Ali Afshar is a manager at Google, a physician, and a pretty heroic concerned citizen:
…when I saw a man in his twenties muttering to himself, handcuffed and surrounded by 4 white male police officers on El Camino, in Northern California. As a physician, I have a duty (shit, I swore an actual oath) to preserve the health of all humans. There was no way I was going to drive past this situation without making sure that guy was going to be fine.
As I pulled over to ask if the gentleman was OK, I was immediately threatened with a ticket for blocking traffic. I re-parked my car legally and returned. My exact words were “I want to help to make sure this guy is OK”. The officers were aggressive and angry, instantly.
“Show me your ID?”
“Show me your ID! You must obey an officer.”
“I haven’t done anything, I need to know he is OK, and I will be on my way”
“He is resisting arrest!” Shouted one of them.
And before I knew it, I was face first on the sidewalk. I didn’t fight or protest or resist — I’m a nerdy non-violent type, and then things started to get really weird.
“He is fighting” one shouted as he planted his knee in my lumbar spine.
“I am not fighting, I am calm”
“He is resisting arrest!”
“No I am not”
They were running this weird fake dialog in the background.
“The ID looks fake” As he bent it and tried to scratch the numbers off of my CA driving license.
“Look it is bent”
“You just bent it”
“Definitely a fake ID, we have to take him in”
And then, weirdly someone grabbed my left middle finger and bent it back as far as it would go. Then my right ankle.
“Why would you bend my finger back?”
“Because you are resisting arrest.”
By now I am bleeding below my right eye (thanks for smacking my bespectacled eyes into the pavement) and my elbow has some road burn on it. I can’t move because of the pain in my lumbar spine and of course I have bilateral torn deltoids from cuffing procedure. I have not resisted or shown aggression in the slightest. It was obvious that there had been a collective decision to “teach this guy a lesson”…
“I hope you learned something today”
“Yes sir, I learned that everything I read and hear about the corrupt and criminal police departments in this country is fact. I have seen it for myself.”
Wrong answer, I guess, because he put me in the back of his car and started driving me to the police station.
“You are going to jail”.
“Arrest for what?”
“Disobeying an officer.”
“If you asked me to jump off a bridge do I have to do it?”
“Did I ask you to jump off of a bridge?”
Fair point I guess.
“Why can’t I just go home.”
“Because we have procedures, otherwise people will think we beat you for nothing.”
“So you admit you beat me for nothing?”
“No, that’s the procedure.”
“Have you seen the videos of police shooting black guys for no reason?”
“You shouldn’t believe everything you see on YouTube.”
“I want a lawyer.”
I was out within an hour. The best they could do was a citation for driving without a seat belt (in addition to resisting/delaying arrest). But only after I answered the question “what did you learn today?” with “I learned not to interfere with police business”.
But you know what? Fuck you.
This reminds me of a quote from a police officer I recently read (I wish I could remember where). He was bemoaning the fact that some people will not listen to him. If a criminal with a gun told you to to give him your wallet, he said, you would give him your wallet. Why wouldn’t you listen to a gun toting officer with just the same obedience.
To me there are a dozen ready answers, including “you are not a criminal”, “you defend the peace not command obedience from all citizens”, or “the fourth amendment”. But these are all things the police officer knows. But that police officer is safer, more comfortable, and convenienced by obedience, so not surprisingly desires it.
There might be something universal about the human condition going on here (the Standford prison experiments come to mind). But I don’t think the police in other developed countries are nearly as likely to expect and demand obedience. There’s an important difference in police culture. Also, in most of these countries you do not have concealed carry laws. The police here bear risks I can’t begin to imagine. I don’t pretend to know the answer.
I would welcome suggested readings or people to talk to. As it happens, figuring out the answer to this is the job of a friend and colleague of mine in Colombia. There is a reasonable chance that good ideas will be studied and implemented in major cities. I promise to pass along good recommendations.