Friday, October 12, 2018

White Privilege

I am listening to The Daily.

It’s about the trial of the cop that killed Laquan McDonald.

Laquan McDonald is not, for me, a unique person, court case, situation, or story of how the cops act.

He is a very important young man, nonetheless; he had guts; and he died manifesting that fact; I should not pretend to know what was in his mind as he walked away from those cops, one of whom killed him with sixteen bullets; but I think I can so pretend.

Therefore he is a banner under which I can march.


I have always distrusted cops.

I’m not really sure why that is true and why that is the case, but I do remember being not very old – we moved to Portland from Seattle when I was five – and sitting in a car where my mother had briefly double parked so she could pick up my father from work, with a big fat monster yelling at my mother; he was yelling; he was blue; he was disrespecting my mother and he was a Seattle cop; that may be where I started distrusting cops.

But it has continued from that not very old point in my life to now, as I write this post (the Belvedere California Force being a sole exception) and I hear the stories of Fergusson and the rest with nothing but contempt for the “I was afraid” bullshit that the police always offer (because, if they were afraid, one might make the case that that is part of the job – being afraid; shooting another human being, and killing another human being should not be a part of the job - a perk, almost, of being a cop.I would furthermore argue that, if fear drives one to murder, one ought not be a cop).

In Screen Saver I wrote about several encounters I have had with cops in my life; they were uniformly unpleasant; none of them resulted in my being arrested, or shot; but, in at least one of them, viewed from the vantage point of years, I can see that, if I had been black, I never would have written Screen Saver.

I would have been dead.

Here is that little vignette from Screen Saver:

“One early spring evening of my junior year in high school I found myself bored. My friends Joe and Frenchy were also bored. Frenchy’s real name was Patrick. He had been a transplant to Portland from The Dalles where his father had worked as an engineer on The Dalles Dam. He had come to Central Catholic High School in his sophomore year. He lived in the same neighborhood as Robert and Joe and I, and several other friends from school, so he took the same bus. In fact most of the Central Catholic bus takers started out at the same bus stop when going home from school. Several parts of the city were served from that one bus stop. So Jack was at that stop also. So Jack and Joe and Robert and I met Pat at the same time at the bus stop. One of the things Pat had told us about himself was that he was taking French. To the rest of us who were all taking Latin this seemed like an extreme oddity. As a result when we were talking about “the new guy” later, and none of us could remember his name, somebody referred to him as “Frenchy”. It took him several years to get us to call him Pat. At one point even his mother was calling him Frenchy.

Anyway, during the Frenchy-era the three of us had found ourselves together one evening and mutually at loose ends about what might be fun or interesting to do. The mortar was a device known to all three of us because all three of us had participated in varying degrees in the rocket development project. I had been more of the research and development component and they, along with Jack had been more the launch observation and recovery component, with me supplying the ignition technology.

We had decided that it would be fun to go shoot some projectiles at Madeleine, the grade school Joe and I had attended.

We had gotten ready at Joe’s house prior to departing. Preparations had included making several steel wool filaments, making sure that the 150 feet of electrical wire was not tangled too badly and putting the battery and launch tube in an athletic bag. It had also included cutting the heads off numerous books of safety matches, enough to fill four empty CO2 cartridges with enough left over to use with the ignition pan, and populating several additional empties and ignition pans if we wanted to go beyond four shots. Since there was some noise and a flash of light associated with each launch we thought four might be the upper limit of launches that prudence would allow. We always shot the device with prudence, or so we told ourselves.

So when we got to the school we were almost set up. The only thing left to do was to walk around the perimeter of the whole wooded launching area to see if there were any late night strollers on the sidewalks below the hill or any other type of activity that would affect the prudence of our intended launches. The launching area was a sloping vacant lot with a stand of Douglas Firs across Klickitat Street from the school. Everything was clear.

It was too dark to see where the cartridges were going to land, and they were too small to see in any event if they got as far as the intended target, which was the school building. But the initial explosion, the flash and the metallic “bing” “bing” ‘bing” of the cartridge hitting something, even if we couldn’t be sure it was the school building, was sufficient entertainment. We launched all four cartridges. We were standing there discussing the merits of populating a couple more projectiles with fuel when a car rounded the corner on 24th and Klickitat. We moved forward a little bit from our equipment to shield it from view. The darkness was already doing a good job of being a shield but we just wanted to be sure. The car was moving quite slowly. As it came opposite to us it stopped. At this point one of my companions said “George”.

George the Cop was a combination urban legend and bane of teenagers. He was not a real cop because he was on somebody’s private payroll - some neighborhood association probably. He did wear a cop uniform. It was blue and he had a badge, and most of all he had a flashlight. As the car stopped he rolled down the window and pointed his megawatt cop flashlight at us. We stood our ground taking the deer in the headlights approach to the situation. My indignation quotient was rising at an alarming rate. That indignation was fostered by my self-serving view that all George could possibly see was three guys standing in a vacant lot looking out at street and, probably, talking. It was a nice spring night and kids ought to be able to do that without having cops shine flashlights in their faces. It helped my indignation that the car had come into view several minutes after the last projectile launch.

He didn’t say anything, turned off the flashlight, rolled up the window and started moving up Klickitat toward 23rd. Somehow, that was more than I could stand. He had invaded our space without justification, and then hadn’t even said “good evening” when he decided we were OK, or at least not a problem. Something snapped.

He was about half the distance to 23rd when I started following. Joe and Frenchy asked me what I was doing. I just started walking after the car, which was traveling at a cop crawl and started shaking my fist at him and yelling. Afterwards I never could remember what I was yelling. I may not have known at the time. That state of affairs lasted a surprisingly long time. I was in pursuit as the car turned right on 23rd and up until it stopped somewhere adjacent to the middle of the land parcel. When it stopped I didn’t. I caught up with the stopped car yelling and shaking my fist. George shined the mega-beam on me again and I came down the bank to the street and the car. I had no idea what I thought I was going to do, but I was not going to yield. I was convinced that this pseudo cop had wronged me.

When I got to the car my lack of agenda was pre-prempted by George. He had a companion who jumped out and pushed me up against the car and frisked me. At this moment Joe and Frenchy appeared and fairly aggressively called their bluff. “What are you doing?” they said. “Noel is just a little excitable – his mother was scared by a cop once” they said. “We have rights,” they said.

The specifics of their defense of my behavior probably didn’t matter very much, but the fact that there were two witnesses who would obviously not have been pro-cop in the event things went much further downhill probably helped calm the situation. We agreed to mutually disengage. When George had been gone for a suitable amount of time we gathered our equipment and went back to Joe’s house. I had had yet another unpleasant cop experience.

In one of life’s little ironies, Frenchy became a cop later in life.

No comments:

Post a Comment