Have you been stopped by the police lately? It used to be a shock, or not, depending probably on variables like race, age, sex, maybe even attractiveness, and mental state. If you were white and female and not drunk or stoned, your experiences with the police may have been pretty positive up to now. If you have darker skin or you are darker-skinned and male, you may have had a whole different set of anecdotes to tell about encounters with the police and the number of stories you had to tell might be more numerous.
Terrorism seems to have changed this and is functioning to level the treatment we receive from law enforcement professionals among races, sexes and ages. Policemen and policewomen are now, and probably rightfully so, equally paranoid and careful about all of us, man, woman, light-skinned, dark-skinned, accented English or unaccented English, old or young. Any one of us could have a gun. Anyone of us could have an axe to grind, or some rage to express. It still seems to me as if women are less violent than men, but I certainly am not confronted with all of us law-breakers, both petty and major, everyday.
I went to the local airport recently to pick up a friend who was coming back from a winter in California. The airport is small. I have lived near this airport for most of my life. In fact, the old airport was even closer to my family home than the new airport. When we were quite small and my mom had had a tough day with too many children, she would bathe us, put our pajamas on us, and pack us off in my Dad’s station wagon to go to the end of the street to be lulled by the pretty blue lights that lined the runways and to watch the occasional plane lift off or arrive. I went to the air base school, a building leftover from World War II that was located near the airport, for fourth grade when the elementary school in town got too crowded. We were allowed to run out to the back room at the school to watch the jets take off since they made it impossible to hear the teacher. So I sort of feel like this airport is my airport. I have part ownership, even though this is the “new” airport. After all, the new airport was built right next to the old airport and uses those same old runways (and a few new ones for larger planes).
So anyway, it was evening and I drove right down to the road that runs in front of the airport terminal, which I have done for years, but which is less acceptable in these days of truck bombs left at curbs to maim and kill. There is a baggage carousel at each end of the airport and it is always a challenge to decide at which end of the airport a traveler will arrive. Usually they arrive at the near end where you first enter the ring road. On this occasion that end of the terminal was under construction. There were saw horses and orange traffic cones everywhere, but I still did not put it past some airport official to have people disembark at this end of the terminal. There was an airport security guard (at our airport the security guards are police personnel assigned to the airport) near all the construction and she waved me off. I left the terminal and went all the way around the ring road again, as I was waiting for my friend to call me on my cell phone. Next time around I took the service road which runs next to the ring road, closer to the parking garage. My cell rang. I stopped on this service road, which, mind you, has no traffic whatsoever to answer the cell phone. The security guard, who happened to be a police woman, approached my car, yelling “You can’t park there, you can’t stop there. You are in the middle of the road.”
I rolled down my window and yelled back, “This is a service road.”
“Are you talking back to me,” she says.
“I’m just trying to pick up my friend,” I say, backing down to sound more polite when I see how angry this policewoman is.
I never focused on the image I was projecting. I never gave a thought to the facts: that it is almost dark out now and I am in a black Nissan Rogue with tinted windows and I have a cell phone in my hand, fingers on the screen. I realized in the moment that she arrived close enough to my car window to speak to me without yelling that she is not kidding. She is angry and she is about to escalate the incident. She is totally tense, alert and bristling with threat. I adopt a new, much politer, more conciliatory tone. She lets me go down the service road to the next baggage area to pick up my friend, who gives me attitude because I am not on the ring road right next to the terminal. By now I was hyperventilating. But I learned an important lesson.
In these uncertain times, when any individual can have mayhem on his or her mind, even though the way the police treat us may seem unnecessarily harsh, when their demeanor may scare us and make us feel that liberty is fleeing the kingdom, we have to recall how many police men and women have been shot by the people they are trying to apprehend. We have to remember that there are mass shooters, gang bangers, people seeking suicide by police, mentally ill people and outright haters and terrorists in every community. We, who are going about our business as carefully and honestly as we know how, need to be very polite to any official who stops us, we need to mind or p’s and q’s and be as businesslike as possible. If not there may be unintended and unpleasant consequences. This is what I have noticed and I am passing it on, “for what it’s worth”.