Professor and journalist Sean Trainor revealed his learnings from a ride-along with his friend who was a cop, highlighting why police departments must be dismantled.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen national discourse on the effectiveness of police departments across the United States. Some have wondered, "Are the police even necessary?" While many believe that a strong police force is the only way to ensure the safety of our communities, one man on Twitter has shown us that perhaps the police are the reason why several minority communities are unsafe in the first place. In a shocking Twitter thread, University of Florida professor and op-ed journalist Sean Trainor shared his insights from when he joined one of his friends, a police officer, on a ride-along. Ultimately, he revealed that most police officers tend to be inherently cruel while on the job.
The ride-along in question took place a long time ago, when Trainor was much younger than he is today. Despite how long ago that might be, there is little to suggest that things may have actually changed from what he witnessed so many years ago. The police ride-along, he stated, was "one of the most chilling and radicalizing" experiences of his life. The professor wrote that there were two memories in particular which stood out to him. The first was just how many police officers would drive around neighborhoods in suburban Maryland, where he lived at the time, in their patrol cars "punching license plate numbers into a database, looking for excuses to pull people over."
Trainor shared, "My [friend] was so bored that he’d punch pretty much anyone’s plate into the database. But he devoted special attention to beat-up cars or drivers who looked “out of place” — which typically meant black or brown drivers in predominantly white neighborhoods." Few of those random database punches would result in anything serious. Some would lead to traffic stops, but for the most part, his friend would simply drive around aimlessly. In order to quell his boredom, the officer would respond to his colleagues' traffic stops. "When he heard another cop had pulled someone over, he’d turn on his lights and tear off into the night," the University of Florida professor wrote. "Most of the time he’d arrive at the scene of the stop long after the incident had passed. One time, though, the traffic stop was still ongoing."
During this traffic stop, an officer had pulled a white driver over for a "trivial reason — a broken tail light or expired registration." However, the cop discovered that he was an ex-convict driving with an expired license. Though the driver's wife and children were in the car with him, the police officers weren't content to leave him with a simple warning. So the officer who initiated the stop asked him to step out of the car. Trainor explained, "As they were talking, more and more bored cops rolled up, including my classmate. Not surprising, the situation kept getting more intense. The guy who had been pulled over looked increasingly stressed as more cops materialized. And the cops responded to his stress with heightened levels of aggression."
In the end, the driver "wound up face down on the curb, his hands cuffed behind his back." Meanwhile, his family looked on screaming and crying as the cops took him away. Trainor affirmed, "It had been a short family reunion." His friend revealed to him at the time that the driver would likely do a multi-year stint in prison as he had violated his parole. That was these officers' roles every single night: "Desperately searching for reasons to pull people over and then harassing people until they snapped," he explained. To Trainor, his friend wasn't an exception or a "bad apple." "As he told it, he was doing exactly what his department expected him to do. He saw himself — in fact had been trained to see himself — as a dog protecting sheep from wolves," he wrote. "But from inside his car, the sheep receded from view, and all the flesh-and-blood people in his community — and especially the people of color — took on a decidedly wolf-like aspect. He clearly viewed them as enemies and interacted with them as such."
The now-professor did not speak up that night. He did not have an objective understanding of what he had witnessed. Today, he knows that these practices are status quo across the country. Trainor shared, "In short, nothing he did made anyone safer. He didn’t protect or defend a damn thing, except white supremacy and class domination. His entire shift had been devoted to profiling, harassing, and intimidating people... Even if I had convinced him to quit, someone else would have done his job exactly as he had. The problem wasn’t my classmate. It was the whole rotten system designed to terrorize people. What I learned that night is that behind every Derek Chauvin or Darren Wilson — behind every dramatic eruption of violence — is a whole universe of pervasive, mundane, and wanton cruelty. The cruelty isn’t an accident; it’s the point."
Note: The article contained an embed that inaccurately claimed: "the cop who murdered George Floyd killed Leroy Martinez". It has now been deleted and updated.