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How Many Times Have You Been Arrested For Smarting Off To A Cop?

sandra bland smarting off to a cop
Jason Dias
Written by Jason Dias

When was the last time you were arrested for smarting off to a cop? Never? Thought so. Here’s psychologist Jason Dias on what went wrong for Sandra Bland.

aNewDomain — As usual, a black person is arrested unnecessarily, experiences unnecessary violence by uniformed police officers and then dies in jail under mysterious circumstances. Our first impulse? Blame the victim.

Sandra Bland is the victim here.

She isn’t dead because she had a bad attitude with a cop. How many white people do you think come off with attitude about getting pulled over? Every day, how many? Ballpark it for me. Go ahead. And don’t you say zero. I know white people. 

Don’t even try it.

Sandra Bland was smart. Uppity, even, if that’s the kind of language you like. A little verbally hostile. But cops deal with verbally hostile people all the time, every day. Go ahead and watch an episode of Alaska State Troopers and you’ll see officers behaving very professionally towards some pretty off characters.

Whatever.

Here’s the trip: Let’s quit blaming the victims.

I worked in developmental disabilities for 20 years. So I tend to think of it through that prism.

Let’s say while I was working in that field, a client comes onto me, a mentally handicapped person over whom I work in a position of trust. She wants to sex me up. I go for it, maybe after some soul-searching. And I get arrested.

I deserve it.

Whose fault is it, after all?

Drop the disability. Let’s say it’s a 15-year-old girl. She’s mature, she knows what she wants. She hits on the teacher. The teacher goes for it. He may soul-search, sure. Then he makes a decision. 

Now he’s going to jail. And he belongs there.

No, that isn’t irrelevant. The job of the professional, the one with power and authority and privilege, to be the responsible party. It’s the professional’s job in every given situation to act professional. 

Sandra Bland could have sat in her car smoking her cigarette, blowing smoke in the cop’s face, calling him every racist name under the sun. The officer still has exactly zero justification for telling her to get out of the car.

And less than zero justification for pointing a weapon at Sandra Bland.

That’s because he’s the responsible person. He’s the one who is the trained professional, whose job is about bringing down tense situations, making things safer rather than more dangerous. 

The guy takes verbal abuse all day long because he’s a cop. That isn’t right, but you know what? It’s his job to handle it professionally rather than angrily or through recourse to power.

When a car hits a motorcycle or a bike or a pedestrian, that victim is getting hurt. The driver of the car is unlikely to be injured and the unprotected, lightweight participant in the accident is likely to be hurt very badly.

When you drive in Colorado in the summer, you look twice before you change lanes. You slow down at intersections, you watch for pedestrians. Of course pedestrians need to watch for cars, too. But sometimes they won’t and, as the driver, you have to be responsible.

Remember the motto of Spiderman?  With great power comes great responsibility?

You’ve got 3,000 pounds of steel around you if you’re in a car.

Kids hit you, you don’t hit them back. 

When you’re a teacher, you teach a class and the students get out of hand? You can’t curse at them or hit them. You have to de-escalate the situation. Teach.

And if you’re a cop, and someone insults you or isn’t totally cooperative or fails to obey your illegal orders, your job is to slow it down.

Slow it down. 

Empathize, understand.

Don’t take it personally.

Respect the rights of the individual.

And do not. Ever. Start an individual, person-to-person power struggle.

So, one more time: You’re blaming the victim. Stop it.

For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.

About the author

Jason Dias

Jason Dias

Jason Dias, PsyD is an existential psychotherapist who breathes words. He's a senior columnist at aNewDomain.

  • Bob Reed

    First it is clear the
    officer was way out of line. Stopping Sandra Bland for failure to signal a lane
    change….get real. And to make an arrest in this situation was ridiculous. Having said
    that I covered the police for eight years and I have seen variations of this
    verbal exchange go down many times. Given the same set of circumstances whether
    you were white, black, or any color in between you would have been arrested. I
    know because I’m white and in one instance my car was towed and in another I
    was arrested. A good friend who was a police officer later sat me down
    explained how the real world works.

    When a
    police officer thinks he or she should not be challenged or questioned, or if
    there is perceived or actual challenges to their authority, including a lack of
    deference, or if you express interest in filing a complaint against the officer
    then most officers will consider this “contempt of cop”. “Contempt of
    cop” is not illegal…but you will not be charged with this. You will be
    cited for either: (1) disorderly conduct, (2) resisting arrest, (3) obstructing
    a police officer or (4) failure to obey a police order. State statutes are
    designed to help police officers maintain authority, and they are so broadly
    worded that divining what constitutes disorderly conduct is left up to the
    discretion of individual officers.

    Competent
    officers only use the
    “contempt of cop” technique as a last resort. In some cases I’ve seen
    it is warranted and in some it is necessary…it’s the only way to get
    dangerous felons or career criminals off the street. But be pre-warned… the
    majority of officers are not like the Alaska cop who’s biggest problem is the
    occasional stray moose. They are wound very tight….it comes with the
    territory. To expect them to empathize,
    understand, slow it down, not
    take it personally….well that’s totally absurd….they will and do take all insults…real or perceived…. very personally. I would
    urge anyone who is ever stopped for any reason to be very polite, very
    courteous and say as little as possible. If the officer abuses his authority
    then file a complaint or fight in court where your chances of winning are much better.