: “Are you a police officer?”
He said something, I don’t recall what now, so I turned away to go on with my business.
“I didn’t say if I was or wasn’t,” he said with authority.
“Are you a police officer?” I asked him again, this time in a controlled angry tone (I was getting angry) but mindful of keeping my body still and non-aggressive. This was during the day and there were other people around. He moved past me, giving me a one-sentence lecture on infraction X and capped it off with “Dumbass!”
OK, he started it with the profanity so I said “Fuck you.” I wasn’t completely ready to let go of the possibility that this was just some amateur asshole with nothing better to do.
He blocks my path. The way he pivoted and squared up was 100% professional. He points at me with his finger and starts on again about something. Adrenaline now kicking, I wasn’t committing his words to short-term memory. My anger started redlining but I maintained full self-control and situational awareness. Body still, hands relaxed. Drilling him him my eyes, I ordered him to get his finger out of my personal space.
And this is when I became certain that he’s a cop — for a split second, he lost his mojo. He checked himself as though to make sure he isn’t in fact breaking some procedure and then he recovered and said “My finger is not in your personal space.”
“I feel like it is in my personal space.”
He dropped his hand and yapped on about something (I’m buzzing hard with pre-fight at this point and not hearing him), we eyeballed each other for another second or two, then I upnodded and said “Go.” He turned to leave — but one more thing happened. A police car was slowly moving past us in heavy traffic. He gestures for it to stop, looks at me petulantly and asks:
“Would you like to have a conversation with law enforcement right now?”
My hard gaze is not illegal, I thought, and neither is speaking with a firm tone of voice. Throughout, I consciously walked the thin line of avoiding arrest over rash behavior while not acting intimidated. He was probably wired and cops view films for training, or maybe to guffaw among each other about their interactions with the public — so I wasn’t keen on giving him anything to gloat over.
“No.” That was my contemptuous response. He waved for the cop car to move on, and that was the end of it.
My Attitude About Police
I don’t break the law and I have instinctive respect for legitimate authority. I recognize that an officer is doing his job in stopping me from committing a very minor misdemeanor. The police state needs to go but I don’t blame individual cops; more of us than would care to admit are cogs in the beast’s machine.
I have no illusions about where many cops’ loyalty lies but that’s irrelevant to the above encounter.
There are always lessons-learned. Hindsight is 50-50, especially in situations one does not train for. Even people who always act in good faith can find themselves in over their heads with the law. Disorderly Conduct is another word for “I just felt like arresting him.”
In the cop’s case, he blew it and he’s probably kicking himself over it. He may have been in a bad mood from the start, and confronted me over infraction X impulsively. He didn’t expect my clear-headed first question and my non-submissiveness. He started off-balance and never recovered, digging himself deeper with each face-saving gesture. His unforced error was calling me a name. Professionals don’t let things become personal and he did.
In my case, I was caught off-guard by the confrontation but psychologically prepared. My past experience, reading, and rehearsing various scenarios in my mind allowed me to comport myself in a way that I don’t overall regret.
Here is what I did wrong:
– Attempting to do X.
– My firmness wavered once because of his authoritative appearance and tone, plus I was still processing the fact that I should be careful if he’s a cop.
– The uncertainty as to his status as in fact a cop, or just some dork with a big mouth (in which case I wanna make it personal right back) put me on indecisive footing. The solution to the uncertainty would have been to not make it personal either way.
– I could have deescalated. For example, upon his initial challenge I could have shrugged and said: “Yeah, you’re right” or just ignored him. Should have also let it go when he yelled that insult.
Here is what I did right:
– Good judgment in listening to my spidey sense that he could be a cop.
– Telling him to get his finger out of my personal space and then holding that frame was awesome.
– I didn’t act disrespectfully: no frivolity, no smirking, no arrogance.
– Keeping the escalation below fight levels; even if he weren’t a cop, never underestimate an opponent. That’s how a larger man once lost a fight with me.
– Knowing that haste makes waste. My thoughts weren’t completely clear once blood pumped but I paused before blurting out the first things that came to my head.
– Never be obsequious, even if you’re afraid. It triggers cruelty and in a best-scenario outcome, you still feel compromised. Here, I did well.
Every important experience should be followed by an honest analysis. My overall lesson: deescalate in such a confrontation (which I didn’t do) and keep your poise (which I did). The place is crawling with feds; in another time and place, it could have been wise guys. You never know who you’re dealing with, so keep your cool while minding the Jumbotron.