Yves here. Please welcome Diligens, who has a great deal of experience in the relationship of government to the financial services industry.
You’ll notice this police encounter, relative to what was at stake, has the officer quickly escalating and making an illegal demand, basically because he can. And consider the various factors that led to different results than in other exchanges with the police.
By Diligens, a member of the Establishment not loyal to his class
I shared with Yves a story about a recent experience about an encounter with the police a few days ago that she thought was worth relating. I am white, which unfortunately is a fact I need to add, since that has become relevant in interpreting any interaction with police.
My family and I spent several days around Christmas with my brother and his family. He lives on Cape Cod and and has prominence akin to that of a school principal, meaning a large portion of the local population knows who he is and, as far as I can tell, likes him.
The weather got very cold right after Christmas, with lows in the single digits Fahrenheit. It’s hard to get much exercise outside in this kind of weather, but a couple of days ago, I woke up early and decided to walk a few miles to the beach and back. Luckily, I had packed my fancy, “rich guy” cold weather gear – a GoreTex ski jacket and ski pants. So I bundled up and set off.
My route to the shore took me through an industrial park, which certainly wasn’t the most pedestrian-friendly path (no sidewalk, minimal landscaping). On my return through it, I passed a medical lab and saw parked in front a car that I had a vague interest in (a new Subaru station wagon; a friend had urged me to consider a Subaru as a replacement for our workhorse family car).
I stopped to look at it from several feet away and, within 30 seconds, a burly guy came sprinting through the lab’s front door demanding to know why I was there. I asked him if the car was his and he said yes. We chatted for a few moments, and he seemed to relax. I wished him a good day and continued on my way.
I had walked another half mile when I saw a police car approaching from the opposite direction. As it got near me, moving very slowly, it pushed its nose off the road, blocking my path. Immediately, I knew that I was about to have an “encounter” with the police.
Several thoughts immediately sprung to mind. First, I have seen the “Never Talk to the Police” YouTube video, which Yves has discussed. So I was determined to be very careful about what I said. Second, I’ve seen many videos of civilian encounters with the police, so I thought I understood how citizens get bullied or tricked into surrendering their rights. Third, I recognized that citizens get killed far too often because they aren’t able to keep the emotional component of the encounter from spinning out of control, or they just make the mistake of reaching into their pocket without permission and end up getting shot. So I was determined to be calm and careful.
The cop quickly jumped out of his SUV and with no greeting or preliminaries stated his demand, “I need to see some ID.”
I responded, “Why?”
“I just need to see some ID. Just help me out here.”
At this moment, I was reflecting on the fact that I was unsure about whether Massachusetts has a “stop and ID” law requiring citizens to identify themselves when the police have a reasonable suspicion that a person may have committed a crime (I don’t live in Massachusetts). But I was fairly certain that even states with “stop and ID” laws require probable cause. By the way, I later learned that there is no “stop and ID” law in Massachusetts.
Me. “I think you need some kind of probable cause belief that I have committed a crime to force me to show ID.”
Cop, dripping with sarcasm. “Oh, you’re one of those kind of people. I’ll arrest you right now, and we’ll go down to the station. You’ll be there all day, and you’ll have to show me ID.”
In this moment, I realized the fatal weakness in the advice civil libertarians give about standing up for your rights with the police. I do a lot of negotiation as part of my professional life, and I’ve learned that it’s very difficult to hold a position if you can’t see it through to the end. In real life, bluffing rarely works. If you don’t have the cards, you seldom win the hand.
So in that instant, it became clear to me, you can only resist the “show your papers” demand of the state if you are willing to play your hand all the way through, which means accepting the ride to jail in handcuffs and the possibility that, if the timing works against you, especially in a rural location, it could be multiple days before you appear before a judge, in the meantime languishing in jail.
Hoping I might salvage the situation, I asked, “Am I being detained?”
The cop, knowing that he held all of the cards, escalated step-wise, “Turn around. Hands on the [police car] hood. I’m going to pat you down for weapons.”
The message was clear: he was not going to accept losing in this encounter. He frisked me, pausing on the spare phone battery brick in my pocket, demanding that I take it out and show him. He also noticed that the top snap of my ski pants was undone and, keying off that, asked, “Did you take a piss? It’s pretty cold out here to do that.”
I definitely had not, but saw where this inquiry was going. “What, you’re trying to get me to admit to public urination so that you can arrest me for that?”
“I don’t care. Piss wherever you want.” He claimed.
Finding no contraband, the cop confronted me again, “Are you going to give me your ID or do you want to be arrested?”
In that moment, my thought was, “Cops arrest people all the time even when they know the arrest is not legal. I have to consider this threat credible.” Even if I filed a civil suit for false arrest and they ended up settling it for $25,000 or more, I think the local police very well might just view that as the cost of maintaining their ability to successfully intimidate people into coughing up their ID without the slightest probable cause.
So I asked his permission to reach into my pocket and coughed up my ID.
He radioed his dispatcher with my driver’s license information, and I was very surprised by how quickly the dispatcher came back with my full home address in another state and the key phrase, the real reason for the whole encounter, “No warrants.”
So now I know that there is a national driver’s license/arrest warrant database that the police access. All of the stories about how we don’t have national ID cards in the U.S. for reasons of decentralized federalism – that’s all theater. It may have been true before 9/11, but it makes sense that the hundreds of billions that Homeland Security has spent since then, among other things, created a de facto national ID database. Law enforcement avoids talking about it, presumably because they know it would upset a lot of people on both the left and right.
Having heard the magic “no warrants” phrase, the cop changed his tone and became friendly.
Sounding genuinely interested, he asked, “Why wouldn’t you give me your ID? I could tell you didn’t have any warrants.”
Me: “What do you mean you could tell?”
The cop: “Look at you. You’re expensively attired [my GoreTex gear, I guess]. You’re well spoken. You’re clearly a professional. People like you never have warrants.”
Unspoken, but clearly part of what he was conveying was, “Someone like you would never risk arrest. You had no cards in this encounter. It just took you a minute to figure that out.”
Me: “The reason I objected to giving you ID is that, philosophically, I don’t think it’s right that the police go around demanding that people produce ID just so that they can sweep the streets of people with outstanding warrants.”
The cop: “That’s not why we ask. Someone called and said you were acting suspiciously.”
Me: “How was knowing my ID going to tell you whether I had committed a crime?”
He didn’t answer that question, and I was genuinely perplexed by his denial that the larger point of “stop and ID” is to sweep the streets of people with arrest warrants. He seemed actually sincere, and I wondered whether he could be so lacking in self-awareness.
At that moment, a second police car pulled up, the “back-up” for their encounter with the weird guy out walking in an industrial park on a 15 degree day.
Maybe I’m a patsy, and partly I was motivated by not wanting to hurt my brother’s standing in the community, but I offered my hand to the cop, wished him well, and we parted.