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When Is It Okay To Talk To The Police?

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Cops standing in a line

This may not come as a surprise, but I’ve never loved the police. I don’t hate every single cop like some kind of psychopath, but I’ve never been in a shitty situation where I felt like the presence of a police officer would improve it. Generally cops make shit worse. Not all of the time, but most of the time and most of the time is enough for me. Compared to most people on the internet, this is actually a pretty moderate stance.

It’s no secret that the police can be an oppressive force, especially in POC neighborhoods. NWA didn’t write “Fuck The Police” for no reason and the countless protests of police brutality all over the country are proof of that.

In the Bay Area, people hating the cops is as common as the fog and saying anything to a police officer other than “FUCK YOU, PIG” is generally frowned upon. Despite the Bay Area’s anti-police rhetoric and my general distrust for the boys in blue, I do think there are times when talking to the police is okay, and in some cases necessary. Just last week I assisted the San Francisco Police Department in identifying a suspect. Let me explain…

My neighbor asked me to stay with him until the police got there. So I did. 

I was working in my room. I was on a Zoom call doing Zoom call things when I heard a voice scream “help” from the street below. I then heard a different, crazier sounding voice scream all kinds of threats. I live in SoMa and this is kind of standard. There’s always bullshit going on, but something told me not to dismiss it. I walked onto my balcony and I saw a neighbor of mine, who is blind, about to be attacked by a person in crisis. I ran downstairs and intervened along with a few people who worked at a local business. I asked the man who was attacked if he was alright. One of the other dudes who intervened called the police. My neighbor asked me to stay with him until the police got there. So I did. 

I wanted to see how long it took for SFPD to respond to a call like this. I’ve seen several news reports of SFPD either not intervening when crimes are being committed or treating victims like shit when they show up. Prior to living in San Francisco, I lived in Vallejo where it felt like the police department went out of its way to be shitty. So I decided to livestream as a way to document how long it would take SFPD to show up and how they would treat the victim. To my surprise, they got there quickly. 

When they got there I pointed out the unhoused man who attacked my neighbor. I could still see him as he was only about 200 feet down the street. 

I wanted the guy who attacked my neighbor off the street. I didn’t want him attacking someone else. He could have easily attacked a woman, an elder, or a child. Despite me trying to do what I felt was right, I was called a snitch in the comment section. If preventing my neighbor from being attacked and trying to get a potentially violent person in a state of crisis some help makes me a “snitch,’ then maybe I’m not the problem…

Some of the people in the comment section had my back, but it got me thinking. Should I have just let the perpetrator go and do whatever he wanted? Should we have beaten him to death? What do these people expect us to do in situations like these? Is it ever okay to talk to the police?

I found a guide on a website that advocates for the rights and dignity of homeless people, and it detailed when it’s okay to call the police on someone who is unhoused: You can read it here. The short version of it is:

You should only be dialing it if you or someone around you is in immediate danger. Discomfort is not immediate danger. An awkward conversation is not immediate danger. Having a “bad feeling” is not immediate danger. And just seeing a person being homeless in public is not immediate danger.

This situation definitely met the criteria.

Bu what do you think? When do you think it’s ok to talk to the police? Let us know in the comments.

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Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff is a San Francisco-based writer, editor and digital content creator known for Bay Area Memes, a local meme page that has amassed nearly 200k followers. His work has appeared in SFGATE, The Bold Italic and of course, BrokeAssStuart.com. His book of short stories, personal essays and poetry entitled Don't Drown on Dry Ground will be available early 2022.

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