Saturday, May 9, 2015

There is a difference between looking for trouble, and not

Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason
To live

They got little hands
And little eyes
And they walk around
Tellin' great big lies
They got little noses
And tiny little teeth
They wear platform shoes
On their nasty little feet

Well, I don't want no short people
Don't want no short people
Don't want no short people 
Around here...

--Randy Newman, “Short People”

With all the talk about how tough it is to be black in America, very little is being said about being “short” in America, especially if you are “ethnic.” Take for example the following episodes I personally experienced: I had just gotten off work, and had by then decided to take a bus to Renton and stop over at an electronics superstore to look over some new items I might purchase. Still wearing my airport work uniform, I deboarded the bus and started walking in the direction of the store, another 15 minutes away. Five minutes into the journey, I noticed a Renton police car drive slowly past me, inside a white female cop. As it drove behind me, I turned around to see what she was doing; to my amusement, she was driving in out of parking lots, but in a manner that seemed as a way to keep me in view. 

Within minutes I found myself surrounded by three police cars, two that cut off the sidewalk path to the front and back of me, and one to the side. Out jumped a half-dozen cops. I was now a “suspect” in a bank robbery that had just occurred in town. I said I had just gotten off the bus from work a few minutes ago, and told them where I was going. I was told to empty the contents of a side pack I was carrying. I dropped it on the ground and a cop picked it up and dumped its uninteresting contents all over the ground. I demanded to know why I was being detained. I was informed that their “suspect” was wearing “dark clothing”; I, of course, was still wearing my dark blue airport uniform. 

But this wasn’t enough me. I again argued that I could not be their suspect, and sensing I might cause some trouble, one of the officers attempted to further “justify” their actions by calling another officer to request a description of the alleged robber. “White male, gray hair and beard, 5-feet 10-inches, wearing dark clothing.” “See,” exclaimed the officer, “you are wearing dark clothes.” However, naturally I did not fail to point out that I was not technically “white,” was 5-feet 5-inches tall, and had dark hair. I knew that theses cops were really harassing me because of my “ethnicity” per their racial profiling training. It didn’t matter if I didn’t fit the description of the suspect; they were trained to see any person who looked like me as someone with criminal “tendencies” regardless of the knowable facts. 

In any case, these cops were still not done making fools of themselves, wasting time and taxpayer money assaulting my civil rights while the real criminal was getting away. A fourth squad car arrived; I saw that in the back seat a bespectacled black woman was sitting. I saw her shake her head, and a moment later I was standing alone; apparently she was a witness. Nothing was said to me, no explanation or apologies; the cops just got into their cars and left me with the contents of my bag still strewn about the ground.

I could tell about other incidents with ignorant police guided by racial profiling: The time when I was followed into and detained in my public storage area by a cop who refused to believe I had a unit there even though I had the number key to allow a second cop car onto the premises; I wasn’t “released” until the manager showed up and I waved her over to vouch for me. Or the time I was studying in the public library, and as soon as I walked out I was surrounded by a whole platoon of police who claimed that they had received an anonymous call from someone who claimed they saw another “someone” carrying a gun. I had a quite a “conversation” with these cops about harassment and civil rights before they let me go. Or an incident in which I was walking early in the morning to catch a  bus to work, when a cop waiting just for me bailed out of his SUV and demanded to know what I was doing; I told him where I was going and even showed him my Homeland Security-approved ID badge. He reluctantly let me go, but when I took a shortcut through an empty parking lot, he raced toward me, cut me off and triumphantly announced that “Now I can see your ID,” meaning my driver’s license. He seemed somewhat flummoxed, however, when he saw my name wasn’t “Mexican,” so he just gave it back and let me go. 

I have no criminal record—as hard as cops I have encountered tried to concoct one—yet I have been the object of police “attention” everywhere in the state of Washington. In Kent, just about every cop in town has come-up with an excuse to check my ID, expecting to find me with a warrant or on some terrorist watch list. I haven’t been bothered that much lately, although there a few who just want to make “sure.”

Yet for all the occasions in which my civil rights as a law-abiding citizen have been breeched, righteous indignation is my principle response to police aggression.  I’ve never taken the next “step” in ascertaining my rights by physical threat. I’m not stupid, or a “hero,” or a “thug.” Some people, it seems to me, allow self-righteous “tough guy” insensibility get the better of them. Sure, it may work on short people who don’t have a chance of “winning” a physical confrontation (at least not without a gun), but on an armed cop? Perhaps they believe that (most) cops will back down to avoid more bad publicity, failing to realize that most cops are cops because they live for the “thrill” of Dirty Harry-like action. 

There is such a thing as civil disobedience, which according to Henry David Thoreau, advocates obedience to a law higher than that of “expedient” civil law; violence, or the threat of violence, is not a “higher” law. Once I was washing my hands in a public restroom at the Kent Station high-end mini-mall, right next to the King County jail. A security guard walked in, apparently having spied on me; he walked around inspecting every corner of the place, hoping that he would “intimidate” me into leaving. I observed that he was acting “weird,” and he demanded that I leave Kent Station right then. Instead, I walked outside and parked my fundament on a bench, inducing frustration in him as I continued to laugh at his commands to leave. He had no right to tell me I could not be there, for I had done nothing wrong or illegal. Eventually he called the police, who to their credit merely found the rationalizations for his actions amusing. I eventually left when requested, and I discovered that the demand of the security guard that I be banned from the premises for one year had been ignored. 

It seems to me that the unfortunate fact is that the more police come under scrutiny, the worse they behave, so there is an additional reason to watch one’s actions before them in order not to get killed by a crazed cop. Yet it must be admitted that police have been getting away with abusing people’s civil rights on a minutely basis, and it is only when a particularly egregiously unwarranted shooting occurs that even this is paid much attention. 

Still, it has to pointed out that while blacks rightly or wrongly get all of the attention, less than one-third of those shot by police in the course of a police confrontation are black—and the media isn’t talking about the group that is comprises 20 percent of  the other end of a police shooting. The reason this is being ignored, it seems, is because this group is scapegoated for the nation’s ills, or as the far-right-extremist-racist-mainstream-political-commentator Pat Buchanan fulminates, are “out to destroy America,” as if there is any such “plan.” It is my experience that there is much less timidity or self-consciousness in expressing prejudices toward Latinos openly than toward blacks; one can certainly speculate on the reasons. Perhaps it is because they are not “real” Americans—which ignores the Spanish and indigenous presence in California and the Southwest that predates the Anglo—so that there is an “easy” rationalization for second-class status, which is also obvious in the media.

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