I’ve always loved watching Cops. Tonight’s episode reminded of two things I’m quite certain about, though.
The first is that most criminals are astonishingly dumb. The first thing to happen in the show was a routine traffic stop that turned into a pursuit in which the driver crashed in the woods and fled until he was tackled. He stated that he ran because his license was suspended, which no one believed in the slightest. Highly suspicious, they searched his car, and happened to notice the interior of the passenger’s door was loose; they peeled it back and found a bunch of drugs, and he ended up with a long list of charges. It looked like a chance discovery, though — even when you run from the cops and they suspect there’s more going on than you tell them, I don’t think it’s routine for them to start ripping parts off your car in search of drugs. Had he stopped, the odds of anyone finding his drugs seem like they’d be slim — even if they decided they had cause to search the car, they probably wouldn’t have had a half-dozen officers all going through it, and the slightly-loose door panel may well have gone unnoticed.
As much as I love GTA, it really doesn’t make sense to me to run from the police, unless you’re in a stolen car and are an excellent driver. They’ve already called in your license plate long before you started to run. My experience is admittedly limited to that which I’ve seen on TV, but it seems that the vast majority of pursuits end up with a catastrophic crash and the driver being arrested. If you get away, odds are decent that you’re going to come home to a police car or two in your driveway.
The second thing I came to realize, though, is that the war on drugs is really out of control. I do think drugs are a problem and that people selling heroin to school children are evil. But there was a whole series of stings, in which undercover agents sold dime bags of cocaine to people. A half-dozen police cars would then converge and a dozen cops with guns drawn would pull the people out of their cars, throw them to the ground, and arrest them. They mentioned that they seized the cars of everyone involved. Every single person they showed being arrested looked like a well-dressed professional who was harmless and maybe even nice. Crack cocaine is terrible, I’m sure, but I can’t help but find the sheer brutality over something the size of a kernel of corn to be appalling. Besides being pulled from their cars at gunpoint and roughed up in the course of their arrest, these people had their cars seized (not impounded, but seized). I think I have pretty a pretty understanding employer, but I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t show up for work one day and explained a few days later that I’d been arrested for buying cocaine, I’d be fired. I can only imagine that many of these peoples had their lives ruined. (And if you’re now branded as a criminal, lost your job, and do drugs, what do you do? The answer, 95% of the time, appears to be, “Start selling drugs.”)
One more thing I’d like to call out, though, is the reason I gave for finding the “innocent-ish people buying $10 worth of cocaine” drug sting so objectionable. I said that they “looked like a well-dressed professional.” For me, that made them a little more like me and my peers. It’s not some random drugged-out lowlife; it’s people like me. (Well, minus the whole “buying cocaine” thing.) And on some level I’d defend myself here: it’s easier for me to see myself in these people. But on the other hand, something kind of scares me about my comments. This sort of treatment of people buying drugs has gone on for decades, but I didn’t really care until the people looked like me. When the people were homeless, badly-dressed, or of a different skin color, I never thought, “Wow, that’s really unreasonably brutal.” I should perhaps take solace in the fact that countless others think the same way as me, but, in actuality, that’s precisely what scares me so much.