Citizen Intervention

Lawlessness, It's not just Ferguson

The double glass doors at the food store scraped open, revealing the scene.

She sat on the seat of her collapsible walker and she was not happy. Her walking-cane bounced off the concrete sidewalk repeatedly, betraying her agitation. In a raised voice, the elderly black woman explained that she was waiting for a cab and that she had not started the argument.

Equally loud and adamant, the young buck with a government paycheck and side arm insisted that she leave the premises. A middle-aged white woman was telling the young constable that a third woman initiated the loud incident by throwing money at the first, presumably implying that she was a social parasite who lived off others’ assistance.

But she received no attention. This wasn’t about her. It was about the elderly woman planted on her walker seat. She had waited three hours and no cab arrived. She had to leave the premises or be arrested. And she had to lower her voice or be arrested. And she had to stop threatening him with that cane, or be arrested.

He was no more threatened by her cane than he was my my cane, the judicious use of which restores enough mobility for me to shop for a few items. So what to do?

I pushed my cart between them and looking directly at neither said, ‘this gets deescalated now…’

‘Ma’am, do you need a way home?’
‘Come with me!’
‘You’ll drive me home?’
‘I’ll pay you.’
‘No, you won’t!’

That easily, it was done.

Still fuming, she explained the indignity of having money thrown at her.

She then pulled out a cell and called the cab company. She said ‘this is Angela, and I’m calling to cancel my ride.’ So that was that. She explained that she had to do that if she hoped to get future rides from that company. I wondered how a cab company stayed in business that made patrons wait for hours for a ride. I also wondered how Angela was supposed to catch her cab when it did arrive if she wasn’t at the location she called in to the company. I wondered why the young buck couldn’t grasp that dilemma.

I also wondered why this constable felt attacked by an elderly lady in a walker seat, bouncing her walking cane off the sidewalk. I wondered why he was powerless to bring anything helpful to the situation. I wondered what it is about a sidearm and a government pay check which makes cops think they own the world. And I wondered how many times such incidents are multiplied across the land because no citizen intervenes.

With ever-increasing immunity from prosecution granted to police, with increased state reliance on police before mounting social unrest, there will no shortage of opportunities for citizen interventions. Yes, one may be charged for ‘interfering with official business.’ But as I told this elderly woman, we must all begin standing together and building community — on the streets and in the courts.

But I also know that the woman who threw the money at my passenger would find much sympathy in fundamentalist churches. They would speak strong support for the ‘law and order’ antics of the young buck who thinks that a sidearm and government pay check make him ruler of the world.

Likely, more than a few fundies would say that the old guy with the cane who defused the situation really did hinder good police work. Had this guy arrested her, I think I would have made myself a material witness and articulate in court the perspective that he as not threatened, and that he needlessly acerbated an easily remedied situation to the detriment of community police relations.

Every year, well over a thousand people are slain by police. Many of them are unarmed. More than a few of them have mental health issues. I have to wonder how many lives could be saved if people involved themselves in such situations as they unfold before our eyes.

Sad to say — professing Christians in fundamentalist sects often support the most backward, repressive, reactionary and corrupting practices today found in public life. Even as they proclaim, ‘God bless America,’ they are a blight and a scourge upon it. Far from being the answer to today’s ‘America,’ they are in large part the reason for it.