"See, this is where your education gets you into trouble."


I had a disagreement with a police officer tonight, and as I asked him questions trying to understand exactly what I was being threatened with, he said:

    "See, this is where your education gets you into trouble."

I'm perplexed by this statement. What was he trying to say? That by virtue of understanding my legal rights as a citizen and not just kowtowing and begging his apology for imagined offenses I am "getting into trouble."

Was that it?

I don't wish to malign the character of this particular policeman--and he did inform me that he had had a very bad day and thus was having difficulty being civil--but a statement like "See, this is where your education gets you into trouble" troubles me deeply. Are we suddenly in a police state where wanting a definition for a word that is seemingly pivotal to understanding an officer's meaning is a crime? Where expecting full information before committing myself to a course of action is foolhardy and anti-order?

What did he mean, "See, this is where your education gets you into trouble"?

What in the world is that supposed to mean?

I can tell you one thing: when he asked if he had been anything other than cordial and helpful I said no sir and kept my "education" tucked away firmly in a backpocket. The last thing I needed was it getting me slapped with a $400 fine or a night in jail, thank you very much.

It's a shame I owe more on it than it's apparently worth.

I would obviously be better off with some good old-fashioned ignorance.


  1. My head just exploded.

    I better stop with the school already, or I'm going to end up in prison for life...

  2. I once had to bail out a friend who corrected a cop for using the word "irregardless." My friend had been pulled over for going 30 in a 15, but the cop didn't like his usage being corrected, and that's really why he arrested my friend.

  3. Wow--to Theric's story and to Absent's. Sounds like in both cases what we have is the typical guy who becomes a cop because he likes feeling powerful, and intelligence in others threatens that power.

    So what did you do, Theric? You weren't soliciting sex in a public restroom again, were you?

  4. Maybe he was feeling intimidated by your education. Intimidation can get you into trouble. I would have played dumb, but I have no scruples. :)

  5. So you've succeeded in making me very curious. What exactly was the disagreement? What word were you asking for a definition of?

    Without that context, it's difficult to judge whether your complaint about the officer is valid or not. Of course I'd lean towards believing you were in the right, just because I know what a paragon of virtue you are personally, but still - I would guess that most people in such situations ask these kinds questions without really wanting to know the answer, but instead as an expression of their frustration at being accosted by a police officer. Without the context, it's hard for me to know whether I should sympathize with you for being an educated man lost in a wilderness of boorish, brainless fools, or whether I should just sympathize with you for being accosted by a police officer (which is very unpleasant, especially when the police officer is right and I am the one that's wrong...)

    More details please... =)

  6. .

    I tried to find the word on BART's website, but the website doesn't seem to deal with the "options" I was presented last night. It wasn't a particularly strange word, but the context was odd and my mind is functioning very slowly lately, what with being sick and everything. It started with "ex-" though.... I wish I could remember.

  7. I feel like your complaint toward the officer was valid and your point is good! Since when is inquiring more into what you might have done wrong a terrible thing?

    But I also can see how he must have had a long day and really felt like what he pulled you over for was valid and he REALLY didn't feel like having to go through all of the details of the law with you right there.

    It's like when at the end of a long day you tell a teenager something that needs to be done, and you tell them how it might best be done and they just really want to rationalize all of the reasons in and out of the situation and you just feel like saying, "JUST DO IT AND YOU'LL FIND OUT WHY LATER." They are completely justified to seek an explanation, but I guess you are also justified in just giving a huffy, "BECAUSE I TOLD YOU TO". And leaving it at that. Interesting story.

    And I'm SO sorry about the ticket, we once had to pay off $900 worth of different tickets from one very unfortunate month-long trip that Ken took to New York. Yikes. Needless to say, he's not much of a fan of police officers and their attitudes either.

  8. I agree - we definitely need more details. Especially about how much you got dinged (not that it's funny) :).

  9. theric: hope you feel better soon. =)

    mr. fob: "typical" is a good word to use if you're trying to draw vicious stereotypes. Maybe that's what you were trying to do with your description of the typical cop, but since I'm still an idealist who wants the world to live in peace, I hope I'm just misreading your tone. =)

  10. Recession cone: I'm with you! I'm an idealist who wants the world to live in peace too! When I think about it reasonably, I'm one of the more skittish about crime so I'm incredibly grateful for the true service that they offer. And I have many friends who have gone into the industry, and thank goodness for them and their willingness to face some unsafe circumstances to keep me safe.

    But I swear, I'm really nice to people and officers in general (I don't even put off that horrible sulk at them when we get pulled over) and still I've seen some officers use some horrible tones on nice people who are generally excellent citizens.

    Like a few weeks ago we saw a Berkeley police officer (the same, I might add, who previously had yelled at me across the street for jaywalking with a stroller... but I deserved it so it was fine) taunting a handicapped homeless person that we used to see on the streets. It was sad, this poor guy was obviously mentally handicapped and he wasn't doing anything that we could see wrong. The officer didn't seem to be correcting him for anything, just loudly taunting. It was maddening, but what could we do? We didn't want to cause a ruckus and get hauled off-- would they have arrested Avery too?

    And like the UC Berkeley police officers who pull up next to me on a Sunday afternoon (nobody was on campus, NO CARS) as I'm sitting in a parking space waiting for Ken to pick something up out of his lab (Ken's gone for 2.5 minutes total) and they pull up and use this horrible tone telling me "You're not allowed to park here, Can't you read??"

    So on one hand, thank goodness for police officers who are overall keeping this city safe and clean and protected from the evils that I am constantly imagining, but on the other hand, can they please get another way to get a high instead of aggression on non-deserving individuals?

  11. I did intend that connotation of "typical," but most stereotypes have some basis in reality. Based on Theric's description, I'd guess that this particular officer fits the bill. His response to Theric's question is not acceptable no matter how bad his day has been, and in my reading demonstrates a man who feels his power is being threatened. The police officer who came to my home the other day when a bike was thrown through my living room window was not like that at all--she was friendly, sympathetic, and happy to answer our questions. I am sure there are many police officers who don't fit the stereotype any more than she does. I've also interacted with officers who do.

    I am very much an idealist who would like the world to live in peace, but I'm not going to pretend it does in cases where it doesn't.

  12. So yes, I was drawing a stereotype, but I wouldn't call it vicious.

  13. .

    I agree that the real issue was my threatening of his power. The good news is I didn't end up paying anything more than the difference on my Bart ticket, which is what I would have had to do anyway. I think an equally power-hungry nutso in this story is the station master who called the cops without giving me enough time to decide whether I wanted to break my twenty or use my bus quarters. For heavens sake, it was a hard decision! Give me a minute!

  14. .

    A buck-sixty, by the way.

    So no, he didn't exercise the power to make me suffer, but the attitude expressed in "See, this is where your education gets you into trouble" still bothers me quite a bit.

    And for the record, I like most policemen I run into--the ones on my school campus, for instance, are great.

    On the other hand, there's a former cop I know from a concurrent academic setting who takes anyone's divergence of opinion as need for moral correction in Scary Cop Tones.

    It takes all kinds.

  15. After hearing Theric's story, I agree that the officer was out of line.

    But I think there are occasions that his response to Theric's question might be understandable, if not ideal. Lots of people give police officers a hard time, and police officers aren't perfect.

    It's sometimes very hard to take Jesus' teachings to heart, but instead of slandering a whole group of people because one of them acted badly, maybe we should practice choosing not to resist their evil. (Matthew 5)

    I would be just as angry as Theric if this had happened to me, and I'm more prone to grudges and vitriol than he is (as 'sposita can attest), so I'm not meaning to lecture here. I'm just a little exercised because I think it's very dangerous to society as a whole when we magnify small insults and carry them around like cherished possessions. Calling the police power hungry pigs after every little mistake they make just magnifies the harm and raises the barriers between us.

    And one more thought, before I close my big mouth:
    I have to say that the idea of negative stereotypes being ok if they are based in "reality" is preposterous. Certainly I shouldn't be the one lecturing about the existence of differing points of view in this diverse world of ours and the ensuing need for mutual respect and tolerance...

  16. are BART police actually police?

    in any case, sorry about the bad day.

  17. Thanks for the not-a-lecture, RC.

  18. And by way of a somewhat less snarky response, I will say that I agree with just about everything you've said--especially the pig part. I most definitely do not approve of calling police pigs. And I'll also say that there is a vast difference between something being "ok" in a general sense and something being useful for drawing connections in a specific context.

  19. .

    Steerotypes exist because they are useful. But whether or not useful = good is another question entirely.

  20. The best advice when you get pulled over and you feel it is not legit, is to not to admit to anything, and if you have to sign anything just let it be to appear in court.

    When you get to court hopefully your judge is level headed and can be Civil, if not you need a lawyer.

    It irks me how much power is given to police officers. One of the (much older) officers who was instructing my brother in laws during police academy said (when asked about previous physical requirement to join the force) that the only thing you needed to be a police officer when he started was a gun and a desire to be an officer.

    There are a couple generations of police that probably joined by sircrumvrenting any sort of standards test.

    Or... I could be wrong. (and wouldn't be too surprised)

  21. For the sake of proving I'm not consistent (which I think RC alluded to at least once), here's something I just came across in an email written by me only last week:

    "stereotypes aren't particularly useful when talking about real people in real relationships"

  22. .

    So long as you're suitably ashamed.

  23. Shoot, Theric; mad props on posting something that generated so much discussion!

    I can't really think of anything beyond what has been said to contribute. I got a parking ticket while I was in the DMV getting a copy of my pristine driving record a couple years ago. That was ironic, but nobody made snide comments about me being well enough educated to identify it as such.