A Brush with the Law

Not a long entry for you today, friends, or even a “Relaxation Saga” entry, though I’ll probably do one of those next week. Instead, I’d just like to describe an amusing incident I already told some friends of mine on Facebook about, along with some lessons learned from it.

Long story short, I got pulled over by the police for the first time in my life a couple of days ago. But don’t any of you worry–it was nothing serious, thankfully!

Here’s how it went down: I was going for a drive in my dad’s car when I made a turn onto one of the little roads near my house and saw blue-and-red flashing lights behind me. I promptly turned my blinker on to the right and pulled over.

I wasn’t speeding or anything, and I turned just fine (the light was green, no cars were around, etc.) so I was mystified as to what was going on. Thankfully, I stayed in my seat, gave the cop my license (after digging around in the glove box for the car’s registration, the guy said it was fine and my license would suffice), and generally tried to stay as chill as possible. It turned out that the car hadn’t been inspected for a while, so the cop just gave me a ticket that said the fine would be waived entirely if we got it inspected within 48 hours.

Happily, that’s what we did. My dad got the car inspected at a garage, with the documentation and everything, and then we went to the courthouse to hand it in. All seemed good at first, but when I spoke to the clerk there, it turned out that I actually have to show the inspection documents to an actual judge for some reason. So they’ll send me a court date later. A minor inconvenience, sure, but nothing too bad. Especially when things could always be far worse :p

I’m not just saying that. Things really could have been worse. I probably would have gotten in some hot water if I’d left the car, as was my initial instinct when I was asked for my registration (I wanted to get out and go over to the passenger seat to get it, but he told me not to–in fact, fortunately the cop was cool and said it wasn’t really important, just my license was fine). But I stayed calm, didn’t freak out, and ended up getting off just about scot-free. I don’t need to explain all of this here, of course, but all of us have heard scary stories about the police in the U.S, especially in regards to racial minorities (I’m not black, but I am brown and bearded, which is a bad combination these days, even though I’m not at all Muslim). Again, I’ll say nothing more about the issue, but staying calm when you’re interacting with the police can help keep you from becoming a part of that issue. In fact, staying calm in general can keep you away from a damn wide variety of issues, it seems. That’s the first lesson for today…and it’s a lesson I suspect will be repeated on many occasions.

Related to that, and somewhat more abstractly, my second lesson learned would be this: It can often be a bad idea to apply large-scale ideologies or beliefs to specific situations.

That might seem kinda strange and hard to understand, so here’s what I mean. For the reasons I alluded to above, a lot of folks take a pretty dim view of the police in general, viewing them as either overly-aggressive and dangerous at best, tools of an oppressive and/or racist system at worst. I don’t buy into all that entirely, but I am somewhat sympathetic to it. I’ve seen enough footage of uniformed men and women bullying people of all races and ages (look up “Officer Rivieri” on youtube for an example of this) to make me suspect that law enforcement in a lot of places in the U.S might contribute to more than a few problems of its own.

However, that doesn’t and didn’t mean the particular cop I talked to was “part of the problem,” nor did it mean I had to react irrationally in my particular situation. When I got pulled over, I didn’t think to myself, “Oh, shit! I’m going to get beaten up by the police!” Or to summarize it a different way, I didn’t allow the somewhat negative beliefs I held about police generally to influence my behavior negatively in an actual, specific situation. I stayed calm and told myself “well, maybe this won’t be so bad. If this ends up going south, I’ll deal with it as it does, but no point believing it will if it hasn’t yet.” And, as a result, the cop turned out to be reasonable, and the whole thing worked out well enough.

You could also say things went well because I was both rational and flexible in my thinking. I didn’t allow my preconceived beliefs (which I still hold; I’m thankful the particular cop who pulled me over was cool, but I know well not all of them are) to freak me out. I instead calmly assessed the situation and reacted soberly to it, and again, the resultant outcome was all the better for it. That was partially thanks to my ideological flexibility; rather than assuming “all cops must be this way!” and reacting foolishly based on that, I recognized that I might have gotten lucky, so I adapted by behavior to suit that belief. I was indeed lucky, but even if I wasn’t–if the cop turned out to be as bad as the other ones I’ve seen–I was prepared for that eventuality as well. I was calm and compliant, but suffice it to say I had at least an idea of what to do if I felt in danger. I had my cell phone turned on and snug in my pocket, where it would be hard to see but still capable of recording voices, at least. That would give me a bit of insurance if the cop started shouting at me or getting violent–but thank God, he didn’t, so all’s well that ends well! Yet…I’m still glad I had that backup plan (of sorts) ready. That’s why being flexible is a good thing. 😉

So, to sum up what this entry has hopefully taught anyone reading it: Stay calm, stay positive (even if you believe some negative things about something generally), stay reasonable, and stay flexible. That helped me, and I suspect that might help a lot of people too. ;D

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