Buford T. Justice

Headed to Atlanta. Had a run-in with Da Law on my way out.
It was cold this morning, so Mama insisted on driving me the one block to my truck (I stayed with her over Thanksgiving) in Sherry’s car.
Well, she dropped me off and had no more than reached the road when here came Buford T. Justice with his bright-ass flashlight. I opened the truck door and went through the expected ritual of conversation that one has with a man who has a gun.
“Good morning, officer? How are you today?” I said.
“This your truck?” was the reply, while shining his flashlight into my eyes.
I suppressed various smart-ass comments, realizing by this point that his cruiser was sitting near the corner building and he had watched my arrival. I mean, he had watched me get out of a car with a duffel bag and a backpack, use my nifty key to open the door and start the truck, and, with my bright overhead light on, start doing my log.
“Yes, sir,” I said, beginning to be annoyed by the flashlight, which he was still shining directly into my eyes. I mean, I was sitting right under a bright light. It wasn’t like I was half hidden in shadows.
“Why did you park here?” he asked, meaning, I assume, instead of parking at the truck stop.
I said “I came home to spend Thanksgiving with my mother. She lives back there in the senior apartments.”
He nodded, but just stood there, shining his flashlight in my face. Come on. He had a clear grasp of the situation. This was moving quickly from being a cop doing his job and checking out suspicious activity to being an asshole standing there shining a bright flashlight into my face.
So I asked him, “Man, why you shining that flashlight into my eyes?”
He said, and this is an exact quote, “Why shouldn’t I shine my flashlight into your eyes?”
I suppressed various smart-ass comments. What? Do only “perps” object to being blinded by a bright flashlight? Do law-abinding citizens not object to it?
Well, of course they do. It’s just that most people haven’t been driving a truck for seven years and aren’t as intimately familiar with law enforcement intimidation techniques as I am. Also, most law-abiding citizens don’t have the balls to question an officer.
Look, I understand that cops are trained to shine a flashlight in your face. It’s an intimidation technique and is intended to help the officer maintain control of the situation. Same as if you’re standing there with an officer, and he tries to stand to your side rather than directly facing you. It’s supposed to put him in a position of authority and you at a disadvantage (I ran a cop in Louisiana in a complete circle one time, because every time he would step to my right I would turn to face him).
Look, I know the deal. The reason I was getting annoyed was that by that time it should have been abundantly clear that there was no situation to maintain control of.
By this time, Mama, who had stopped in the road when she saw the officer approach the truck, pulled back down into the lot.
The cop, rapidly losing command of his situation, told me “I was checking to make sure you weren’t stealing the truck,” and shone his light on the key in the ignition (which, for those who don’t know, in a Freightliner Columbia is located on the far left side of the dash about six inches below knee level, which from the ground puts it at about eye level; oh, and my keyhole has an illumination light so you can find the hole in the dark), “but I see you have a key.”
I suppressed various smart-ass comments.
As Mama pulled near the truck, I called out “It’s okay, Mama.”
The cop turned and told her “I’m just making sure it’s his truck.” He shone his flashlight in Mama’s face and got a look that made him immediately point it down. Man, I wish I could master that look.
Anyway, that was about the end of it. Mama’s hovering presence brought the festivities to a close.
The cop shone his flashlight in my face one more time and said “Have a good night.”
I said “You, too. And thanks for keeping tabs on my truck. I appreciate it.”
He wasn’t sure how to take that last statement and I wasn’t sure how I meant it. So we just called it even and went our separate ways.
Now, before any drones can chastise me for not respecting the law, I want to state that I have the utmost respect for the job and the men and women who put themselves in danger to make our lives safer. But if you think all cops are saints you’re a damned fool.
Americans also need to realize that there are limits to police power. Unless you are breaking a law or are involved in an emergency situation, a cop has no authority to boss you around. Like, say, making you move to the end of the line at McDonald’s.
I guess my biggest problem is that I’m old enough to remember when local police didn’t wear paramilitary uniforms and use intimidation tactics as a part of daily routine. For example, the officer in question was well within his authority to check me out and ask questions. Where he crossed the line was when, after assessing the situation, he continued to act like I was a suspect he caught in the act. He did nothing illegal. But simply put, the reason this encounter was so bumpy was that I didn’t demure before his authority. I respected it, and would have done whatever I was instructed to do (within reason). That’s the way it works, and is part of our system of governance that we’ve all tacitly agreed to. But I was not intimidated. In the end, I think that was the larger issue at play here.

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