Are the cops need in every single situation in our lives? With gentrification comes a clash of cultural issues. This has been there for a long time, but with Trump administration currently in the White House, it seems that there’s a hypercritical look at everything including checking out an AirBnB, eating at a Waffle House, working out at a gym and playing golf with friends. It seems that the police are working overtime to protect Whiteness from the mundane activities of the everyday.
People see the police officer as their enforcer and protector in the community; a human being of high standards and knows almost every reasonable law in the book. That is what we see reflected on our movie screens and televisions, so we would think that most matters can be solved by bringing the police into it.
However, it’s because of this over-simplistic look at law enforcement that we have a tendency to forget that not all matters need the cops to get involved or have we forgotten simple things, like… I don’t know… there is a VERY good chance that you’re not going to die by just asking people politely what they are doing?
Now, I’m not saying you should ask yourself, “should I take care of this robbery myself?” I’m saying that in most day-to-day situations, it’s probably best to not escalate a simple matter. After all, just like you, cops go into a situation assuming the worse. Unlike you, they are hyperaware that their job requires to be alert and what could have been easily avoided is now front page, complete with another innocent bystander being humiliated at best, or dead at worse.
The major problem is training the general public (aka White people) to critically think. After all, we see public service announcements after 9/11 that “if you see something, say something.” It’s amazing effective because it’s simple to repeat. After all, it’s “better safe than sorry,” right? Well, with racial tensions always at a high, I doubt that would be the most positive thing to say.
So, as a public service, I purpose a better way to think about getting the police involved.
It’s a simple three quick question evaluation that will help you determine if cops are needed in any situation. It requires a little thinking, can be answered quickly, and you’ll be ready for any situation that you think may require an authority higher than yourself, yet way lower than God(s) – if you’re into that sort of thing.
I’ll present the questions first and then explain:
- Is this a life-threatening emergency?
- Is it REALLY disturbing your peace of mind?
- Can I (or others) safely intervene?
Let’s review each question.
Is this a life-threatening emergency?
Look at the situation logically and ask yourself some life-defying questions like “is this going to get someone killed?”
It’s important to ask this question first and when asking yourself this question, look at the whole picture, including your mindstate. Zoom out a bit and look at the situation, the people involved in it, the time of day and other environmental factors. Take every detail in — the more, the better. This will help you determine if the answer is a “yes”.
If you’re able to breathe calmly while examining everything, then it’s not as life-threatening as you originally thought. More so, if your fight-or-flight senses are not being bothered, then you’re CLEARLY not in danger. Lastly, if the people (or suspects) are not doing things to other people, then… yeah, we can safely say this is not a life-threatening situation.
Did we get that? Good. Let’s move on to the next question.
Is it REALLY disturbing your peace of mind?
Now, we know the situation you’re observing isn’t life-threatening. However, there is a “quality of life” concern that is sticking with you. Especially if you see new faces in places they (you’re assuming, of course) don’t belong.
But let’s go a bit deeper… is it really disturbing you? Do you know your neighbors? Is it business hours and you’re in a store? Is the sun still out?
Chances are, it may be disturbing you for unsound reasons (like internalized racism, but I could be wrong.). Since you’re not in any immediate danger (because we established this in the first question), swap out the suspect with someone you know. Would you call for help on them in that situation? There are some cases where you can clearly see it may not be an issue, like the links provided above. But then there are cases where it can lead to something bigger.
It’s one thing if it’s a domestic violence case, it’s another case if it’s someone calmly entering a home and they look like they are from the cable company. Sometimes, minding your business can be helpful, other times, maybe double checking can help.
So ask yourself this question… “am I going to regret this later?” or even better “am I getting worked up because of my thoughts?” Time to see if you make it to the third question.
Can I (or others) safely intervene?
The last question you should ask yourself is the safety part. After all, the context of the situation is still an abstract thought. You don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle together. However, you do have enough information to see if it’s okay to do things on your own or have someone do it for you.
So, can you intervene? Even if you’re an introvert, just bringing yourself closer to the action can defuse it some of the time. We’re not talking being a superhero, we’re talking being alert and present. Being active and attentive if a person is arguing with someone might actually defuse it. However, there will be cases when it’s best for someone else to do it on your behalf. There are alternatives to 911 in a lot of major cities and you should learn about these options.
Take the time to research them. In New York City, we have 311 which can be used to call up other services that can help. An operator will be able to guide you to the right service. However, this works best after defusing the immediate situation.
This is by no means a perfect strategy and my simple three-step question plan to de-escalate your internalized thoughts will require some fine-tuning. However, this is something that was designed to help you stop and think. When you see a situation and you’re scared, your mind will shut down and you’ll be faced with very limited options. However, if you’re scared because the people that you’re scared of doesn’t look like you, it makes for an odd situation indeed.
By training yourself to ask questions, you might de-escalate yourself and see the problem in front of you for what it really is — one that can either play itself out or can be handled without making the deal a massive headache for all those involved.
We can’t all predict how every scene is going to play out. There is no way this little guide is going to cover every aspect, which is why we have to start thinking of other ways to do so before the need arises.
After all, the police aren’t and shouldn’t be at your beck and call simply because you saw a face that doesn’t belong, Susan.
Note: I originally published this post on Medium on Aug. 10, 2016. I was motivated by the movie Zootopia, but this update is to reflect the current reality. Also, the second question was changed from “Can I intervene or call someone who can intervene?” to “Is it REALLY disturbing your peace of mind?” as I feel that that question and tactic is far better suited.