The popularity of Disney’s Frozen knows no bounds! It is my eldest granddaughter’s go-to movie, particularly when she feels the world is not going according to her wishes. She has been known to tell her mother to, “Let it go”; a come-back phrase guaranteed to infuriate any parent whose patience is reaching its outer limits. A quick search on YouTube and you can find Idina Menzel’s original version, various covers and numerous parodies. So I suppose I should not have been surprised to learn it has seeped into the HPD (Houston Police Department) vernacular.
I have the utmost respect for the police men and women who patrol our streets, who put their lives on the line, and who in moments of extreme stress have to make split-second decisions. Though I do wonder if the easy and immediate access to guns does not sometimes make those decisions less measured – split-second or not. My admiration is however tarnished when I see the blatant disregard, not only of the law, but of common sense.
Driving south on San Jacinto, a free-flowing arterial street leading off Interstate 10 and passing through Downtown Houston to the Texas Medical Center recently, I came across a police car with no lights, flashing or otherwise, sitting plum in the second lane. The driver was talking out of the window to a tall grey-haired man, his distinguished bearing testament to his police uniform. A second police vehicle, presumably belonging to the standing officer, was parked by the sidewalk. I was well aware the discussion could have been of the utmost importance but, whatever the topic, at 0730 San Jacinto is a road with no parking privileges until 0900.
Vehicles were forced to quickly brake, some swerving into the next right lane in order to pass, thereby causing consternation to those streaming behind and unaware of the hazard. I did not have the opportunity to pass, so waited until the traffic lights behind me changed and it was safe to do so. As I passed I suggested to the officer, politely, that hazard or flashing lights should be turned on to warn other road users of a stopped vehicle. My respect for the uniform dimmed as I was told by the officer with a dismissive gesticulation to “let it go”.
Every ounce of my ire bade me pull in and discuss the issue with the two officers, but self-preservation and the knowledge I would be late for an appointment made me continue on to my destination. I am not a black man so have no inherent caution, or even fear, with regard the police, or anyone in uniform, but I do think twice before engaging to any extent with the-men-in-blue when I am in the US. There are no real grounds for this from personal experience as, on the few occasions I have had cause to engage, I have been treated with respect; but hovering on the edges of consciousness are the reports read of the hair-trigger reactions of some.
Is it, I wonder, just the presence of guns snug at their hips that puts me off? Or is it a deeper seated belief that protocols in place on this side of the Atlantic are perhaps less stringent than in the UK?
Take for example the most recent case in Texas of a troubled young woman, 17 year-old Kristiana Coignard, shot four times by three police officers in a Longview police station for apparently ‘brandishing a weapon’ after having asked to speak to an officer. One has to wonder why three policemen, in their own environment, were unable to calm a slightly built teenager.
In 2012 alone there were more than 400 shooting deaths in the US by law enforcement officers; in the UK there were none. Granted America is a far larger country, but to put it in perspective, between 1995 and 2010 there were 33 victims of police shootings in Britain. The Economist reports British citizens “are about 100 times less likely to be shot by police.” That is enough to make anyone wary in the US.
In the African-Americn community most children at some stage are given “the talk” by their parents. Not as in a coy conversation about sex, but as in a not-to-be-taken-lightly discussion on how to behave if ever questioned by the police. Perhaps that talk should be extended to all children.
I believe those in authority are most highly regarded, and emulated, when they are seen to be impartially following the rules of the road, and the land. I regret my decision to “Let it go”!