Demonstrated Bad Behavior

By Major Van Harl, USAF Ret.


Have you ever seen the PBS program “African American Lives”? The basis of the show is to take prominent Black Americans, research their history in the US through origins in Africa and do DNA testing to discover their biological history. The show is very interesting and educational. It provides documented, extensive research on each person. The historical suspense captures the viewing audience’s attention. The narrator of the series is Harvard Scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.

If you had not watched PBS, most Americans did not know who Gates was until 16 July 2009. Gates was returning to his home in Cambridge, MA after an extended absence. He had trouble getting the door to his home open and was spotted in the process of forcing the door. The police were called and before it was all over, the President of the United States had weighed in on the matter.

There is a saying in law enforcement, “Don’t let your bulldog mouth overload your poodle dog rear end.” Everyday, people who could have resolved a contact with a police officer through rational conversation, very loudly and with demonstrated gestures, talk themselves into a short ride down to the police station. Lots of people do this regardless of their ethnic or racial background.

This is called demonstrated bad behavior. If you talk “smack” to a cop, he is only going to put up with it for so long. Throw in the racial discrimination angle and that cop will, out of professional self protection, back off and regroup, but only for so long. He knows that as soon as the discrimination card has been played, his end-of-shift paperwork has tripled. So he gives ground to the boisterous minority individual and calls for back-up, because the officer needs a witness. What is going on is learned bad behavior. Instead of addressing the law enforcement issue that the officer needs to discuss, the suspect verbally attacks the cop in hopes of redirecting the entire flow of the situation.

History shows that more than one cop and more than one K-12 public school official has backed away from a situation, they clearly were in the right to address and control, just because the racial component was loudly injected into the discussion of alleged wrong doing. Being both a retired policeman and a former high school teacher, I know from experience what I am talking about. Obfuscate and deflect from the original alleged issue and do so in hopes of attracting a crowd. People do not like confrontation, including the police. The problem for the obfuscator is the cops are trained to deal with confrontation and how to end it. Even if the confronting person does not want to back off and quit the heated discussion.

As an old retired cop, even I do not like to be pulled over for a traffic stop. I know I have little or no control of the situation and here comes a young policeman who was in diapers when I was driving a squad car. There are only two options, deal with the officer in a respectful manner or be a horse’s behind and find you have talked yourself into the back seat of a police car.

Yelling at authority figures that have control of a situation and interjecting race as a disclaimer for your failure to act appropriate is learned and then loudly demonstrated, bad behavior. This is what my students and their parents did to me when I taught high school. This is what Henry Gates did to Sgt James Crowley. The louder they got, in many cases my principal let the student and parent win the day. My principal just wanted the matter over and out of her office. Just make the situation disappear, until the next parent arrives in the office to defend her violating child.

It is learned bad behavior and when the parent won, the child got a lesson in how this type of bad behavior might benefit him in the future. Then the student tries the same bad behavior at three in the morning on a back road, with a Mississippi cop. As he is sitting in a jail cell, he wonders why his mother’s tactic in a high school office did not work for him during a legitimate traffic stop. Bad behavior, even with the nicest, easiest going policeman, can and will get you cuffed and stuffed. Not “acted stupidly”; two words for you Henry Gates: bad behavior, your bad behavior.




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Copyright 2009 by Major Van Harl, USAF Ret. All rights reserved.

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