Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Why We Should Not Report Pedestrians to the Police

(Reclaimed from Bubblews, where this first appeared on February 20, 2014. Image by JessicaGale at Morguefile: http://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/j/JessicaGale/02/l/14238872613vtlj.jpg. You know it's not me because my hair's not that long, but I do usually wear longish skirts and carry a knitting bag.)

Maybe some other readers have experienced a form of insanity I've observed in my corner of the world only recently. When I was growing up I heard about this form of insanity existing in places like Beverly Hills, California, and Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where everybody knows the people have more money than common sense, but I never imagined it occurring in the southwestern point of Virginia. But it's real: people really are calling the police just to report that they saw someone walking down the road, and the police aren't even telling these people to stop wasting the police's time.

Tuesday night the computer center closed before a relative in Weber City, who doesn't really like to drive to Big Stone Gap at the end of a long day and would prefer that some student or teacher who was driving in the same direction bring me home, had called to ask where I was. It wasn't really cold, but neither was it warm. I didn't see anyone who looked familiar near the computer center. "Oh, well, I'll just keep moving in the right direction until he calls. There's a lot of traffic on the road. Likely there's somebody from Gate City in this traffic." I kept moving. The cell phone kept not ringing. I had been wondering on Tuesday morning whether I was really over the flu. By the time a passing vehicle slowed down, I'd walked exactly six miles (Virginia highways have mileage markers every two-tenths of a mile), so I knew I was over the flu. If I hadn't been, I would have been feeling ill.  

And who was in this vehicle? There are some people I won't ride with, and some cars I won't ride in, even after walking seven miles. Years ago, any young man I didn't know well, alone in a car, would have been in the "not even after walking twenty miles" category. Now I feel motherly about them but I was distinctly not pleased to hear him say into his radio "I'm familiar with this individual." I know that's the way the young express "I know who this person is" when they're trying to sound grown-up. I still don't want men between the ages of 15 and 50 imagining that they are or can become "familiar" with me. Even if they're cousins. 

Anyway the young man turned to me and said "Some people called the police because they were concerned about you walking on this dark cold night." 

I said, "If they were so concerned, why did they not express their concern to me?" 

He had some foolish sort of answer about "people feeling safer with us because we're trained to deal with the public." Let's just say that when I was young enough to worry about sexual harassment or jealous boyfriends I knew that a job makes no difference to a young man's character. If a guy is going to harass women you can call him a police officer, a doctor, a preacher, a teacher, or anything else, and show him a list of rules of Professional Ethics that forbid harassing women, and he'll harass women exactly the same way he did before. And if he's a decent human being, but a girl's boyfriend is jealous (or, for that matter, her parents are suspicious), they'll imagine exactly the same things they'd imagine if he were a construction worker.

Age has some advantages. One of them is that I no longer really worry about gossip. Let's just admit that, like most small towns these days, mine is full of welfare-cheating trash who have nothing to do but make up disgusting rumors about their natural superiors. I have already heard enough wild, crazy, and mutually contradictory stories to know that anybody who takes that kind of stories seriously would never hire me for any kind of job anyway. Fortunately respectable people don't pay much attention to the trash talk of the Trash Class anyway. So if somebody was on the phone all day yesterday repeating "I saw Priscilla King hauled off in a police car last night," well, I obviously am not in jail, and anybody who listened to that person is just demonstrating that s/he is not respectable.

And although I had last seen the young man when he was eleven years old, he was indeed an old family acquaintance whose intentions were good.

But I do have more serious concerns about riding with a police officer when there's not an actual emergency. I am not here thinking about the possibility of a lousy creep who has somehow become a police officer bullying or blackmailing a young woman into a car for immoral purposes. That has happened in U.S. history, but not in Gate City, and not to forty-somethings with grey hair, and in any case not many lousy creeps become police officers.

Years ago, closer to home, I was offered a lift by a familiar stranger in an ordinary car. (There are no real strangers in a town the size of mine; everybody is a neighbor, and most people are cousins, whether they remember each other's names or not. And a lot of people look alike, so when we think we remember each other's names, lots of mistakes are made.) I recognized the car and thought I recognized the driver, so I got in, not suspecting that it was an unmarked police car. The driver was a neighbor but I was mistaken about which neighbor he was. He was not one of Mother's church friends' husband on the way to the post office; he was a police officer on the way to the police station. Well, either way, it was just a neighbor being neighborly...but in the policeman's unmarked car there was a radio, and on that radio I heard a code for a serious police report. "Incident at Jones's Store..." and the dispatcher went on describing the incident. I could have told by looking, if I hadn't recognized the radio code, that this policeman was seriously debating with himself whether to go to Jones's Store instead of taking me home. And I was dating someone who worked at Smith's Store.

The babble of the Trash Class is one thing, but having people like the Joneses seriously say, and believe, something like "The trouble got out of hand because only one cop showed up...because the other one was busy playing personal chauffeur for Smith Junior's girlfriend!" is another thing entirely. 

My corner of Virginia desperately needs taxi services. We desperately need car pools. We desperately need laws requiring all drivers' insurance policies to cover as many passengers as the vehicle has seat belts, to discourage the practice, which I've seen, of two or three members of the same family all driving to and from the same place alone in separate empty cars because they don't have "passenger coverage." And we may need a law providing that, when odd jobs are advertised at a college campus and college students ignore the ads, those students will thenceforward receive no tax-funded tuition grants. I have advertised that I was willing to pay students (or teachers for that matter) to share their vehicles with me. It's not been that I couldn't work with their schedules; it's been that they've failed to call to tell me their schedules.

We do not need to depend on the police to fill in for the taxi drivers we need to have.