The following comes from Rob Collins, who was a student in one of my classes last year. He's quite youthful looking. He's also a student leader, and an important participant in the life of the school. He sent it to me originally as an email, then allowed me to post it here:
For perspective on this, I have a short afro. Somebody else with a short afro, described to have been wearing different clothes than I was, allegedly committed a robbery near where I was at 9 am on Thursday morning, Dec 10, 2009. I was running to campus from a bookstore in a t-shirt and slacks with a book in my hand, and a Coral Gables Police Sergeant A. Escobar saw me and pulled his car in front of me. I stopped.
“Put your hands on the hood of the car.” Without moving, “What? Why?” Getting out of the car, “Put your god damn hands on the hood of the car.” As I did what he said, “Why? What's going on?” Approaching me, “Interlock your fingers.”
It went on; he swore at me some more, I did what he said… He handcuffed me and told me to lay across the hood of the car. Because I wouldn't put my face, forehead, nose, or cheeks on the hood of his car, he told me to 'stop resisting' and threatened me with violence.
Eventually he calmed down and the cuffs were taken off of me. I gave him my ID. He checked it out. He apologized. We all went home. However, I'm not likely to ever forget laying across the hood of a police car in handcuffs while being sworn at and threatened. I hope it never happens to you. And so…
Hello Sergeant A. Escobar of the City of Coral Gables Police Department,
I hope you're well. When it's all said and done, my problem is only with the way you conducted yourself. I completely agree that I fit a description of some one who you were looking for and I was near the location in question and I was running in street clothes. That you wanted to stop me is not my problem.
When you stopped me, however, I was given a half second to comply with your having barked orders at me before you were swearing at me. Why? Because I was not IMMEDIATELY doing what you wanted? I had no idea what was going on. I must say that I'm not used to putting my hands on the hoods of police cars(never happened before, actually), so I think that I was understandably in a little shock. But instead of simply keeping things calm, you escalated.
So then you cuffed me. Because I did not want to press my own face against the hood of your car, you threatened me, telling me about some sort of general consequence of physical harm because I wouldn't “stop resisting.” If I hadn't done anything, you said, then there'd be no problem; do you think that I'm going to put my face, my actual nose and mouth, on the hood of your car and that having to do that would amount to “no problem”?
No problem for YOU, yeah. You're not the one being accosted. You're not the one handcuffed and pressed down on the hood of a police car, across the street from his own school being treated like a criminal. You're not the one with his friends and classmates driving by wondering what he did. You're suffering no humiliation, enduring no event that will stay with you for the rest of your life. You're the officer! In our interaction today, you were the offender. You were justified in STOPPING me, but your level of hostility toward a calm, completely responsive person only because he fits a description and is running is inexcusable.
Afterward, you spoke so much about de-escalation and safety, but believe me, I was not de-escalated or comforted by your swearing at me and subsequently threatening me. You spoke of always being able to safely go home to your daughters, but if I was on edge, your hostility definitely would've pushed me towardviolence, not away from it. Your hostility in response to my calm and respectful demeanor was wholly uncalled for, and if I was a criminal who wasn't already riled up by having been caught stealing, your swearing at me and threatening me in response to my serenity would have been what pushed me to aggression.
You and your colleague, whose name I did not get, were remarkably angered just because I wanted answers. When I was upset (but still not hostile), your colleague had the brilliant thought that yelling at me to sit down would help me relax (thankfully, other officer calmly requested that I sit down while it got sorted out, to which I responded immediately and peacefully).
Hello? Does it usually work to calm people down by yelling commands at them?
You interpreted being articulate as being defiant. You interpreted wanting to know what was happening as fighting back.
There was no escalation, no potential for violence, no raised voices, until you two kept making it that way, until you were the one making the situation hostile. Escalating situations = police work? Playback the situation in your head – which of us did all the yelling?
I understand that you were taking actions that you thought resembled doing your job, but remind yourself of the circumstances: When you pulled your car in front of me, did I turn to run? No. When you barked at me to put my hands on your hood, did I make sudden movements? No. Did I approach your car door in anger? Did I approach your door at all? No and no. Did I raise my voice? No.
I remind you that a big part of your job is dealing with people. Every person is different, and subsequently, every situation is different. To not recognize that and always go with the guns blazing attitude will encourage conflict, as a rule of thumb. People who are on edge will start assuming that police presence instantly and always equals confrontation. You will not have the chance to bark any commands. Criminals won't give you the chance. If everyone expects that police will be unreasonable and belligerent, those who do not fear you will never comply. The situation will always go south because people will assume that officers are always out for blood.
If you're thinking that, in terms of your safety, criminals already don't give you a chance, then I guess by stopping and talking to you I made it pretty clear that I at least wasn't a threat, right off the bat. There was no flight risk; I stopped for you immediately. Even if there was, given the police officers who appeared on the scene within minutes, it's clear that I would've been easily apprehended, running along the largely clear Ponce de Leon Boulevard. But we needn't even worry about that because I stopped for you. My prize for stopping for you and talking clearly to you? Verbal abuse and threats.
We're not in a police state; people deserve YOUR RESPECT (that'd still be true even if we were in a police state, you would just have even more authority). I wish to make more clear that, had the circumstances been different, I might have justifiably appeared to be a threat to you, in that moment. But I completely disagree that any of my actions today warranted your over-the-top behavior toward me. If I'm calm, be calm back. If I'm crazy enough to use a weapon against you, swearing and threatening me when I'm calmly talking to you isn't going to make me feel less aggressive.
I also remind you that if you threaten me, acting as an officer, you do so as a representative of the POLICE. Another officer who appeared on the scene wondered if I was just mad because you swore at me. I was angered by your entire attitude and behavior, but even if it was just the swearing that made me mad, well, is it okay for cops to swear at people who haven't done anything? Save that language and disrespect for the people who treat you with disrespect.
Please don't do more than you really need to when you encounter somebody.
If you think being calm and wondering what is going on are good reasons to be sworn at, threatened, handcuffed, and held down on the hood of a car, I'm guessing that those things haven't happened to you yet.
I think it's important to note how different the case described is above from the one described in UM Cops Pull Guns on Student on His First Day where the student was white but the clothes matched and the student himself said “the resemblance was uncannily close”.
Here the clothes didn't match, but even so the circumstances of running with a book and the location were enough for the police to do a stop. The issue is how the stop is conducted. We know policing is dangerous. There are a lot of guns out there. But there are also a lot of innocent citizens. And they deserve to be treated with some respect.
If the facts are accurately presented above, and knowing Mr. Collins as I do I am inclined to believe him, then I think at the very least some remedial police training may be in order here. And maybe some anger management counseling too? Or a recuperative spell at desk somewhere…