Defearing the Policed…and Other Fantasies

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

I have encountered a sobriety checkpoint under, shall we say, less than optimal circumstances.

One minute I was driving along transfixed by every note of “And Your Bird Can Sing” and wishing John Lennon had managed to walk safely through the Dakota archway on that abnormally warm December night so long ago.

The next, I rounded a turn and traffic had stopped. There was a fireworks display of red lights in the middle distance and I filled with concern for the welfare of my fellow humans til I noticed the large CHECKPOINT AHEAD sign and my concerns locked solidly on the preservation of my ass.

Then came the intensely slow motion reality of in-the-moment decisions as I inched ever closer to the uniforms with the flashlights. Should I discreetly slide the flask under my leg? Am I capable of discretion? Is the pipe fine where it is in my eyeglass case? Where is the gum? How do my eyes look? Should I practice saying a sentence? Is it possible someone up there will be able to see inside my head and know immediately that I’d been, as my Grandfather used to say, “sniffin the bar rag”?

I did have a few things going for me. As a young man I’d learned to be profusely courteous when interacting with heavily armed members of law enforcement on occasions when one of them was attempting to sell me cocaine.

I also knew that the only acceptable answer to “Have you been drinking this evening?” was not “Wow let me think…I had a glass of Merlot with dinner around eight…oh…and I split a Crowler of seven point five percent Doppelbock watchin the Sixers…which was a one o’clock tip…and to me it had hints of chocolate and lightly toasted walnut bread.” but a “No Sir!” uttered with the matter of fact yet slightly taken aback conviction only the polished liar can feign.

Yet above all, what was going for me was my Caucasian skin. Because if I could simply maintain like Hunter Thompson at a front desk in Vegas there was a statistical certainty I would not be murdered. I wasn’t.

You don’t need to be Ta-Nehisi Coates to know that the difference in how whites and blacks comprehend the police is the difference between reading a Kafka novel and being forced to live in one. Or that America’s African Americans (like Palestine’s Palestinians) are people whose daily lived experience has minimal effect on how our lawmakers define impartiality.

Black people are killed for driving, walking, running, sleeping, standing, shoplifting, selling cigarettes, smoking weed, staring, moving, motioning, reaching, arguing, not submitting fast enough, playing in parks, being in their homes, being in their beds, and being in jail. Pelosi, Schumer, Clyburn and Hoyer draping themselves in Kente cloth and being helped to and from their knees notwithstanding.

If someone is breaking into your house you are not going to call Noam Chomsky and yoga breathe til he fully explains the mass social inequality underlying the patio door being crowbarred. But for Biden and the Democrats to tout funding the police with “resources and training” while Trump and the Republicans equate police killing black people with missing a 3-foot putt is to reach for a level of irony which could only be surpassed by Grover Norquist drowning in his bathtub.

Ideally, police are envisioned as violence interruptors patrolling hot spots. Also ideally, 1930s Myrna Loy will show up at my door asking to be held. The reality is that many who join the police crave the clarity of having control and view themselves as beneficent game wardens in charge of the herd.

The average big city police department is larded with armored vehicles, assault weapons, grenade launchers, and anything else the Pentagon can offload to maintain Raytheon’s profit margin. New recruits are often commercially trained to kill without hesitation or remorse.  A lot of cops are ex-military. Growing numbers appear to be ex-nonfascist. All have limited immunity, nonexistent accountability, and a proficiency for misplacing body cam footage.

This seems another issue where the empirical is too horrific for any politician to acknowledge, let alone address. Though I do expect Democrats to appear to propose their favorite approach. Namely, the means-tested-time-limited-phase-in. I can see the DCCC press release now:


Beginning in fiscal year 2027 all incidents involving the chokehold death of African American children under twelve in parks for staring will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. {CODICIL 1A: inapplicable in instances where park is not publicly maintained or stare indicative of glower causing officer to feel threatened CODICIL 2B: in said instances murders for sleeping will be prorated to no more than nine (9) for the first quarter of 2028 CODICIL 3C: unless sleep of 50+% of fatalities was cannabis related in which instances murdered considered deservedly dead}.

Just as with Lennon, I often wish Fred Hampton was alive to articulate the case for racial justice. Until I realize the police would execute him again, Trump would bathe in his blood, Back The Blue yard signs would bloom through suburbia, and Biden would formally criminalize poverty to show he’s not soft on crime.

Jerry Long is a writer, actor, podcaster and political satirist who, with his brother Joe, has worked with Adam McKay on numerous projects. He can also be reached at