Daily Egyptian

Opinion: Maintaining power remains police’s top priority

By Tyler Davis, @TDavis_DE

“To protect and serve” is emblazoned across countless cop cars across America, but serving and protecting has not been the reasoning behind every ticket administered by the police. Sometimes officers need to remind citizens who is in control.

This was especially true Sunday morning on the Strip in Carbondale.

Lives were not in danger and no services were being granted when a Carbondale Police Department officer cited me, a black 21-year-old, for illegally crossing a street and resisting arrest.

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Walking from the west side of Illinois Avenue to the east side of the street en route to Jimmy John’s, I was told by an officer to stop and show my ID. A bus was northbound on the street and about 30 yards away from me as I jogged across the road.

I asked the officer why I had to give him the card as I continued to walk down the street. He grabbed me and as I continued to ask questions, I was cuffed.

Believe it or not, this was not the first time police had given me a hard time about something trivial. Many other black men are questioned, stopped and even arrested based on suspicion.

The National Registry of Exonerations, an organization that tracks falsely convicted people, has 26 U.S. exonerations listed so far in 2015. Fifteen of those were black, eight white and three Latino.

The main arresting officer assured me that my skin color, full lips and curly hair did not influence his aggression and arrest.

“Hey, man,” he said pointing to his bare wrists. “Color’s got nothing to do with this.”

That is a funny thought to me. While most prominent cases of police aggression and suspicion against blacks feature white officers, black officers are not given an “It’s not a race thing” card to play. There is no such card.

Prejudice and oppression against black people by police is not perpetuated by the officer’s skin color—it’s all in the badge. No matter if the officer is black, Latino or white, there is an inherent mistrust associated with police against people of color.

There is a superior-inferior relationship with the police, and not just black people, but with all people. The officer said it himself.

“Even if you think I’m wrong, it will go a lot smoother if you just listen to me,” he said. He is the boss. I am not.

He has the power and I do not.

In his mind, he was not trying to flex his muscles or intimidate me, but that’s exactly what he did. My experiences lead me to believe he and other officers do it every day.  

He was letting me know, no matter what, he was in charge and there was nothing I could do about it.

After I wrote my statement, detailing why I felt I was being improperly punished he told me following police orders would keep me out of trouble. He called me smart, well-spoken and said I didn’t belong in the jail. (I agree seeing as I had never been there before.)

He made himself seem understanding and caring. I’m not saying he is not, but why can’t police be that way in the beginning? Why can’t all police encounters begin with understanding and providing answers instead of questioning and suspicion?

The double standard where officers can ask whatever they want but do not have to answer arrestees’ queries, is an ailment that will encourage citizens to distrust police.

What happened last night was not a case of police brutality—not even close. I have no plans to sue. I will fight my charge in court. I don’t think the officer is even a bad guy.

He probably went to bed at the end of his shift believing he did his job as well as he could have. But if the goal was to protect and serve, then he misfired.

He had put me in my place. Not as a criminal, not as a troublemaker, but as someone without power during face-to-face interactions.

I recognized that I am feeble as a regular citizen against the badge. I know officers are in dangerous situations each and every day, but I should never feel like an inferior member of society.

And the problem lies with the day-in, day-out actions by police that reinforce this narrative.

Until that is addressed and adjusted, there will continue to be a gap between police practices and a public that feels served and protected.

Tyler Davis can be reached at [email protected] 

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