These were the words said to me in the drive-through line at Taco Bell when my family and I went for dinner on Saturday April 12, 2014. Before I get into the story I want to preface it with a couple things about me and about the situation.
I am the kind of guy who when he sees something wrong believes it needs to have attention called to it and resolved – non-violently whenever possible. I have done such stupid things in pursuit of this ideal as chased down shoplifters, talked to people for leaving their shopping carts in handy-capped spaces, stayed to help someone in a car accident even though it made me late to the airport, and more things people don’t believe are safe because we live in a time where people don’t believe in personal responsibility and are more and more self-centered – I just believe that we as a society need to step-up and do the right thing whenever possible and that when people don’t do the right thing they need to be recognized for doing the wrong things that they are. I am not a violent person, I am not a big person physically (a little under 5’10” and under 190 lbs – and it isn’t muscle), and I believe we each have a set number of hours of life and will not die until God has decided, and while it is our responsibility to not make stupid decisions, it is this belief that has allowed me to (carefully, but without fear) go into ghettos and prisons in Guatemala on mission trips. I have much respect for the men and women who put their lives on the line and work hard to keep order in our society, whether they be police, fire, or medical first responders.
Now, for the story of how I told someone they were rude and called 911 on an off-duty officer.
At about 7:20 we pulled into a Taco Bell parking lot. The way the lot is setup the drive-thru ends at an entrance to the lot and then there is a space behind that where cars line up.
The drive-thru was full, so I waited in the open space, where people normally line-up. A black Hummer pulled-up next to me.
When the line moved up and there was space to pull forward I took my foot off the brake and the guy next to me gunned it in front of us. Us being my wife (front passenger seat), and my two daughters (2 years old and just under 6 months) in the back seat. I honked and pulled up behind him.
I then went to get out of the car to let them know they cut off a family and was rude. I think that people don’t like it when others actively don’t like them. Just like how having sales associates ask people “Can I help you?” deters shoplifting, being told “Hey you did such-and-such, and normal people don’t like people who do that kind of thing.” will cause people to think twice before performing the same action a second time. I’m sure some people reading this think I am a disillusioned fool for having such thoughts, silly Kyle, thinking the best of people… Karah grabbed my shirt and after a short discussion of something along the lines of “Kyle, people get shot over stuff like this.” – “I guess, isn’t that really sad?”– “Please don’t, just stay in the car.” – “Karah, I’ll be fine.” I got out of the car.
I approached the other person’s vehicle. I stood about an arms length (maybe even a little further away) from the driver’s window, and without touching it he rolled the window down. The following is the conversation that followed, to the best of my recollection (I did not record it).
Kyle: Hey, I wanted to let you know you cut me off and that was really rude.
Kyle: I just wanted to let you know (he interrupted so I couldn’t finish my thought)
Guy: You need to walk away.
Kyle: Why can’t I tell you that I think that was a jerk move?
Guy: You need to walk away before you are arrested.
Kyle: Why would I get arrested?
Guy: For threatening an officer. (I was confused, and I believe my face showed it.) I am a police officer and I will arrest you for threatening an officer.
Kyle: How am I threatening you? I am not a threatening guy. Look at me (sitting in his vehicle his face was about a foot above mine), I’m here with my wife and daughters, and wanted to tell you that cutting people off is not an okay thing to do.
Guy: You approaching my vehicle and talking to me is threatening.
INTERJECTION: He was not in uniform, showed no badge, was in a civilian vehicle, and didn’t even have decals alluring to him having any relationship with law enforcement.
Kyle: I am not threatening you at all.
Guy: Then walk away.
I shook my head, walked away, and pulled out my phone.
Upon getting back in my vehicle Karah asked what happened and what I was doing. I said I was calling 911 and I did. I hate to admit it, because it is not a masculine thing, but my voice was shaky for at least the first half of my conversation with the 911 operator. Why did I call 911? I didn’t think to call the non-emergency number, and I was still in line (now with people behind me) with someone who had threatened to arrest me in front of my wife and children for telling them to their face that they were rude, I felt it necessary to address the situation quickly with a third-party who had some sort of “power”.
I told the operator I was calling to report what I believed was a gross abuse of power by an officer. I mean gross in two ways there, both “flagrant and extreme” and “disgusting” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/gross?s=t). I recounted the story above and included the person’s vehicle information (make, model, license plate number). The operator concluded by informing me that a supervisor/sergeant would be calling me to follow-up. Our call lasted about three minutes.
At 8:19 I was called by the sergeant. This conversation lasted 12.75 minutes. I won’t recount the whole conversation, but I will discuss the main points. To begin with, the sergeant acted exactly like I expected, courteous, almost sympathetic, and assuming of facts that were neither included in my report nor accurate. I don’t hold that last one against him, police officers have to make quite a few assumptions and judgment calls every day, and usually they are dealing with people who aren’t me and people who don’t act/react like me. I was informed that I could have been arrested, if the guy was an officer, for Disturbing the Peace – I looked up the details of this charge on www.findlaw.com: “Disturbing the peace, also known as breach of the peace, is a criminal offense that occurs when a person engages in some form of disorderly conduct, such as fighting or threatening to fight in public, causing excessively loud noise, by shouting, playing loud music, or even allowing a dog to bark for prolonged periods of time. When a person’s words or conduct jeopardizes others right to peace and tranquility, he or she may be charged with disturbing the peace.” The sergeant says I would have been disturbing the peace by holding-up the drive-thru line. Also, just so everyone is aware, impersonating an officer is a crime – not saying the guy was impersonating an officer, just saying if he was that makes him even more of a jerk. The sergeant says he didn’t know of anyone in his charge that had such a vehicle. Apparently he didn’t feel the need to run the plates either – from his perspective this whole thing was a non-issue, so I can see why he wouldn’t take the time for that task. I asked the sergeant how I could be perceived as threatening the guy in the Hummer. Because I, (1) took it upon myself to be a vigilante and (2) made an aggressive move by leaving my vehicle. The sergeant was under the impression that I “stormed up to the vehicle and was yelling at…”. I informed him that I spoke just the same to the guy in the Hummer as I was to him on the phone, without yelling, and I did no “storming-up”. The sergeant asked why I got out of my vehicle in the first place. I tried to explain succinctly that I believe that people need to be called-out for acting badly. We have bullies at every age and level of our society, and it is even more saddening, and frankly scary, when the bullying (I view Hummer Guy’s actions as bullying) is coming from someone who is sworn to “Protect and Serve” our citizens. Also, my actions are the lamest definition of vigilantism I have ever heard. Merriam-Webster defines vigilante as “a person who is not a police officer but who tries to catch and punish criminals” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vigilante). I would be a terrible Batman.
The sergeant explained that “there was a time when you could resolve things like a man” and went on to give several extreme examples (such as shooting someone at a poker game for calling you a liar in the Wild West), but now we live in a “tattle-tail society”. I don’t think “resolving things like men” has to require violence. And I wasn’t looking for an apology or any resolution of than the guy in the Hummer being fully aware of his actions, as I stated, I firmly believe in the “The More You Know” mentality.
The sergeant asked if the food at Taco Bell was so delicious it was worth getting shot in the face over. Of course the answer is no. And that scenario seems so absurd to me, yet that is the world in which we live. The most enlightening thing I learned from the sergeant is this: by approaching the vehicle I was being aggressive, the person inside could have shot me in the face and killed me, and they would have been 100% within their rights to do so.
The sergeant encouraged me to just let things “roll off my back” and sleep better at night knowing I’m a better person who is nicer to others than those who I see who aren’t nice to others. He advised that if it isn’t worth calling the police about then don’t do anything, and if it is then don’t do anything except call the police. He, the sergeant, also believes that those who do wrong and treat others badly should be addressed so he “went to an academy and took an oath” – I’ll remind you, so did the person who (assuming he wasn’t lying about being an officer) was rude and said he would arrest me for threatening him, even though I said nothing threatening – again, walking up to someone is the same as threatening them.
As to “Disturbing the Peace” versus “Threatening an Officer” – I obviously wasn’t threatening, and if disturbing the peace where an issue the guy in the Hummer would have told me to get back in my car, not just walk away (since that implies that he doesn’t care where I walk to, just that I am not bothering him – all the officers that I know personally are really good at being specific, and also good at not confusing charges they are levying against someone).
The sergeant asked if we had reached “an understanding” and I told him I wasn’t happy about it but “I understand the rules”. The rules being, as I understood them from my phone conversation with the sergeant (and now I am expositing):
1. We live in a society where it is lawful to kill each other over verbal exchanges we did not want to have at that time, as long as the person doing the killing is seated in a car that was approached by an unarmed civilian.
2. Police officers not in uniform, and without presenting a badge, can arrest people for talking to them when they don’t want to be bothered.
3. Don’t try to address problems in society, despite what we teach our kids in public school about bullies the reality for adults is that there is nothing that you can do about them, except call the police – and I for one don’t think most bullying situations have to involve police, and I would venture to guess that most police officers would agree with me, as would the victims of crimes like rape and robbery who would not be attended to as quickly while police are dealing with fast-food drive-thru lines.
My dad thinks I should have requested an officer be sent to the Taco Bell and reported the guy in the Hummer for impersonating an officer (since he stated he was an officer but did not display a badge), but again, had I not been threatened with arrest I would not have called the police at all – and had the guy in the Hummer really felt threatened he would not have rolled down his window all the way without me even knocking on his door.