Advice From Parents: Talk Rudely To Cops And Be Defiant

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Also, it’s helpful to go into an interaction with a police officer acting superior and haughty.

Who would teach their kids such lessons? When my parents gave that talk in the context of a legal deposition my dad had to give, they said, “Answer the questions they ask. Nothing more. Do not make excuses. Be respectful. Keep a good attitude.” Because, well, police officers have the gun and the power to make a person’s life absolutely hell. But more than that, they hold an office of authority and one should respect the office.

Enter the Gates Affair.

A privileged black man breaks into his home, a neighbor calls out of concern for her neighbor, the police respond, the ID given after inside the home is not a driver’s license, the black man is belligerent and the police arrest him. The police, all of them, say the man is acting strangely. They write their report. The charges get dropped and the man shouts “racism!”

Donna Brazille and Juan Williams, both black, share that their parents teach them to be extra careful with police because black people can get into trouble. Well, it’s the same sort of trouble a white person can get into if the right attitude is not taken, or, you know, a white person is committing a crime. It’s kinda universal advice, or should be, don’t you think? Be respectful to those in authority. Sometimes its better to be more than respectful. Sometimes it’s good to be obsequious.

Word of the day: obsequious.

Go look it up. No one likes to be obsequious, but it’s a better road to go down with dealing with someone who can give you a hard time. But no. When you’re a Harvard snob, the little people should be obsequious with you. You’re special. You’re a well-known Harvard professor! How dare you! I can almost hear the British accent, “Unhand me young man!”

Meanwhile, the narrative gets shifted to all the black men in prison. Is the Harvard Professor Gates the symbol for racial profiling as he suggests? Or is Professor Gates a beneficiary of privilege and offended that it didn’t extend to this situation?

Did Professor Gates find his post at Harvard despite his gross lack of understanding of proper respect for authority? Was he intellectually stimulated but unwise in the ways of respectful interaction with authority? Can we assume that he had not been taught by his parents the proper way to interact when caught in a compromising situation by police officers?

Parents teach their children by word and deed to respect authority. If the young man, black or white, has been taught respect, he is unlikely to do disrespectful things like cheat, steal, lie, murder, do drugs, sell drugs, rape, assault, break into homes, etc.. Those behaviors are profoundly disrespectful. If the young man of any color does something stupid, say drag racing or getting drunk and disorderly with buddies or even accidental, such as breaking into ones own home, and the police enter the situation, the young man does not further endanger his plight by being disrespectful. He knows he’s caught, he cooperates. The young man does not make his bad situation worse by being rude and defiant to the police officers. He does not claim privilege.

The problem with Professor Gates is that he knows better. Or if he doesn’t, he wasn’t brought up well. It’s not about race. It’s about respect. He is not some victim of society’s racism and unfairness. It is not like he’s unaware of the rules of polite [police] society because he’s been untaught or uniformed. More than that, I’ll bet he brooks no disrespect when he’s in front of his classroom with his students. And I’ll bet they are properly obsequious lest they leave the class with a less than desired grade.

Now, there are bad cops. There are racist cops. There are even bad, racist professors. Still, a parent does not train the child for the exception, he trains the child for the principle: respect authority. It is not good for the child to doubt and wonder and be suspicious of every person who is meant to look out for his welfare. So parents teach general respect. On the rare occasions where someone is rogue, well that’s another situation entirely.

Are we to believe that Professor Gates didn’t know the rules of decorum when a police man entered the situation? Are observers supposed to excuse his disrespectful rantings at a guy who was just doing his job? I’m guessing that Professor Gates knew that authority was to be respected, he just figured that he should be the most important authority in that situation. He was wrong.

More from Just One Minute: Why no one wants to release the tapes.

Ann Althouse asks if Gates is an utter fool.

Mark Steyn talks of roses and race.