Circles

No, this isn’t about the song that has people calling Post Malone the relationship whisperer of the ’20s. Nor about why Of Monsters And Men would feel that it was incumbent upon them to remake this with an adult contemporary vibe…while Post Malone’s version was still getting airplay.

Indeed, this is about the phenomenon I experience while driving occasionally – a strangely frequent occurrence, actually – where I experience strange geographical orbits or find recurring conversational themes with my passengers or whatnot.

For example, the other day a passenger got into my car and I could feel something. It was in an area of town I don’t get to often. As a matter of fact, I’ve only ever picked up one person there before prior to this. The pick up is just a block past The Cajun and The Canadian’s house, so I was wondering if maybe I’d passed them driving down the street and not noticed them because I was looking at house addresses.

Nah, it was that I’d picked up the same guy and failed to realize it. He reminded me about halfway through our ride. And moments later, while we were still “catching up” another ride piled on and it was a passenger I recognized by name – how many non-Grace & Frankie characters do you know named Coyote? But he had a good 15 minute wait for me to drop off my current passenger and eventually dropped off.

It’s just as well, though. I call my repeat riders the 1% Club because it’s only about every hundredth ride I get a familiar face.

Two back-to-back would have been weird.

So I drop off this passenger and as I’m pulling out of the drive, get a ride to replace Coyote. The Lyft Life always seem to keep me busy, even when I miss out on rides because another driver frees up to get one that’s stacked on my queue.

It was another 1% Clubber.

Two would have been weird…three was nuts. Not that my rider was as amazed as I was – and I kept my awe pretty well checked, but she showed me how to really play it cool.

Hey, I never said the 1% Club was exclusively cool.

Anyway…any guesses what topic might have come up repeatedly throughout this past weekend?

Anyone?

Yeah. Take your pick.

George Floyd.

Defunding Police.

Protests – attending, traffic – stuck in, complaining about, managing, just…discussing.

And I’ll be honest, I learned so much!

Just by asking a question and then shutting my mouth.

It was a powerful weekend. I took today off of driving just to decompress and true to my ovalesque form, I’m gonna work it through here. Feel free to expand upon, agree, disagree, tell me I’m up in the night, tell me you learned something or whatever in the comments.

Let’s start off with the smartest man I’ve witnessed in quite a while. Sadly, this was not one of my passengers.

Brilliant, no?

Assuming cops read better than Trump…

First – or second, depending on how you define the phrase “Let’s start off with” in the hierarchical nature of lists – let’s go back to one of my posts from last week, ACAB. You can bet as I’m giving protesters a lift here or there or just debriefing the events of the past week with riders that this came up. And there’s me

You know what no one has really been able to make me understand?

…like I’m some kind of Seinfeld knockoff.

Not that it made me feel any better, but I found that I wasn’t the only person who felt disease at the radical catchphrase-cum-urban-art gaining steam as mainstream messaging. That made me feel a little less like a liberal Benedict Arnold, but my goal – my hope – was really to still come away from these conversations with greater understanding.

Hell, I have to admit, though, that it was gratifying to meet people who I could tell were taking time to think about my concerns over the hyperbole of “All Cops Are Bastards”. My assumption, I told people was that there was a story behind it, but I just didn’t know it. If I didn’t know it, as an average Joe, what if others simply took it at face value and suddenly good cops became collateral damage?

I’m glad that I could see people turning my concerns over.

Best answer?

A rider told me to think of it this way: ACAB is to cops what Original Sin is to Christianity. It comes with the badge, not the person.

Me: Why? Tell me more.

Basically, good people become complicit – regardless of other motivations for joining the force – once they put on the badge. Probably, it wouldn’t have resonated with me as much had another rider not told me something about police history that I did not know.

From Original Sin to Origin Story, if you will.

Not that other countries before us didn’t have a police force, but where policing really kicked into high gear in this country was with slavery. We needed people to patrol as a deterrent to escape and whatnot. These folks were called paddyrollers. When slavery ended, that shifted to ensuring safety for white people from freed slaves.

I’d never thought of it through that particular lens. Naturally, I came home looking for information and was amazed at the little nuggets I picked up – although I’m certainly not ready for any sort of Jeopardy by any means.

At this point, I was attenuated to this origin story. Things kept jumping out at me, including a quote about how necessary police were to protect Whites from freed slaves. I swear I screen shotted that quote, but fuck if I can find it now. So take this little gem as a break from heavy subject matters instead.

Sometimes I love the interwebs and the dweebs that inhabit the joint.

One final question I felt compelled to ask of a few people was about minority cops.

If all cops ARE bastards, are Black cops not just modern day Uncle Toms?

A good chunk of the people admitted they didn’t know or had never even considered that in the context of police brutality.

One Black passenger shared a story about someone she knew whose grandmother basically disowned him after their becoming a cop. But another – while not answering the question directly – flipped the question to something equally enlightening: double minorities.

This rider asked me to consider that once you’re a cop, your other identities are beside the point. That can actually result in Black cops being the object of fear and even hatred in their own community because the community doesn’t know where the loyalties lie or shake out.

Is it Black, Badge or Badge then Black when it comes down to it? Or is there even an answer?

“Think of gay Black men”, he said, clearly pegging me. Because of the stigma of homosexuality in the Black community, a lot of gay Black men are actually afraid of other Black men.

And I had to admit that this clearly stoned Black man in my back seat was a genius for making that complex point.

If I’d come out of the weekend with only that understanding of ACAB, I’d still call that a solid understanding win. As a matter of fact, I wish I could travel back to last Thursday and share just that with my passengers who engaged on this topic.

Tangential to that topic was just plain old protest messaging. In the post I linked to above, I discuss briefly how integrity – or its lack – is a trigger for me. That’s where my initial ACAB resistance started…All.

But there were other stories shared, individual awareness raised and even behavioral modification commitments made.

A couple of my favorite shared stories:

A person told me about being at a protest and finally understanding the difference between a peaceful protest and a nonviolent protest. We both agreed that violence was not an end goal either would appreciate, but then they went on to point out that protests are generally disruptive.

One of the reasons permits are required

I offered, trying to demonstrate understanding.

Peaceful protests are what you’ll see on a street corner with a few people waving signs or hanging banners from freeway overpasses. Non-violent protests are more raucous by nature because while the intent isn’t to hurt anyone, they aren’t above breaking a window or starting a fire to drive a point home. But property destruction isn’t violent, per se. It’s in your face, but for reform to happen, sometimes the impetus is financial versus moral.

I can still hear my question echoing in my head as the conversation leaps riders and morphs slightly in the process. This rider had been at a protest and seen plastic water bottles being thrown at cops by a couple of hooligans in their midst. Their fear was tear gas – again – or rubber bullets. Or worse yet, the sonic sound weapon (I think it’s called an LSAD) that the police had used after the mayor shut down tear gas. They’d have preferred tear gas. They came prepared with water bottles that were a baking soda and water mix, effective in taking the sting out of tear gas.

They had been happy to see the crowd shout down the water bottle chuckers, crying out “non-violent protest!” until they slinked away.

Indeed, I saw an example of this myself. Protesters at the fence around our Justice Center reacting when someone at the front climbed up on the fence to flick his cardboard sign at the police standing inside. They went after him. The cops, to their credit, did not react. But the fear was rubber bullets.

In that regard, I think Portland’s police force has responded in a more measured manner than elsewhere in the country. Obviously, not perfectly, but better.

Still, that gas and the (possibly called) LSAD came up more than once over the weekend. Mainly as examples of the police being militarized. Defensive statements in the argument to defund the police.

One rider passionately made the connection to militarizing the police being akin to the precise reason police needed to be defunded in the first place.

If the police have the military grade weapons, they’re going to use them – even if it’s to break up a peaceful group protesting between the White House and a church so the President can walk across the park for a photo op.

Great example of an argument against.

But another great example of the circles I experience in my car. Because there we are, right back where we started. Defund the Police doesn’t mean disband the police.

It’s hyperbole, once again.

It’s not that all cops are bastards and let’s turn the country into one big Florida gated community patrolled by polo wearing mall cops in golf carts by defunding the actual police.

The hyperbole obscured the point: reduce funding for things like police in schools and transit police. Hell, one rider posited even meter maids could go or be severely reduced – “Their budget is already paid by our taxes, excessive parking tickets just creates double taxation!”

But those branches of the force that would be eliminated would have their funding redirected toward better response alternatives. Mental health responders or substance abuse counselors being deployed with a goal of getting people in crisis the help they need connecting to resources that will help them – also funded through defunding ineffective police programs – versus getting them into contact with police officers without quality training to really protect and serve their communities.

And on that note – before I leave you to digest – I’ll pat Portland on the back again. In my nine months of driving with Lyft, I’ve had exactly one bad experience.

Riders ask me this all the time. Ok, hyperbole aside…often.

I picked up a young lady who was going to her boyfriend’s. She needed to stop on the way, it turned out, at a RiteAid to get a bandage.

No problem, I told her – as I do anyone who asks to stop or reroute during a ride. “It’s your ride, I’ll go where you tell me!” Then she thrusts her arm into my field of vision and says her dog bit her as she was leaving.

In retrospect, my best guess is that she’d been drinking at home and messing around with the canine equivalent of Myrtle, who stopped her shenanigans by sending a “Game Over” message in the only way that this rider would understand.

So I stop off at the RiteAid, not yet having connected the drinky dots.

She comes out and starts tending to her wound as I continue on.

Then she slips into Kitty Dukakis mode.

By the time I get to her destination – a shopping mall versus her boyfriend’s – she’s zonked out in the back, still sitting up. I can’t wake her up.

After several minutes of no-to-groggy responses, I use the emergency toggle in the app. I’m having a conversation about her as she settles deeper into unconsciousness in the back. The agent I’m talking to dispatches police while I’m on the line.

Here’s the great thing.

Sure, the police come. But en route, based on what they know, they call a secondary unit to meet them. One that is designed to get drunks to a safe, non-jail place to sober up instead of placing them under arrest or citing them for public intoxication.

This isn’t even a traditional drunk tank.

This woman won’t even have a blip on her record for this…I think that’s a perfect example of defunding to de-escalate potential scenarios where police contact could devolve into police violence. Sure, Portland double-dipped on the response since there was a police team and the – I dunno what they’re called – Intervention Squad? But the police team knew to facilitate the hand off versus being directly involved. They were trained enough to have an attempted assessment type conversation with my passenger and then let her be until their backup arrived to take over.

A great experience.

The best part?

What am I not telling you?

The mall – Lloyd Center – serves a traditionally Black demographic.

How might this scenario had played out in Minneapolis? Or Ferguson, MO? Or Brunswick, GA?

For as much reform work as we have ahead of us as a country and as imperfect as Portland Police Bureau is simply for being the police…at least we have a liberal community that has made some imperfect efforts that have yielded enough imperfect results to make me confident that regardless of national legislative police reform, we’ll be able to make local impacts that will at least let our minuscule minority community get a head start. Gimp legged as it may be…

Circles

3 thoughts on “Circles

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