Police Silence, Sandra Bland, and the #cultofcompliance

Louis Hayes, police trainer and reformer, has a new blog up on the role the Cult of Compliance plays in keeping police silent in cases like Sandra Bland.

1) Remember – everything the police officer did was wrong. He pulled out behind Bland abruptly, she moved over to get out of his way, and he pulled her over to give her a ticket for not using a signal. Bland was doing nothing wrong before she got out of the cop’s way. This is what profiling looks like. He saw a black woman and decided to find a reason to pull her over.

2) Then he escalates the situation in countless, unprofessional, ways. He commands her to put out the cigarette, then responds to her lack of compliance with threats and eventual violence.

Cops have not criticized Encina, the officer, for his actions. Here’s what Hayes writes.

There is a segment of law enforcement officers and trainers who believe:
a citizen’s failure to immediately comply with a police officer’s orders should be

  • assumed to be a physical threat to the officer’s well-being.
  • a citizen’s perceived disrespect is a sign of danger.
  • a citizen’s disobedience is a challenge to the authority of established law.

Of course, as with anything, there are varying levels that these feelings and attitudes take hold in officers and trainers. Some officers don’t subscribe to these beliefs at all. But when I first heard the term #CultOfCompliance from freelancer David M Perry, I thought the term awfully fitting — a cult being a sub-group with entrenched beliefs, within a larger community – in this case, the police community.

How has this sentiment of Cult of Compliance taken root in law enforcement? I only have theory. Maybe because of the traffic stop videos and war stories used in police academies? These videos and stories are shared with new recruits to demonstrate that even quiet little old ladies and 12-year old girls can be as deadly as a ninja….and ballpoint pens and umbrellas as dangerous as a samurai sword.

Hayes goes on to criticize Sandra Bland in ways that I think are a mistake. It’s true that Bland was rude, but again, let’s back up – Encina initiated that by pulling her over after he profiled her. But still, Hayes is writing for a law enforcement audience and they are going to see Bland’s refusal to be perfectly compliant as at fault. That’s what we need to work on.

Being rude to a police officer, especially one who has behaved as egregiously as Encina in profiling Bland, is a constitutional right. It’s not a threat.

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