Anne Gunderson
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Anne Gunderson

5 Things You Can Do Instead of Calling the Police

I called the cops once. I was walking home from work, in the wrong place at the wrong time, and someone starting shooting in my general direction. I ran, hid in a doorway, and called 9–1–1. I couldn’t provide the operator with a description of the suspect, so she couldn’t help me. I’m not sure what I was hoping for when making this phone call, anyway. I was just scared and calling the police felt instinctual and right in the moment.

Over the past few weeks, story after story is surfacing about white people calling the police on black people for things like sitting, standing, laying down, coming, going, and other generally mundane and lawful activities. Not only is this profoundly annoying, but it’s quite insidious given the parallel occurrence of black people being killed by police officers without regard for their individual rights and freedom. Whether we are calling the police as a tool to control spaces or out of genuine fear (wickedness or weakness, as Kendrick would say), I’ve compiled a helpful list of things we should all consider doing to check this instinct before making the call:

1. Mind your business. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one because, honestly, it doesn’t appear to be resonating. But I say this with all sincerity, just mind your business. So often we make things our business when we could be saving time and energy by just not. Maybe start making a list of things you want to accomplish each day and whenever you get the urge to mind someone else’s business by calling the cops, look down at that list and ask yourself, “would my time be better spent doing literally anything else?” If you answered yes, put your phone down and move on.

2. Take a deep breath and ask yourself if it’s that serious. This is a very real strategy that we’re currently (supposed to be) teaching police officers to help them de-escalate situations instead of killing somebody, and you can do it, too! You’ve seen the videos of black people getting tased, tackled, and shot by officers, and there’s no reason to believe that the same thing won’t occur as a result of your phone call. So ask yourself, “is this situation worth the other person losing his or her life?” If not, put your phone down.

3. If it is that serious, maybe just talk to the person. Look, I get it. Sometimes a situation may really feel like your business and that it absolutely needs to be resolved. If that’s the case, I have a piece of advice that’s usually reserved for toddlers: use your words. That’s another human being in front of you who likely speaks the same language as you. Even if they are doing something against the rules and standards that you’d like them to abide by, consider what kind of day they’re having, what kind of obstacles they’ve encountered, and how much of a difference you could make in their life by simply having a conversation with them instead of bringing in an officer who will ruin his or her night. Be kind. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

4. But there’s a big group of them and they look menacing! Questions to ask: 1) are they breaking the law (and no, assuming that they might break the law doesn’t count)? 2) Is the law that they are breaking endangering someone’s wellbeing (and no, feeling inconvenienced doesn’t count)? 3) If an officer were to show up and kill someone, would you be able to live with yourself? 4) If not, is it possible to simply remove yourself from the situation? The answer to this last question is almost always yes.

5. Practice empathy. Recognize that not everyone has the same positive experiences with police. Just because you feel safer with police presence doesn’t mean that everyone else does. While you may have been taught that calling the police is harmless and, therefore, it can be used as a first or second resort to resolve conflict, for people of color, generally, and black people, specifically, this choice could be deadly. Accept this as fact and act accordingly.

The point here is to be intentional in your actions, especially if your actions could hurt or kill somebody. When the emergency operator asked me for a description of the shooter, the reality is that I had a vague idea of what the people involved looked like. But telling the police that a young, Latino man shot at me would’ve led to a night of stop-and-frisks at best and a dead teenager at worst. And honestly, it wasn’t worth it. We all have options and the freedom to make choices to ensure your safety and the safety of others, so let’s start making more responsible choices.

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Anne is a friend of all things nuanced, inspiring, and thoughtful.

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