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l.a. law
down and out with the boys in blue
by jason gilmore (@JasonGilmore77)

1. Being a police officer is not easy. More often than on most jobs, the worst of humanity rears its ugly head and a slight lapse in judgment could be the difference between life and death. I have always believed that the police should be like the military -- shorter terms of service, more frequent re-assignments to different regions of the city, more emphasis on maintaining physical fitness -- as the stress of such a job can easily drive someone insane. And that's not a good place to be when your job requires you to carry a gun and a nightstick.

2. My fear/distrust of the police started long before I had a reason to have it. I inherited my father's distrust -- all black men's distrust -- from countless, first-hand stories from friends and family to lyrics of rappers I idolized and identified with. Still, the first time I was pulled over by a policeman, I was dead wrong (going 55 in a 35). Though I was 16 and driving through Ottawa Hills (a posh, proudly Caucasian section of Toledo), the kindly officer let me off with a warning.

3. I don't know what's the worst story I have about getting pulled over by the cops in Los Angeles. Fortunately, none of them have ended with my being shot or beaten, but most of them left me feeling so disrespected and angry, escaping alive and unbrutalized was barely consolation. The West LA incident was bizarre -- I was pulled over for driving 42 in a 40 at 10 p.m. on a vacant intersection -- not just because I wasn't speeding but because my mom was in town and riding shotgun. The policeman was looking for something ("I'll tell you what you did when you show me your license") but between my clean record and my mom giving him the bulldog stare, he had to leave me be. (He told me my brake lights were out, which was false. Again, no ticket was issued.) It was of little consequence to him, because another black man drove past him just as he climbed back into his patrol car. The officer's siren flashed as fast as he could flip the switch, and he was off in hot pursuit. Eventually, he'd find a black man who'd actually done something. It was just a numbers game.

4. This isn't just about race. Which is good, because in this post-Obama world, I've been told racism no longer exists, despite the fact that the media's (and the GOP's, and those idiots who post on Yahoo News's) treatment of Obama destroys that theory single handedly. The last time I was pulled over, in September, was not about race, it was about greed. On my regular commute to work, headed through Culver City (more on the illustrious Culver City PD later), I was pulled over, with 12 other cars, for allegedly running past a parked school bus whose red lights were flashing. That's right. 13 cars. On a main, three-lane street. At 6:45 in the morning. We all decided to plow past a school bus with red lights flashing. Doesn't even sound right, does it? The officers were posted in front of us -- like a sting operation -- and herded us into a nearby parking lot. As the officers went from one car to the next, explaining why we were being pulled over (because we didn't know) I looked around at the dumbfounded "criminals": Arab cab driver. Caucasian housewife. Black film director. A bunch of people headed to work. I went to court and fought it. The Jewish cop said I was lying. The Asian judge agreed. The latter never told me why I was lying, just that I apparently was. So this wasn't about race. It was about our state trying to get money back. We weren't the first. My ticket was almost $700. Times the other 12 drivers. Not a bad way to make a living.

5. The time I almost got my car impounded also happened in Culver City. It was back in 2002, and admittedly, my tags were expired by a month. When the sirens started, I knew what was up and I was ready to take my fix it ticket and be on my merry way. They took my license and disappeared for several minutes. Then:

"Mr. Gilmore, could you please step out of the car?"

(heart racing) "Absolutely."

"Your license is invalid."

"What? No it isn't."

"Are you from Ohio?"

"Yes." (I still had my Ohio license.)

"We ran this to the DMV in Ohio and they said they have no such license on file."

"That's strange because that's where I got it from."

"Do you mind if we search the car? Are you carrying any drugs?"

Long story short, they had a hard time sticking with the whole "Your license is invalid" shtick when I had insurance, my car title, my California ID, and again, a spotless driving record. Kind of hard to get all that with a fake driver's license. In the end, after concluding that maybe I wasn't a drug smuggler, they gave me the fix it ticket I was supposed to get a half hour before and had the nerve to do an impromptu Q & A with me about the screenplays lying on my backseat. ("That's awesome. My cousin writes too.") What was craziest is that the officers were Latino and Black. It was so Boyz N the Hood (6:12 mark). So again, this is not totally about race, it's also about a job where things have become so comfortable or traumatic that it becomes hard to distinguish when, to paraphrase Freud, a cigar is just a cigar.

6. There are others. But you get the point. It's not so much about what happened in the past as much as wondering where I go from here. When the people who are supposed to be protected feel like the protectors are the bullies, the system is broken. When the people who are supposed to be protectors struggle to make ends meet, face mental health providers ill-equipped to deal with their reality, and find their job constantly hindered by state bureaucracy, the system is broken. I have a child on the way. I don't want to pass on my fear of the police to her. But I don't see how I won't. Even now, I tense when I see them following me down the street, checking my plates, praying to hit the jackpot. I tense when they're not following me because I know they very well could be, at any second. Maybe I'm paranoid. I'm trying not to be.

7. But I need their help.


Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.

more about jason gilmore


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tracey kelley
6.14.10 @ 6:22a

Care to submit this as an editorial to the newspaper? Because you should.

tracey kelley
6.14.10 @ 6:23a

Also, we're renting "Boomtown" right now from 'Flix and really enjoy it.

russ carr
6.14.10 @ 5:00p

I think nearly everyone has that love/hate relationship with law enforcement. But it's a mighty thin line, and I'd say it sounds like it's shifted dramatically to one side based on how much we hear that's damning about the LAPD. Let's face it: there's a reason they make movies like "Training Day" and they're NOT set in Mason City, Iowa.

Everybody's all hot about Arizona, but from everything I've heard, LA's been doing the same thing for years -- no law required.

lucy lediaev
6.14.10 @ 6:42p

There's real irony when we fear the people we need most when we're in trouble. As a native Angeleno, my first response is "Ouch," and then a feeling of profound embarrassment. So sad that we've not fixed these problems by now. My own brother, an LAPD sergeant, who retired early on disability adoped views from his brothers in blue that were far from those we had been taught at home. Sadly, when his son was in his teens, I heard him spouting the same ugly things that were coming out of my brother's mouth. I've called both my brother and my nephew on their hate speech and attitudes, but the power of an immense social institution appears to have more power than the words of an older sister and aunt. The whole situation makes me sad and sorry that it is so hard to change entrenched attitudes. I wish I could tell you, Jason, that you would not have received the kind of treatment you report from my brother, but I'm not at all sure that would be the case.

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