Thursday, September 18, 2014

When The Cops Ask For Your ID

There's been a huge buzz in the news lately about Daniele Watts, an actress who claims the police were called on her because she was showing affection to her boyfriend in public. Miss Watts is black, her boyfriend Brian Lucas is white, and they are both celebrities. Well, sort of. He's not noteworthy enough to have a page at Wikipedia. She did get a Wiki page after the police incident but at the time of this writing, the page is being considered for deletion because Miss Watts is not noteworthy as an actress. Miss Watts has appeared in a few things, like many many other young actors, including the acclaimed movie Django Unchained, where out of almost 80 actors, she is perhaps the 60th listed. Briefly, on September 11, 2014, Miss Watts claimed that she was showing affection to her boyfriend outside an office building. The police were called on a complaint of a couple engaged in a lewd act. When they arrived, both Miss Watts and Mr Lucas were fully clothed and not doing anything. The police asked to see the couple's identification. Mr Lucas complied, Miss Watts refused.

It gets complicated real fast from that point. According to Miss Watts, she refused because she loves America, she wasn't doing anything wrong, and she had the right to refuse to identify herself to the police. She called her father, asked the police to talk to her father, and then tried to walk away. The police officer, Sergeant Jim Parker, a 25 year veteran of the LAPD, called for a female officer to bring Miss Watts back to the scene. Miss Watts resisted the other officers and was handcuffed and brought back. At this point three police officers are involved-Parker, who is gay, a female police officer, and a Hispanic police officer. In other words, three minorities. Miss Watts insisted the police were harrassing her because she was black. Sergeant Parker pointed out that she was the one who brought up race. Miss Watts asked if the officers knew who she was and said that she was an actress and had a publicist. Sergeant Parker had already obtained identification from Brian Lucas, who was not handcuffed, but despite his repeated requests for identification, Miss Watts refused to comply. She burst into tears, and finally Mr Lucas either gave her ID to the officers or he persuaded her to show her ID. A quick background check was run, the handcuffs were removed, and everybody was on their way.

It gets even more complicated. Mr Lucas claimed the police thought Miss Watts was a prostitute, despite the fact that not one of the officers made that accusation. He backed up Miss Watts' story that they were not doing anything. Then TMZ posted some pictures of Miss Watts straddling Mr Lucas while he sat in the front seat of his car with his feet on the curb. They also released an eyewitness account that claimed Miss Watts was grinding on Mr Lucas, that her shirt was up and her breasts were exposed, he was playing with her breasts, and she cleaned him and then herself with some tissues, which she then threw on the curb. Miss Watts responded by saying they were doing yoga, and Mr Lucas again backed her up, going so far as to pose for a picture which she posted on her Facebook page, where she's kneeling on his lap while his legs were crossed. Doesn't look like yoga, and I don't think anyone is going to believe that yoga is practiced on the front seat of a car with one person playing with another person's breasts, but that's the story and they're sticking to it.

So what are we, the American people, to make of all this? It helps to know the law. The ACLU recommends cooperating with the police, even if you feel your rights are being violated, and filing a complaint later. Some states have stop-and-identify statutes but California is not one of them. According to the LAPD, a police officer with a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed has the right to detain a person and identify them in the course of an investigation. In this particular case, a complaint was called in about a couple having sex in a car with the door open. They were described as a black woman in floral shorts and a white man in a black shirt and the car was described as a silver Mercedes. Miss Watts and Mr Lucas fit that description, so Sergeant Parker had both the right and the duty to detain them while he assessed the situation and completed an investigation of the complaint. And Miss Watts was not handcuffed for refusing to show her ID. She was handcuffed by two other officers after she walked away from Sergeant Parker while he was detaining her. Did Miss Watts have the right to refuse to show her ID? Absolutely. She also had the right to be belligerent and uncooperative with the police and she exercised that right. She did not have the right to leave while being detained, and the police responded predictably by returning her to the scene of the detention while they completed their investigation.

People are polarized on this issue, with one side insisting that the police were right and that Miss Watts should have just cooperated, and the other side defending her right to refuse to identify herself. My personal feeling is that it's stupid to argue with people who carry badges and guns. You're not going to win the argument on the street. No one has ever won the argument on the street. People have won the argument, and sometimes huge settlements, in court, and the police have had to issue apologies, and officers have been disciplined and even fired, but it was all after the fact. On the street, you can get along with the police or you can go along with the police, because one way or the other, the cop on the street who is asking for your cooperation is going to get it. Some people say it's important to fight against that mindset, that it's important to resist police abuse, and I agree. I just don't want to do it in a stupid way, that gets me cuffed and stuffed in a patrol car. And I don't feel the need to resist when a police officer is just doing his job. If a cop asks for my ID, I'm going to hand over my ID, let him do his job, and be on my way with a minimum of fuss. There's no inherent injustice in a police officer investigating a complaint and exercising due diligence in the performance of his duty, no matter how much someone may not like being detained, questioned, and identified.

One final thought. Once upon a time, there was a serial killer and cannibal named Jeffrey Dahmer. On May 26, 1991, Dahmer picked up a fourteen year old named Konerak Sinthasomphone. He took Sinthasomphone to his apartment, where he sexually assaulted him and then drilled a hole in his skull and injected acid into his brain. Sinthasomphone escaped and was found by some women, who called 911. Dahmer tried to get Sinthasomphone away from the women, but they said they had called the police. Two officers showed up, and Dahmer said that Sinthasomphone was his 19-year-old boyfriend and that he was drunk. The police helped Dahmer get Sinthasomphone back to Dahmer's apartment, where he was susequently killed and dismembered. Had a background check been conducted, it would have revealed that Sinthasomphone was only fourteen years old, and that Dahmer was a convicted child molester on probation. I suppose Daniele Watts and her defenders would applaud the actions of these officers in not identifying the two people involved in the complaint. After all, like Miss Watts and Mr Lucas, the only reasonable suspicion the officers had that anything was wrong was a 911 call, and according to Miss Watts and her defenders, that's not enough reason to identify anyone. It's true that Sinthasomphone wound up dead, but at least he didn't have to show his ID.