No, sometimes it actually is a good idea to call the police

There’s a lot of talk in libertarian circles, and not entirely at the extreme fringes, about how no one should ever, ever, ever call the cops for any reason at all, because they’ll murder the people they’ve been called to help. Unfortunately, this is not exactly crazy talk: it is true that police routinely kill, maim, or paralyze those they’ve been called to help, and more so in the United States than in any other developed country. At the same time, criminals and people who are just wound up do all sorts of menacing things that demand prompt intervention by the most capable people within responding distance, and if the nearest police on duty are not in the sworn predator minority, they’re probably the most capable ones.

Last night, a group of young men staying near me at a motel in Red Bluff spent practically the entire evening from 6:00 to 11:15 pm making a huge racket. I assumed that they had rented a single room as a staging area for a tailgating party in the parking lot; it turned out that they were semiskilled laborers passing through town on business, for which they had to be on the road again at 5:30 this morning. Around nine, I heard a man who sounded like he was not part of their party yell, “Keep it down!” I called the front desk around 9:15 and asked the owner to tell these guys to be quiet. Neither of these complaints had any effect.

For most of the night, these guys didn’t really make me feel uncomfortable, let alone threatened. My only problem with them was that their ongoing noise was making it hard for me to get any rest. Some of their conversations were surprisingly interesting and entertaining, especially one about candy bars (verdict: Fifth Avenue), but I needed some sleep, and I didn’t know when the hell I’d be able to get to sleep if the noise carried on.

Things went to hell around 10:55. One of the guys barged into a room next to mine, yelling angrily at one of his companions, and started slamming something into our shared wall. I assumed that these wall-shaking thuds were coming from an ongoing assault. The noise ended for a minute or so, but then it resumed as loudly as before. At that point, I called 911 and told the dispatcher that I believed an assault was in progress. She was much more coherent and responsive than the owner had been. Several cops were on the scene within seven minutes. I listened from my room while an officer talked to the main instigator, who admitted to being drunk and having a beef with one of the other guys over the repayment of some money. The officer asked to search this fellow for weapons, and he immediately agreed to what sounded like a quick patdown. He told the instigator about the 911 call about a possible assault, and the instigator admitted to having made some noise but not to having banged on the walls. He had the instigator wait outside with his partner while he talked to others inside the room for a minute or two. One of his partners, a woman, chatted with the instigator about the sort of work they were doing. It struck me that this small talk was not condescending or even awkward.

The cop doing the field interrogations came back out and knocked on my door. I had popped my head out twice already to see if he wanted to speak to me, and both time he had asked me, very politely, to hold on. I opened the door and told him that I mainly wanted to see if he wanted any further information from me. I briefly described the noise I had heard, that it sounded “full body into the wall.” The cop told me, “these guys were, you know” and mimed drinking. I told him that I’d seen the bottles piling up in front of their rooms. Around this point, the instigator popped out from the room next door, a very pleasant drunk, and apologized to me. I immediately accepted his apology and told him that I was not angry at him. The cop then told us, “Since nobody got hurt and you guys seem okay, I think we’re gonna head out of here.” The instigator and I both agreed to this, and the cops left.

Nobody got hurt. Nobody was needlessly humiliated. No one was charged or cited, as far as I know. The Red Bluff Police showed up within seven minutes of my 911 call and restored the peace within another ten or so. For all I know, they may have ended up spending more time on paperwork after the call than on the call itself, but probably not. My guess is that they wanted to minimize their paperwork, in part by not filing charges against people they had already calmed down, and I have no problem with that at all. They had already driven out to the motel in a heavy rainstorm to respond to a report of a possibly serious battery in progress; the officer doing the field interrogations was wet from the rain by the time he spoke to me, and he was wearing standard dress blues, not rain gear.

There are heavier, more grueling, more dangerous jobs, but what these cops did last night wouldn’t be easy for most people. It requires good judgment to deescalate rowdy drunks who have been banging on the walls. These cops did it, and they did it quickly and politely in inclement weather. The Red Bluff Police Department did a damn good job last night.  There’s no telling when the nonsense among the rowdies would have ended if they hadn’t responded.

The loud talking continued, although not quite as loudly, for another 45 minutes after the police left, but this was just the finalization of the peace talks. One of the rowdies in the room next door was on the phone with a woman, probably a girlfriend, complaining that someone (me? one of his buddies?) hadn’t “come out like, fuck you, nigga!” In my culture, it is always considered a good day when one does not exchange greetings of fuck you nigga with one’s crackas of whatever race, ethnicity, or national origin, so I guess we come from different cultures. Multiculturalism fuck yeah. (As I learned in San Diego, though, I, too, am a random nigga, and one whose phone can be borrowed on demand. Oh brother.) In a comment reminiscent of noted wifebeater John Lennon carrying on about the virtue of peace, this dude complained that he didn’t get enough respect for being “a cool-ass motherfucker who knows how to kick it,” and added, “I know how to get down with the getdown.” Robin Thicke wants everybody to get up, and Marvin Gaye continues to remind us from beyond the grave to give it up; this gentleman wants us all to recursively get down. No matter how low the level, he’ll stoop to it, and the rest of us should, too. What he really means, probably, is that he’s a cool-ass motherfucker who knows how to kick it, but I’m the one who speaks English here, so hell if I can say for sure. He might want to get down to learning how to code-switch for job interviews, too, but then again, I’ve been instructed to learn Spanish in order to get farm jobs with English-speaking growers in the United States, so maybe we’re all just cultural imperialists in our own special ways.

There’s worse, much worse, among the American underclasses. Likewise among American cops. I drew longer straws than I sometimes have on both counts last night, and I’m thankful. Hell, that was a better encounter with the police than the time I got spooked by a couple of Highway Patrolmen chatting next to my car when I woke up at the Gold Run rest area and drove off all the way to Truckee just to avoid possible trouble, even though the Chippie closer to me looked like a really laid-back, friendly guy, leaving behind a nearly full cup of coffee near the edge of my parking space, where I had been chilling it overnight. (Chill: a transitive verb, too.) I accidentally popped some punk-ass Chips. Hopefully they like their coffee stronger and darker than I do. That tallboy of Pike was more in-your-face than Tonya Harding was all up in Nancy Kerrigan’s skating leg. Now, that’s a hard broad who really got down to battering a bitch.

A blessed Advent to you and yours, too.

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