A Tale of Two Police Departments & Hues

Kalamazoo Police having fun at a block party. My word they’re friendly

So by now most of you have read my post about how the entire situation in Ferguson Missouri reminded me of a particularly stressful interaction with the police of my own. With the murder of Michael Brown, many people have been detailing their interactions with police officers. This has been mostly from the perspective of people of color. But I think it would be useful to look at the issue from another vantage point. That is how it is to deal with police officers when you’re a person of privilege. Like Mr. Joseph Houseman; an elderly white man from Kalamazoo Michigan.

Let’s set the scene: The Kalamazoo Police Department receives no less than three calls of a drunken man in pajama bottoms, stumbling around, bumping into stuff and possibly carrying an assault rifle. We’ll pick up the story from Michigan Live when the first officer approaches Mr. Houseman:

Gordon: Hey partner, how you doing? Can you set that down real quick and talk to me?

Houseman: I’m not setting it down.

Gordon: Well you can’t cross the street like that.

Houseman: Am I being detained?

Gordon: Yes, you are being detained right now. You crossed the street illegally. Place the weapon down on the ground please.

Houseman: I will not.                     

Gordon radios that it appears the man will not drop his rifle.

Gordon: “Look, you crossed the street illegally; I just want to talk to you. I just want to talk to you. You’re walking around here scaring people, man.

You might be thinking that this interaction was a lot more congenial than my own interaction with the police. This despite the fact that it’s plainly illegal, even in an open carry state like Michigan, to exercise your Second Amendment rights while intoxicated. Throw in the jaywalking (which as people have recently become aware, can result in you getting roughed up if not killed), refusal to follow police orders, and refusing to identify himself, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster for the suspect. Despite all of this, Officer Gordon still treats Mr. Houseman like an actual person.  “Hey partner. How you doing?” That’s incredible. For me it was more like “Mutherfucker, lemme see your hands!” And I was doing absolutely nothing wrong. Must be nice being treated like a human being even when you’re all the way in the wrong. But let us continue the tale.

By this point in the story a second officer is on the scene. Mr. Houseman has already given them the extremely clever fake name, Joe Schmoe.

Houseman: I am free to go?

Gordon: “No, you’re not free to go. Right now you’re committing a crime of resisting and obstructing (for failing to identify himself after being stopped for jaywalking). Now you’ve stepped up to a misdemeanor crime.

Houseman: Why don’t you (expletive) shoot me?

Gordon: I don’t want to shoot you; I’m not here to do that.

I’m going to pause right there to contrast another police interaction with the St. Louis Police. Because having a knife and yelling “You’ll have to kill me.” is enough to have you fired upon and killed by police. Depending on your hue of course. But in this situation, the officer responds that he’s not here to do that. I could go on an on with this situation. But suffice it to say Mr. Houseman basically behaves like a drunken, belligerent asshole at best, to a conspiratorial nut-job spewing nonsense about the coming revolution at worse. All the while refusing to comply with police orders, making obscene gestures and cursing at the officers, and fumbling with his assault rifle while reaching for what turned out to be tobacco from his pockets. Eventually, after a 40 minute standoff including 12 police officers and a SWAT negotiator, Mr. Houseman was persuaded to hand over the gun. Guess what he was charged with? Here’s a hint. War, huh. Good God. What is it good for?

Let’s do a quick recap first. By my reckoning here’s what they could have charged him with according to Michigan Law: Brandishing a firearm (misdemeanor), possession of a firearm while intoxicated (misdemeanor), resisting and obstruction (felony), and let’s not forget jaywalking (infraction). Yet despite all these offenses, and Mr. Houseman behaving like an unmitigated asshole, they charged him with nothing. Absolutely nothing. Do I really have to ask the obvious question of do you think I could have done 1% of that nonsense and lived to blog about it?


And the punishment for dirty looks is…

The police officers display a remarkable amount of patience and professionalism throughout. And good for them. Congratulations on de-escalating a situation that could have gone to a very horrible place. Seriously. But it would be nice if that sort of patience and professionalism were extended to everyone. This goes way beyond patience and professionalism though. It even goes way beyond the attitude that the Kalamazoo police approached an unstable man with a gun. The entire power structure bent over backwards for Mr. Houseman. I mean not only wasn’t he shot on the spot, he wasn’t even roughed up. No Tasers. No gang tackles. No illegal chokeholds. Now compare that to the unarmed 14 year-old brown kid who got subdued via two-man tackle chokehold last summer in Miami for, I shit you not, giving the officers a “Dehumanizing Glare.” That’s right. Giving officers the stink eye can result in a standard-issue police beat down. And one month ago in an Ohio Wal-Mart, a brown man as killed because he was carrying a toy rifle — which he picked up in the toy aisle, mind you. Looked real enough to the officers I guess. And last December a crazy brown person was being a crazy brown person but this time in the middle of Times Square. Guess what happened to him. After pointing his fingers at the officers, two of them opened fire.

You can’t make this stuff up. Meanwhile Mr. Houseman was neither arrested nor charged. Not even a ticket for public drunkenness. The best part is he even got to pick his gun up the next day. At this point one wonders why the Police Commissioner didn’t hand deliver the assault rifle to his door with a box of chocolates. He seems very bothered by this entire situation even though he got to walk away Scott free with nary a hair out-of-place. He wasn’t even handcuffed. Such is the nature of privilege. Now contrast that with Mr. Broadnax, the unarmed Times Square crazy guy. Not only was he charged with menacing, obstructing governmental administration, rioting, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, but also two counts of assault. Did he assault the officers or some random passers-by? Of course not. However, when the police chose to open fire on an unarmed man in the middle of the busiest intersection in America, they hit two innocent bystanders. So Mr. Broadnax basically got charged because the police failed to kill him with their initial volley of bullets. As I said, you can’t make this stuff up.

Sometimes life in America can seem like two entirely separate realities.


Categories: Random Rant

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: