“I Had To Call The Police”


I was at a birthday party last weekend in the Heights. As the party dwindled down, conversation grew more relaxed and an intimate group was left sharing life with each other. One guest said, “So, I had to call the police the other day…”


The story unfolded: as she was driving up to her house she saw a parked car she did not recognize in front. She noticed “two white suspicious looking men sitting in a Cadillac”, and one of them had a glove on. She pulled in, went in her house, and the men eventually drove away. But, she kept a look out. She saw the same car drive back and forth a couple of times about a block away on the cross street to hers. So, she called the police and reported these suspicious men. Officers came very quickly, and she told of how nice and helpful they were. They found the men, asked them what they were doing, and reported back to the caller. Everything ended well. She felt safe, and now had a cocktail party story to tell of her lovely experience with police.


What were the men doing? They had answered: playing Pokémon Go.


And this is the accepted and normalized system we live in today…one built around and justified by fear. A couple people are playing a harmless game, and cops are called. No disturbance occurred, no weapons were seen, no illegal activity of any kind was observed, but cops were called.


What if my friend had simply walked up to the car and asked what they were doing?


Why not? Fear.


She could have knocked on a neighbor’s door and asked them to approach these men with her.


Why not? Fear.


Her call to police was her immediate response to this fear, and most people at the party completely agreed. Not one person questioned the need for this call. So, what’s the problem? The problem is a lack of consideration of real, tangible consequences of this candid call to police. These two men having a fun day were subjected to questioning by people who, if they dislike anything, could and likely would put chains on them, lock them in a cage, and attach a label on their life forever. A light question in my friend’s mind could have easily led to an enormous amount of trauma and taxpayer dollars. She’s a good accountant, but the cost-benefit analysis when fear enters the equation is not considered.


The problem is what if these police officers were young and thirsty, and had a call about two suspicious white men? They could stop, search, question, and arrest almost anyone in a car in that neighborhood. They could then write an offense report giving their link to the call and whoever they arrested, and our system would begin turning its chains against that person. A conviction almost certain, and redemption almost impossible.


Now, what if my friend or the men in the car were less educated? What if her mind allowed a rampage of fear to call and demand justice against these men for scaring her in her front yard? What if these men did not know how to respectfully and calmly respond to the officers? What if they had seen police officers beat and abuse friends, colleagues, and neighbors? What if they didn’t have the resources to be playing a well-known game? What if they had made up a game? Would the police officers believe them? What if the officers didn’t believe they were playing Pokémon Go?


All of these questions never enter the minds of people like my friend. The consequences of slight alterations to the story never entered the mind of my friend. She just felt she had to call the police. And everyone and everything in the culture around her validates that mindset.


To me, it seems unconscionable to allow the potential for such harm to these two men, and to society, to honestly believe that calling the police was a justified response. But, I’m not allowed to speak against it in public. If someone were to say something completely irrational in any other context – like if she described how a dish came out of her washer dirty, so she threw the whole dishwasher away – people would immediately speak against outlandish ideas. But in the context of fear and police and criminal justice, we’re not allowed to question her rationale. Me? I murmured something to my wife, she shushed me, and the party went on. I wish I felt comfortable enough to question her actions. But the result would have likely been a more forceful shushing, hurt feelings, distance created, others’ encouragement of fear, and ultimately, love being lost.


How has society gotten to this point? How has this accusatory system of fear grown to be so monumentally accepted?


Fear is winning.


Our societal response to fear of any kind is to rely on police officers, who job description is to issue out fear to all accused. I imagine and hope and pray for a world that relies on love in response to fear, not police officers. I am thankful for police officers who recognize this and miraculously operate with love. We need more who can put a love response in front of their job descriptions, training, and guns. We need to demand that love as a society and from ourselves.


And I won’t finish without addressing the even more obvious question in the story. The question that leaves my stomach dropped… What if the two men in her story were black?


Is our system racist? People can get by with nodding to messages of fear and simultaneously rejecting racism. But the realities in the difference of this story if those men were black sings a different tune. The mentalities and reliance and justifications of fear from this story are how each person in a system can deny racism, but the system itself operates with widespread racial discrimination.


Being a criminal defense attorney, my ears always perk to police comments for many reasons, but primarily because I think a lot about the role of police in our society and why and how they have affected our culture. I hope we all consider real consequences a bit more in stories that we think, “I had to call the police.”

About Drew Willey

Drew is a new attorney part of the FACT (Future Appointed Counsel Training) program through the Harris County Public Defender's Office and Gideon's Promise. He strives for holistic criminal defense, and also practices IRS/tax controversy. Please visit his website at www.Law-DW.com.