from the and-following-a-woman-down-the-street-on-your-bike-ISN’T? dept

RELATED: Texas Cop Tackles Woman for Walking on Wrong Side of Street

Tim Cushing
Tech Dirt
April 24, 2014

This insight into how police think the public should interact with them is certainly enlightening. (via this tweet and Amy Alkon’s Advice Goddess blog)

The backstory is this: a woman was walking down the street when a motorcycle cop approached her, asked her if she lived in the area and if she would talk to him. She says his approach made her feel uncomfortable, so she refused and continued on her way.

“I thought that maybe he was flirting,” she said. “I just thought it was odd, I thought it was odd. I wasn’t really sure but I felt uncomfortable because there wasn’t anyone around.”

She says she was worried he might not even a real cop, so she refused to stop and began jogging away from him.

“He just crept along beside me on his motorcycle and he started saying, ‘Hey ma’am! I want to talk to you. Hey stop, ma’am! I want to talk to you.’ Then my anxiety rose even higher,” she said.

This was followed shortly thereafter by the cop dismounting, chasing her down, tackling her and placing her under arrest. The police chief claims this arrest was for “walking on the wrong side of the road,” (as well as “evading arrest” and “resisting arrest”) despite the fact that the woman wasn’t ultimately charged with anything.

Even if the preceding events could possibly be dismissed as hearsay, or something tainted by false impressions and emotions, there’s the police chief’s responses to questions about this interaction.

Whitehouse Police Chief Craig Shelton says this:

Shelton says by law you’re not required to stop and talk to an officer if there’s not a lawful reason for them to be stopping you.

But then he says this:

“Normally if a police officer pulls up, in my opinion, it’s awful odd for somebody just to take off and not want to speak to the police officer,” Shelton said.

Yes, this may seem “odd” to a police officer, but it’s not all that odd for citizens, even those committing no real crime (Shelton justifies the stop with the “walking on the wrong side of the street” crap) to have no desire to talk to police officers. A huge imbalance of power makes conversation uncomfortable. Anyone who’s attempted small talk with their boss understands this. If someone doesn’t want to talk to a cop, it’s not odd, it’s normal.

Only a cop — someone who doesn’t understand the strain caused by the imbalance of power — would consider this response “odd.” And when law enforcement officials use the word “odd,” they actually mean “suspicious.” (Hence this woman being chased, tackled and arrested — all for “walking on the wrong side of the street.”) Holding a conversation with a cop without somehow appearing nervous, fidgety or otherwise strained (all natural body responses that will be read by most cops as signs of guilt) isn’t something many people can do. Knowing that these common reactions will only serve to “alert” cops to theoretical criminal behavior further exacerbates the situation.

Beyond that, there’s the other assertions Shelton makes in defense of his officer’s actions. First, he claims the cop’s motorcycle and uniform clearly indicated he was a cop and not some bad guy seeking to do harm.

“The motorcycle has a patch on both sides of the gas tank. It’s black and white and says ‘Whitehouse Police,’ and has red and blue lights on it,” Whitehouse Police Chief Craig Shelton said. “So you have to take it for what it is. Do you think he’s a Whitehouse police officer? Why would you think he’s someone impersonating a police officer?”

Why would you assume he isn’t? Shelton is completely divorced from reality. For one, most people can’t determine the difference between a cop and an impostor, especially if they’re making active efforts to disengage from the interaction.

For another, plenty of cops — real cops — have been charged with rape and sexual assault. So, being a legitimate cop doesn’t really eliminate the danger for a woman walking on her own with no one else around. Sure, this cop may not be a rapist, but I would imagine those who have been raped by a cop probably thought the officer who violated them wasn’t a rapist right up to the point they were being raped.

The fact is that the woman probably would have extricated herself from the situation no matter what. A strange man — in uniform or out — persistently trying to get a woman to talk to him in an area with few other pedestrians is almost always going to be treated as a possible threat. It’s the persistence that sets off the alarms. If you’re rebuffed and go away, the threat subsides. But if you persist, whether you’re just some stranger or a guy in full uniform on a police motorcycle, it will continue to push the needle toward “threat.”

But that’s the problem. Despite all of this, Chief Shelton just thinks it’s “odd” the woman wouldn’t stop. Shelton makes things even worse by making this contradictory claim.

Bonnette hasn’t been charged with anything, but the entire incident was caught on dashcam video and Shelton says it will be investigated further. He also says Johnson acted appropriately and won’t be reprimanded.

There go the odds of ever seeing the video. Shelton has already cleared the officer ahead of his promise to investigate further. How does that even add up in his head? He’s already made his decision. Unless, of course, he means he’s going to investigate to see if any further charges can be brought against the “odd” woman who refused to talk to his officer until he had her pinned on the ground and handcuffed. But that would just be vindictive and surely the Whitehouse PD is above that. If that’s not what Shelton meant, then the investigation he’s performing will be open-and-shut, caged in by air quotes and quite possibly doing away altogether with the bothersome “open” half of open-and-shut.

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