Last friday morning, I was driving home from my girlfriend’s house when I realized I’d left my computer behind. I was already running late, and the whole reason I was headed home was to print out some fairly important stuff, so I got frustrated, did a U-turn and hastily headed north on MLK.
Just north of Brockhurst St., I saw the blue and reds in my rearview mirror, realized I’d done a “California stop” at the stop sign right behind me, and pulled over to the right in front of an OPD cruiser.
Two officers got out of the car. They’d parked cautiously far behind me. I stuck my head out the window and hollered “stop sign?”. The officers were staying back and to either side of me. “Turn of the engine!”, hollered the cop on the right in response. I did as he asked, put my hands on the wheel, and waited.
And this is where I started to notice that being pulled over felt a little different that day than it usually feels. The officers were approaching very slowly. They seemed to be staying spread far enough apart that I couldn’t see both of them at the same time.
They also never broke out of a posture called “retention”. It’s a position meant to prevent their holstered sidearm from being snatched by surprise and used against them. It is also the position that most people who openly carry pistols use to practice drawing and firing quickly. A defensive position, not overtly hostile, but absolutely ready for trouble.
The officer who approached my window was young, but he looked like he’d been awake for a week. He dryly asked for my paperwork, which I handed over, trying to smile and be friendly. I told him I’d been online recently, calling for more stop sign and crosswalk enforcement, and that it was kind of ironic that I’d run a stop sign next to a school, and there was no way I was going to argue about it.
No smile. No acknowledgment. He just walked back to his car and ran my license. His partner stood in a blind spot between my right side windows. When I craned my neck to try to get a look, he was stone faced, maintaining the “retention” posture. He never took his eyes off me.
When the Officer with my license returned, it was still all business, and still entirely too heavy for the business at hand. I understood why. I wasn’t offended. These guys were going through the same motions that proved to be the last acts of Sgt. Mark Dunakin and Ofc. John Hege. They’d no doubt been recently instructed by command to take extra precautions, and they were following orders to the letter. But this time, they weren’t just following orders because they were orders.
“Drive safe,” said the officer as he handed back my paperwork. “BE safe,” I said, deliberately. As I rolled off slowly under a low white sky, I hoped he had understood how much I meant by that.
Max Allstadt is a carpenter, musician and arts activist. He has lived in West Oakland since 2003.