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"A Rather Louche Garment..."
I love the word "louche" -- but it's not exactly gang lingo.

"Louche" is the word the dangerous felon/Oxford historian/Tufts University Spanish Culture and Civilization chair Felipe Fernández-Armesto used to describe the bomber jacket of the Atlanta policeman who came after him for jaywalking earlier this month while he was attending the American Historical Association conference.

Since Fernández-Armesto is a Brit, and not used to policemen dressed this way (or, for that matter, the notion of jaywalking as a criminal act), he asked the cop to show him some identification. The cop, according to Fernández-Armesto, "didn't take kindly" to this. Shortly afterward, the prof, a man Colby Cosh describes as "about as physically imposing as the Taco Bell chihuahua" found himself thrown on the ground, thrown in jail, and treated like a hardened criminal.

JailedHistorian.jpg

I couldn't help but watch the entire video interview with the self-described "mild-mannered" prof. (Part two of the video is here. Part three is here.) It does raise the question -- how often is there abuse of police power that isn't so obviously silly?

And, are these local yokels with badges that entirely oblivious to the fact that not everybody on the planet grew up in Georgia and is familiar with local law and police custom? Or is that simply something that provides them with a little added enjoyment on the job?

Power trip!

Here's what the officer had to say for himself -- and the professor's response:

On Tuesday, four days after the arrest, Officer Kevin Leonpacher told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the professor was no innocent in the affair that landed him in jail for eight hours. "I told him, it's gonna be awful silly if I have to take you to jail for jaywalking," Leonpacher told the paper. "I used an excessive amount of discretion."

Professor Fernandez-Armesto says the officer has defamed him. In a point-by-point rebuttal, he insisted firmly that he had not realized it was improper to cross the middle of the street and had watched his colleagues do so repeatedly without interference (in his native Great Britain, he noted, jaywalking is not an offense). He said it was not clear to him that the "young man" who called out to him to cross at the light was a policeman because the officer's badge and insignia were not visible. He said he is both morally and physically incapable of violence. "I am a feeble physical speciman," he said. There was a major scuffle, but he "did not offer physical resistance."

Jaywalking is a particularly ridiculous "crime," since, as an adult, shouldn't it be your decision whether you risk your neck and cross without the light?

And sorry for taking so long to put this blog item up, but it's been a mad-busy month, and the video still seemed worth airing.

via Colby Cosh

Posted by aalkon at January 29, 2007 10:24 AM

Comments

Naw. Jaywalkers who get hit by cars sue innocent drivers.

Even effete people can be dangerous. I say hang 'im high. Besides, he's not *from* our country.

Posted by: Crid at January 29, 2007 5:58 AM

People sue when McDonald's coffee is hot. Or because they type too slowly.

http://www.overlawyered.com/2007/01/slow_typist_sues_law_school.html

Or for a million other dumb reasons.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 29, 2007 6:19 AM

It's us dumb "civilians," as those very elitist boys in blue refer to us, who are in the wrong whenever we get into a confrontation with them. Wrong to be unarmed and shot in the back, just like that mentally retarded man who got shot seven times in the back by the New Orleans police. Wrong to get opened fire on with over 50 bullets, like that groom-to-be (and never-will-be) and his bachelor party in New York.

I've never personally known a cop who is a decent, morally upright human being.

Posted by: Wendy at January 29, 2007 7:16 AM

I've known a few. Maybe it's a neighborhood thing.

Posted by: Crid at January 29, 2007 7:31 AM

Wendy, your view is equally unreasonable. And how many cops do you know personally?

Here's a different view on that bachelor party shooting from Heather MacDonald:

http://www.city-journal.org/html/eon2006-12-04hm.html

A group of undercover officers working in a gun- and drug-plagued strip joint in Queens had good reason to believe that a party leaving the club was armed and about to shoot an adversary. When one of the undercovers identified himself as an officer, the car holding the party twice tried to run him down. The officer started firing while yelling to the car’s occupants: “Let me see your hands.” His colleagues, believing they were under attack, fired as well, eventually shooting off 50 rounds and killing the driver, Sean Bell. No gun was found in the car, but witnesses and video footage confirm that a fourth man in the party fled the scene once the altercation began. Bell and the other men with him all had been arrested for illegal possession of guns in the past; one of Bell’s companions that night, Joseph Guzman, had spent considerable time in prison, including for an armed robbery in which he shot at his victim.

Personally, I appreciate cops who risk their lives to protect the rest of us -- and I'm grateful to those in the armed forces as well.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 29, 2007 7:31 AM

Here's a bit more from Heather's piece:

If the city’s black advocates paid even a tiny fraction of the attention they pay to shootings by criminals as they pay to shootings by police, they could change the face of the city. If demonstrators gathered outside the jail cell of every rapist and teen stick-up thug, cameras in tow, to shame them for their attacks on law-abiding minority residents, they could deglamorize the gangsta life. Think you’ll find Sharpton or Barron patrolling with the police in dark housing project stairways, trying to protect residents from predators? Not a chance. Among the crimes committed in minority communities since last week’s police shooting of Sean Bell there has been a 26-year-old man fatally shot in the Bronx; another man hit by stray bullets; a sandwich shop in Brownsville robbed by thugs who fired a gun; and three elderly men robbed at knifepoint by a parolee in Queens. Those minority victims who survived will have to rely on the police and the courts, not the race “advocates,” for vindication.

2. “Police killings of innocent civilians—each one of them a horror—are nonetheless rare.” The instances of an officer shooting an innocent, unarmed victim are so unusual that they can be counted on one’s fingers. Last year, of the nine suspects fatally shot by the police, two had just fired at a police officer, three were getting ready to fire, two had tried to stab an officer, and two were physically attacking an officer. Far more frequent are the times when the NYPD refrains from using force though clearly authorized to do so. So far this year, officers have been fired upon four times, without returning fire. In 2005, there were five such incidents. And the NYPD apprehended 3,428 armed felons this year, 15 percent more than last year. Each arrest of a gun-toting thug involves the potential for the use of deadly force, yet is almost always carried out peacefully.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 29, 2007 7:37 AM

It's us dumb "civilians," as those very elitist boys in blue refer to us, who are in the wrong whenever we get into a confrontation with them. Wrong to be unarmed and shot in the back, just like that mentally retarded man who got shot seven times in the back by the New Orleans police. Wrong to get opened fire on with over 50 bullets, like that groom-to-be (and never-will-be) and his bachelor party in New York.

I've never personally known a cop who is a decent, morally upright human being.

Posted by: Wendy at January 29, 2007 7:39 AM

Could it be the US is gun-crazy?

Posted by: Norman at January 29, 2007 7:52 AM

Norman, don't blame things, blame people. One reason a lot of iur neighborhoods are as safe as they are is that you never know who's packin', so you have to keep your hands to yourself.

Posted by: Crid at January 29, 2007 7:58 AM

I've known several (dated one and was around his pals) and while my anecdotal, personal observations can hardly qualify as statistical data, I still don't trust law enforcement. In minor squabbles where deadly force and any kind of physical contact is not involved, I've still witnessed the police skew their accounts to serve their own purposes. Like with a DUI charge unfairly handed down upon someone I know, when he didn't even finish the one beer he had all night.

Yes, it's never incidents where police officers are quiety and anonymously doing their jobs properly that make the news. But when the shizer does hit the fan, law enforcement's public response only makes it worse: never any concession of wrongdoing or what they could have done differently; always putting up a united front; deny, deny, deny to cover their asses.

Posted by: Wendy at January 29, 2007 7:59 AM

Last year I did jury duty. It can't be made into an interesting story, but your kind of attitude is really self-destructive. I also think it's kinda naive about human nature. Are grocers and cobblers and bus drivers and doctors any less likely to gloss over their mistakes?

Maybe cops do have a sort of constabulary impulse that's from a youthful and undeveloped part of the human spirit. But our society has a tremendous number of checks on such people... Far more than any other culture. Imagine what cops are like in rural China. My brother tells stories from Moscow that would curl your hair.

I'm very glad we have these people around. When things go shitty in my neighborhood, I call the cops.

Posted by: Crid at January 29, 2007 8:16 AM

I dated a cop once too. She was a babe. She once said "I like a good fight..." We never got that far, but she did know how to tussle.

Posted by: Crid at January 29, 2007 8:33 AM

When a cobbler makes a mistake, he may ruin his customer's shoes. Now think about the magnitude and impact of a mistake a cop can possibly make: on the less serious end of the spectrum, a person's driver's license can be taken away, and can no longer qualify for financial aid, for example. But the more grave implications of a cop's oversight? The end of a life? The splintering of a family when a loved one dies? I think an infraction like a bus driver missing a stop is nothing to match this sort of consequence.

And I am a very law-abiding person, with no criminal record and just a few speeding tickets. The truly self-destructive attitude would be to not try to vigilantly protect one's own rights and freedoms.

Posted by: Wendy at January 29, 2007 8:35 AM

Crid-


The homicide rate in the US is about 10 times the figure for Canada, Switzerland, Scotland, England/Wales or Japan (www.gun-control-network.org/GF01.htm) and most homicides are by gun. I googled for evidence of a correlation between gun ownership and homicide, but to my surprise, it wasn't blazingly obvious. For example a 1993 study by Martin Killias (no link, to avoid Amy's link police) found a weak correlation; but weak correlations don't impress me much. You get weak correlations from random data. So I've had to eat my words even before posting them.


Wendy-


never any concession of wrongdoing or what they could have done differently; always putting up a united front; deny, deny, deny to cover their asses


That description often fits the UK police too. But that's more of an institutional fault than an individual fault.

Posted by: Norman at January 29, 2007 8:39 AM

Norman, if you wanna call us senseless and violent culture, you'll be right. But I'll still say the United States is the best expression of ambition and fairness. The problems we have are human nature problems.

Posted by: Crid at January 29, 2007 8:54 AM


I dated a cop once too. She was a babe. She once said "I like a good fight..." We never got that far, but she did know how to tussle.

That's kinda hot, Crid.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 29, 2007 9:16 AM

It would be even hotter if it were truer. But she had a thing for a married guy. Tall redheads are trouble.

Wendy, what do you want to have happen? I think you're right about individual responsibility, which is why the NRA has so many members. But do you want there not to be cops?

Posted by: Crid at January 29, 2007 9:26 AM

I grew up in the South, and have had a few encounters with the police there. For the most part, they're OK (kinda what you'd expect, really), but they get riled up pretty quickly if they're questioned at all about what they're doing. E.g., one time, I was strongly encouraged to permit a search of my vehicle, and threatened with arrest when I tried to deny consent. They really just want you to do it their way. Haven't had the same experience on the West coast, but perhaps that's because I'm older and look more respectable these days. Regardless, I think cops generally reflect the society around them. So there will be cool cops and assholes, lenient sorts and officious dickheads; I can't imagine there's a reason why anyone would expect different.

Posted by: justin case at January 29, 2007 10:10 AM

Norman,

I agree with your remark, "But that's more of an institutional fault than an individual fault." And institutional reform starts with individuals with the influence and power to affect that reform, right?

Crid,

Nowhere do I call for an abolishment of law enforcement. What I would like is more conscientious, morally sound people recruited to become police officers. I'd like them to be more accountabile. I'd like a change in the attitude that the public can be intimidated into compliance, as justin case described. I'd like oversight and checks on their power, and for them to understand that they cannot do whatever they want with absolute impunity.

Posted by: Wendy at January 29, 2007 12:11 PM

The law will start attracting better enforcers when the law itself quits being such an ass.

Here in my state, we keep our boys in blue busy writing traffic tickets for victimless crimes like seatbelt violations and tinted windows. Decent people can be keen on the idea of serving and protecting, but most of them don't want to be friggin' fundraisers for the government.

The drug war is probably the biggest, nastiest wrench thrown into things. Cops have to go out and arrest people who aren't hurting anyone else, usually not even themselves, and the whole mess just makes the drug trade more profitable for the really bad guys involved. I'd never want to be a cop and have to bust some poor bastard for weed, or for having one or two beers and blowing just past the .08 limit. If I became a cop it would just be so I could let those folks off the hook, and then I guess I'd end up in trouble.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at January 29, 2007 1:07 PM

Oh, I agree with both Crid and Wendy.

Practically speaking, I'll gratefully call a cop if things look sticky, I'm more relieved than not to see one (now that I'm over 21) and I understand the qualities that make them effective (and bloody brave) are not always socially desirable.

Having said that, my tearaway sister once dated one of these beasts (he was hot) and - charming though he was - every opinion he offered was "off". He had an inflexibly self-serving, almost amoral cop's take on every single subject under the sun, which was scary.

And as a one time traffic court reporter when I started in journalism, I regularly saw magistrates (British lower court judges) wince at some of the more fanciful "evidence" offered by cops - but never actually challenge it. The lower courts essentially belonged to the police. That was a bit scary, too.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at January 29, 2007 1:31 PM

Amy, the McDonald's coffee case was a legitimate claim.

See here for a well-rounded account of all the facts (including the woman's 7 day hospital stay) - http://www.vanfirm.com/mcdonalds-coffee-lawsuit.htm

Also important to note that her much-ballyhooed 2.7 million dollar verdict was reduced by the trial judge and eventually settled for significantly less. At the end of the day, a woman got burned and she received a reasonably modest six-figure settlement. This case is hardly the banner for tort reform its been made out to be.

Posted by: snakeman99 at January 29, 2007 2:07 PM

New terms:

1. Tearaway sister.

2. Modest six-figure settlement.

Posted by: Crid at January 29, 2007 3:19 PM

>The lower courts essentially belonged to the police.


As one who spent a night in the Kentish Town nick, after getting a little squiffy in the Brecknock Arms and barking at a police dog, I can attest that magistrate's court proceedings are a total farce.

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at January 29, 2007 5:05 PM

It's all relative, Crid.

Posted by: snakeman99 at January 29, 2007 6:03 PM

3. Squiffy.

Posted by: Crid at January 29, 2007 6:28 PM

Hey, folks, I've been there in Atlanta three times over Labor Day weekends for Dragoncon sci-fi/fantasy conventions. The cops are OBVIOUSLY cops, as they have the words "ATLANTA POLICE" on their jackets!

I understand the need to bark about police, because there are truly venomous departments and individuals and you truly feel powerless and anonymous day after day - but this guy is not a victim of anything except the delusion of (possibly minor) godhood.

By the way, folks: Americans own more than half of the guns in private hands worldwide (thanks to Mr. Clinton, and professional liar Sarah Brady, who caused a run on them), and over 250 THOUSAND are privately-owned machine guns (Shop http://www.gunsamerica.com/ ). If you want to cry about something, go somewhere else, because the solution to gun crime is not to take them from your law-abiding neighbors.

Short story: there are bad cops. This educated nitwit didn't meet one at all.

Posted by: Radwaste at January 29, 2007 7:35 PM

Amy, maybe you'd feel differently about "allowing" someone to suit themselves regarding their decision to jaywalk, if you had to see the bloody aftermath of a pedestrian vs. vehicle accident... especially if you were the driver who hit the idiot who decided to jaywalk. It'd ruin your life to kill someone that way.

By the way, I don't believe that its legal to jaywalk anywhere & everywhere in Britain... I think that smarty pants guy lied (or at least stretched the truth on that detail...)

Posted by: Susan at January 29, 2007 8:03 PM

"By the way, I don't believe that its legal to jaywalk anywhere & everywhere in Britain... I think that smarty pants guy lied..."

Sorry, Susan,
You are mistaken.

No such laws on the books in the UK, the guy was perfectly correct. Most Brits who come to live here - as I did - find the US regulations an alarming novelty.

(Just google "jaywalking laws UK" for everything you ever wanted to know on the subject - but were afraid to ask!)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at January 29, 2007 8:58 PM

The US [...] has a crime rate 60 per cent lower than that of England and Wales.-- a letter in today's Times. More food for thought.

Posted by: Norman at January 29, 2007 11:41 PM

snakeman99 the woman spilled coffe on herself she shouldnt have got anything, had the drive thru drone spilled it on her that would be one thing, but she spilled it on herself by, while driving, taking off the lid, pleeling open sugar and cream packets, and trying to pour mix and drink, again, while driving she could have pulled into the parking lot instead of onto the road.

And susan, as someone how drives alot and nearly hit a fair number of drunks wandering the middle of the road at night, nearly fliped my truck once swerving, I got to say that I would not feel bad about hitting them - or some idiot jaywalker

This mans treatment was totally off the wall - even though it is illegal in most states I cant think of a single person I have ever heard of being ticketed for this offence until today

Posted by: lujlp at January 30, 2007 2:19 AM

Amy, maybe you'd feel differently about "allowing" someone to suit themselves regarding their decision to jaywalk, if you had to see the bloody aftermath of a pedestrian vs. vehicle accident... especially if you were the driver who hit the idiot who decided to jaywalk. It'd ruin your life to kill someone that way.

Yes, it would - which is why I'm always on the lookout for idiot drivers and pedestrians. Does the UK really have a huge number of pedestrian deaths compared to the USA with their lack of laws against jaywalking? I'm on deadline, and it's 4:45 am and I'd better get cracking, so I can't look it up right now. (And Norman, the system allows one link per post.)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 30, 2007 4:45 AM

one link per post ... I wan't sure if it would pick up the URL earlier in the piece. It didn't so I guess we can have any number of links provided we miss out the leading http://. Unlike that.

Posted by: Norman at January 30, 2007 6:25 AM

Norman, it works fine if you just paste in the whole link:

http://www.advicegoddess.com/archives/2007/01/a_rather_louche_1.html

Or without the first part:

advicegoddess.com/archives/2007/01/a_rather_louche_1.html

Which, when somebody pastes it into their browser, will work fine.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 30, 2007 6:42 AM

The jury saw it differently, luljp.

And as pure anecotdal evidence (and to reveal why I find this case so interesting) - a few months ago, I had a similar experience. Ordered coffee from drive-through window. Went to take a sip, but the "Drive Through Drone," as you put it, did not secure the lid properly. Coffee spilled. It was quite hot and not comfortable. However, because I am a 32 year old man and not an elderly woman, I reacted quickly and avoided any burns or scalds. I also strongly suspect that I benefited from a revised McDonald's heating policy that resulted from this famous case. Bottom line - I was unhurt (no settlement for me, Crid - modest, six figure, or otherwise), but it was very easy to see how an elderly woman could have ended up with serious burns. (Looking back, though, I should have had the Arches pay for my dry-cleaning!)

As for the bulk of this thread - why is everyone so surprised that there are different levels of thoughtfulness and honesty among cops? They're lowly human beings, just like the rest of us.

Posted by: snakeman99 at January 30, 2007 8:24 AM

Say - about jaywalkers in Britain: do you think drivers there are as indolent as ours? I KNOW their motorcycle riders' requirements are much more stringent.

Posted by: Radwaste at January 30, 2007 3:00 PM

The problem with the officers' version of the story, Amy, is that it was not coroborrated by the witnesses or by the facts. The officers not only neglected to mention they were police officers before they began shooting, the men they shot were stopped and unarmed. The car grazed a police van, and hit the unmarked police car when it tried to move away from that. They did not, even according to the officers' stories, try to deliberately run anyone down. Most of the witnesses report being harassed by police and questioned outside of the DA's own investigation.

The police also followed up this travesty by raiding the homes of anyone they thought knew the victims on various pretexts, threatened people, and otherwise made it clear that it wasn't justice they were after. (They even arrested the son of the preacher who conducted the funeral, using a $25 fine as pretext for an arrest!)

There are a lot of good cops out there, but there are also a lot of very bad ones. The trouble with any job that give people authority over others is that it's going to attract people who want the authority and lack the ethics or responsibilty that goes with that authority. Unfortunately, it's the latter minority who end up making headlines when their stupidy manifests itself.

Posted by: Jennifer at January 31, 2007 7:48 AM

here's the problem I see with the Atlanta Jaywalking story. I have read elsewhere that the Hotel on the origin side of the street actually hired the cop to get a handle on this jaywalking problem. A problem created by their guests.
So they hired the police to do customer service.

Policemen and the attitudes they (rightly) bring to their jobs are poorly suited to customer service.

"Police describe the street as one of downtown's most dangerous for pedestrians"

If that's so, I favor a physical solution rather than random and, in this case, heavy handed enforcement. Move the exit of the lobby to the corner of the block. A hedge or a low fence to add resistance to the path of least resistance.

Here's the link: http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/atlanta/2007/01/09/0110metwalk.html?imw=Y

Posted by: smurfy at January 31, 2007 4:44 PM

"The law will start attracting better enforcers when the law itself quits being such an ass."

Now, why would you want to overturn the wishes of your own neighbors? They want these laws, and promise to vote for the person who gets them passed!

Posted by: Radwaste at February 2, 2007 2:39 AM

The homicide rate in the US is about 10 times the figure for Canada, Switzerland, Scotland, England/Wales or Japan

Switzerland is awash with guns. I go there several times a year and do not know a single Swiss person who does not own a gun, not one, male or female, which I cannot say about people I know in the USA. Clearly there is a serious problem in sections of US society, it is not simply the availability of guns.

Moreover, I cannot imagine a Swiss cop doing that. I know a couple US cops who are very decent people indeed but there is no doubt that there are aspects to US police culture come as quite a shock to folks from most other First World countries.

As an aside, overall rates for violent crime are FAR higher in the UK than the USA. My theory is the lack of guns makes it considerably more likely that people will act violently towards strangers, it is just more likely to be a non-fatal broken bottle in the face rather than a gun shot to the chest. I am not sure that is really much of an improvement.

Certainly I am *far* more on my guard in just about any British town centre at pub closing time than any American inner city. Hell, I spent some time in Camden New Jersey, which really is a dismal shit hole (and I've seen a few of those), and I felt less threatened than in just about any crappy English 'New Town' on a Friday night.

Posted by: Perry de Havilland at February 3, 2007 2:48 PM

A similar argument is used against legalizing drugs, when, in my experience, people aren't deterred in the least from drug use by the illegality. The reality? I'm not a meth user because I like my teeth, not because meth is illegal.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 3, 2007 5:19 PM

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