Probable Cause? What’s That?

Waxing seriously political.

I think that in light of recent events it’s time to to deal with systemic flaws in law enforcement.

1. Law enforcement agencies in this country are both massively over-armed and inordinately empowered to threaten or use force, whether lethal or non-lethal. This is a 2nd Amendment issue. Belief in the right to keep and bear arms arose from citizens’ interactions with the major law enforcement agencies of the time – the armed forces of England – and the intent was to allow citizens to be sufficiently well-armed as to ensure they could repel such force. The very arms restrictions law enforcement agencies would now have imposed upon us should as well be imposed upon them and their surfeit of arms, vehicles, and equipment consigned to destruction.

2. Law enforcement agencies and officers have tacit approval to substitute personal opinions, beliefs, and prejudices for Probable Cause, which we may generally understand to be facts discovered through logical inquiry that would lead a reasonably intelligent and prudent person to believe that an accused person has committed a crime. All too often, legitimate Probable Cause arises from actions taken after someone has been detained without such. They need to be able to demonstrate a more thorough understanding of the concept and the limits of their authority.

3. Law enforcement agencies and officers are allowed to be the arbiters of what constitutes a lawful order – They believe that whatever command or demand an officer may make is in and of itself a lawful order. They need to be disabused of such notions.

Here are some examples of what has happened to a middle-class white guy who was minding his own business.

In 1968, when my hair hung well below my shoulders, I was pulled over in Dallas at about 4:00 AM when en route from a friend’s home in North Dallas to my parent’s home in Burleson. The officers in the patrol car didn’t stop behind me as one might expect. Instead, they pulled up even with me on the driver’s side and gestured for me to roll down my window. They then asked where I had been and where I was headed and I told them. They then directed me to get out of the city limits quickly because people like me were not welcome there. No Probable Cause and an unlawful order.

In 1996, I went to get something at a local hardware store in the Town of Vienna. I was wearing summer weight pleated-front trousers and a Guayabera I had picked up in Manila over my suspenders. A police officer had also come into the store and was next in line for checkout after I had made my purchase. As I was on my way home, that same officer and his partner pulled me over and ordered me out of the car. I complied and was next ordered to turn away from the officer, raise and hold my shirttail above my waist, and turn around slowly. I was then informed that I had been stopped because the officer had noticed the bulge of the suspender straps under my shirt and was concerned that I may have been carrying a concealed weapon. No Probable Cause and an unlawful order.

In 2002 when picking up my son at my former residence for visitation, I had to wait in my car for a few minutes. While I was waiting, a Town of Vienna patrol car pulled up behind me and I was ordered to get out of the car, present identification, and state my reason for being there because they had received a suspicious vehicle report. I did as instructed and as I waited for them to process my ID my son came out of his home and got into my car. Since I had previously lived in the neighborhood for many years and was well-known, as was my car, the claim of a suspicious vehicle report was dubious at best, and any notion of suspicious presence disappeared when my son came out the door and got into my car. Nevertheless, the officers continued to detain me until they finished running the ID check for wants and warrants. No Probable Cause and an unlawful order.

Here’s the thing. This kind of shit goes down every day and everywhere. White or black, any expressed indignation or disputation in such circumstances will be taken to be hostile non-compliance and the situation will rapidly deteriorate. But in the event, both then and now, a white guy is way less likely to end up dead…