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Starbucks has a Racism Problem, but the Police, both Racist and Authoritarian, are Worse

Shut up or you’re under arrest

It’s lucky that Nelson and Robinson stayed really calm and didn’t resist having their arms pulled behind them and bound up in plastic straps. The situation could easily have turned violent with police using their tasers or worse. For that matter, even though he is white, Yaffee is lucky he wasn’t cuffed on the spot and arrested too, for having the affrontery to challenge the police. But he clearly benefited from “white privilege” in this case.

Think of poor Eric Garner, the black man stopped on a Brooklyn Street for selling “loosie” cigarettes who was put in a choke hold by a thuggish cop, and who died on the street of asphyxiation for his tax violation.

The stories are sadly legion of people — mostly people of color — being killed by police in the course of their making arrests on really minor charges like the one leveled at Starbucks. Usually it’s because the victim has objected to the arrest, and all too often they are absolutely correct to be objecting. In Garner’s case, for instance, the offense called not for an arrest but the issuance of a citation — like a parking ticket — for selling cigarettes without a license. But the police chose to make an arrest because Garner was objecting to being ticketed.

I’ve had my own experiences with this kind of authoritarian behavior by thuggish cops. The most recent was a couple of years ago when I was hitchhiking in my own neighborhood — something I do occasionally basically as a way of testing out the current public zeitgeist. While I waited, standing safely to the side of a secondary road, next to the entrance to a bank parking lot on a Sunday when the bank was closed, a cop from neighboring Horsham in a black SUV pulled up. He was sternly shaking his head. I asked him what the problem was and he said, “Hitchhiking is illegal.”

I knew it wasn’t so I said, “Where’s it illegal? In town, in the county, in the state?”

He replied “Everywhere! You have to stop doing it.”

I said, “That’s not correct. It is not illegal to hitchhike in Pennsylvania. Only on limited access highways and entrance ramps. It’s not illegal on secondary roads.”

I was correct, but this cop didn’t want to be corrected. He said, “Don’t argue with me or I’ll take you in and lock you up!”

I said, “Lock me up? For something that’s just a citation like a parking ticket?”

He said, “Don’t push me.”

So I threw up my hands and said, “All right, I’ll stop and walk home, but I’m looking up the law because I know you’re wrong.”

I called up the desk of this cop’s department, which was in the town adjacent to my own, and asked about the law. The desk sergeant agreed with me that it was legal to hitch on secondary roads. I told him about his officer’s threat to arrest me, and he said, “Oh he was just talking cop talk.” I said, “Well it sounded like a real threat to me.”

Later, I called the chief of my own town police department, who turned out to have been an avid hitchhiker in his youth. He assured me hitchhiking was legal in Pennsylvania and emailed me a copy of the law. I went back out to the street and tried hitching again in the same spot, armed with a copy of the law, hoping the same cop would return and challenge me. My plan was to sue the officer and his department if he arrested me, knowing he was in the wrong. He never showed up.

Later I told defense attorney friend about my plan, and he said, “Dave, don’t do that. You could get hurt!”

story | by Dr. Radut