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A long time ago, when I was younger and dumber, I did a police ride-along with a high school classmate who had gone on to become a cop.

It was one of the most chilling and radicalizing nights of my life. (Thread)
Two memories stand out to me. The first is how my classmate spent most of the night: rolling around suburban Maryland in a patrol car, punching license plate numbers into a database, looking for excuses to pull people over.
My classmate was so bored that he’d punch pretty much anyone’s plate into the database. But he devoted special attention to beat-up cars or drivers who looked “out of place” — which typically meant black or brown drivers in predominantly white neighborhoods.
Fortunately, few of those searches resulted in traffic stops. I seem to recall my classmate pulling over a guy for a broken tail light. But, for the most part, he spent the night driving around aimlessly.
To punctuate his boredom, my classmate would respond to other cops’ traffic stops. When he heard another cop had pulled someone over, he’d turn on his lights and tear off into the night.
Most of the time he’d arrive at the scene of the stop long after the incident had passed. One time, though, the traffic stop was still ongoing.
In this instance, a colleague of his had pulled over a car for some trivial reason — a broken tail light or expired registration — and then discovered that the driver was, as I recall, an ex-convict driving with an expired license.
The guy (who was white) had gotten out of prison earlier in the week and hadn’t had a chance to renew his license. When he got pulled over, he was driving around with his wife and young kids.
Not content to leave this poor guy with a warning, the officer who initiated the traffic stop asked him to step out of his car for a conversation. As they were talking, more and more bored cops rolled up, including my classmate.
Not surprising, the situation kept getting more intense. The guy who had been pulled over looked increasingly stressed as more cops materialized. And the cops responded to his stress with heightened levels of aggression.
Eventually the scene came to a boil. I don’t know exactly what happened. I seem to recall the guy taking a swing at a cop or raising his voice. Regardless, he wound up face down on the curb, his hands cuffed behind his back.
His family looked on screaming and crying as the cops hauled him away. It had been a short family reunion.
As we drove away, my classmate told me that, because this guy had violated his parole, he would likely do a multi-year stint in prison.
And that was night: a full shift devoted to manufacturing crime — desperately searching for reasons to pull people over and then harassing people until they snapped.
My classmate wasn’t an exception to his department’s rule. He wasn’t a “bad apple.” As he told it, he was doing exactly what his department expected him to do. He saw himself — in fact had been trained to see himself — as a dog protecting sheep from wolves.
But from inside his car, the sheep receded from view, and all the flesh-and-blood people in his community — and especially the people of color — took on a decidedly wolf-like aspect. He clearly viewed them as enemies and interacted with them as such.
In short, nothing he did made anyone safer. He didn’t protect or defend a damn thing, except white supremacy and class domination. His entire shift had been devoted to profiling, harassing, and intimidating people.
Looking back on it, I feel like shit about that night — I wish I had said something or objected to his behavior. Though, at the time, I had neither the perspective, the words, nor the courage to do so.
But, objectively, I know that nothing I could have said would have made a difference. Even if I had convinced him to quit, someone else would have done his job exactly as he had. The problem wasn’t my classmate. It was the whole rotten system designed to terrorize people.
What I learned that night is that behind every Derek Chauvin or Darren Wilson — behind every dramatic eruption of violence — is a whole universe of pervasive, mundane, and wanton cruelty.
The cruelty isn’t an accident; it’s the point.
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