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occupational profiling
is this because i'm an irish guy in a police uniform?
by erik lars myers (@TopFermented)
pop culture

When Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested at his Cambridge home this week I was struck by something. Clearly, most of the media attention focused on the possible racial profiling involved in the case. Did this ludicrous situation arise just because Gates is a black man? I found myself poring over the police report thinking to myself: I can't even trust this report. This could totally be a cop who knows he's going to be in trouble trying to cover his tracks. Slimy bastard.

Later, upon reflection, it occurred to me that I was making my decision on this guy based solely on the fact that he was a cop.

Confession time: I don't trust police officers. Aside from a few traffic violations, I have never really had a run-in with the police. My entire childhood police experience revolved around the fact that my Troop leader or Vice Troop leader or some other weirdo Boy Scout position was a policeman. I thought he was a prick, but hey - I was a teenager and he was an authority figure. Was there anybody I didn't think was a prick? Probably not. He was probably a great family man that really liked helping out in the community. Whatever - prick in my world.

I can't think of a time in my life when I've had a cop be friendly to me and actually help me while on the job. When I was new in Boston I asked a cop for directions once. I got, "Beat it, kid."

When my house was broken into, I had cops in my apartment for 20 minutes while they told me they probably wouldn't be able to help me, then took a bunch of my possessions to fingerprint. I never got them, or any of my other stuff, back.

When there's a cop around, I'm nervous. I always feel like they're going to try to get me for something, like buying a cup of coffee wrong, or walking down the wrong part of the sidewalk. I'm sure they can invent some way of inconveniencing me. In fact, I'm sure they're trying.

It just doesn't make sense. Why do people become police officers? Presumably because they like helping people, right? And, of course, carrying concealed firearms, lording their power over others, and eating donuts, and.. no!

When did we get from the 1950's "Sure, son! I'm happy to tell you how to get down to the soda fountain! Take your first left after the Burger Boy and it's on your right! Tell Maude I sent you, and she'll give you double chocolate!" smiling helpful ideal of a police officer to the 2009 "Oh that guy is totally a small minded power hungry thug" police officer? Do we blame Lethal Weapon? Or maybe Car 54, Where Are You?

I know the stereotype is not true. I know there are nice police officers out there. But upon first reaction, I will always assume that the cop is going to be a prick.

It makes me wonder a little: Was the officer guilty of racial profiling against Gates? Maybe. At the same time, was Gates guilty of occupational profiling against the policeman? Would I assume that an Irish cop in Boston would give a black guy a hard time? Absolutely. Not a stretch at all. Nobody seems surprised. But is that just as much profiling as the Irish cop giving the black guy a hard time? You betcha.


Writer, beer drinker, brewer. Not necessarily in the order. For more, check Top Fermented and Mystery Brewing Company.

more about erik lars myers


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topic: pop culture
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topic: pop culture
published: 8.15.08


margot lester
7.23.09 @ 8:34a

excellent point of view, erik. and nice writing, too.

dirk cotton
7.23.09 @ 9:38a

Sophomore year in college I had long hair and drove a muscle car. I pulled into a toll booth and noticed a state trooper in the next lane. When I pulled out, he pulled in behind me. It was a very hot day and my tires barely "chirped" when I shifted into second. The speed limit was 70, but with a cop behind me, I made sure I was doing 60. A minute later, he pulled me over for speeding, an obvious lie that he reveled in. When he returned to my car with a ticket, it was for reckless driving. He threw it at me and told me I was speeding and had left the toll booth squealing my tires. I haven't trusted a cop since. I never will, even though I've been personal friends with a few.

I'm reading "The Tipping Point" this week and it describes a psych experiment done at a major university where random people were selected to be "guards" or "prisoners" for two weeks in a mock prison. After four or five days, the "guards" became so ruthless that the experiment had to be shut down. Apparently, some professions and their environments tend to bring out the very worst in people.

Like David Crosby said in "Almost Cut My Hair", it increases my paranoia like looking in the mirror and seeing a police car.

dirk cotton
7.24.09 @ 10:13a

Said muscle car

And, nice, thoughtful piece, Erik.


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