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Sunil Dutta, Washington Post: Cop's 'Shut up, do what I say' stance causes gripe

Ferguson Police
Ferguson Police
Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

Sunil Dutta, a veteran police officer, wrote an extremely controversial editorial Tuesday in The Washington Post. Dutta, a Colorado Tech University professor of criminal justice and a 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, went public with his divisive stance, writing a rejoinder against the sharp cop criticisms that have been front and center since unarmed 18-year-old black teen Michael Brown was gunned down over a week ago in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer.

His opinion piece, titled, “I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me,” is causing hullabaloo among readers.

Dutta writes that the “police are accused of being bloodthirsty, trigger-happy murderers,” and that we are led to believe that this “is the way of things in America.” But Dutta responds to that opinion, calling it a “terrible calumny” and says “no officer goes out in the field wishing to shoot anyone… Regardless of what happened with Mike Brown, in the overwhelming majority of cases it is not the cops, but the people they stop, who can prevent detentions from turning into tragedies.”

But it’s one particularly disconcerting passage that is being singled out as causing the most outcry and that has drawn the most pointed rebuke.

Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?

Dutta says that he is “aware that corrupt and bully cops exist,” citing his time as an internal affairs investigator, and says he supports cops using body cameras “to record interactions with the community at all times.” Had the cop who killed Brown – officer Darren Wilson – been wearing one, Dutta says it would have prevented “conflicting and self-serving statements that allow people to believe what they want.”

Dutta also speaks to the rights of each citizen:

And you don’t have to submit to an illegal stop or search. You can refuse consent to search your car or home if there’s no warrant (though a pat-down is still allowed if there is cause for suspicion). Always ask the officer whether you are under detention or are free to leave. Unless the officer has a legal basis to stop and search you, he or she must let you go. Finally, cops are legally prohibited from using excessive force: The moment a suspect submits and stops resisting, the officers must cease use of force.

But even if those rights are being trampled on, Dutta essentially says to shut up, do nothing and eat it. Then put your faith in the judicial system.

But if you believe (or know) that the cop stopping you is violating your rights or is acting like a bully, I guarantee that the situation will not become easier if you show your anger and resentment. Worse, initiating a physical confrontation is a sure recipe for getting hurt. Police are legally permitted to use deadly force when they assess a serious threat to their or someone else's life. Save your anger for later, and channel it appropriately. Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you.

We have a justice system in which you are presumed innocent; if a cop can do his or her job unmolested, that system can run its course. Later, you can ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint or contact civil rights organizations if you believe your rights were violated. Feel free to sue the police! Just don’t challenge a cop during a stop.

The Washingtpn Post wrote a reactionary follow-up to Dutta’s article, carrying social media responses. A sampling:

Policing isn’t in the top 10 of dangerous jobs. By Sunil Dutta’s insane logic, we should take unquestioned orders from commercial fishermen. @quinnnorton

The tone of this article by Sunil Dutta exemplifies that excessive force that compels so many of us to fear those designated to protect us. @KissMyLisp

This piece accurately describes the problem with policing in US. Dutta's position is the problem not the solution @BoydCothran

To Sunil Dutta. No, We don't think police are "bloodthirsty, trigger-happy murderers," We just don't trust them that much. @tedr

Sunil Dutta: If you are charged after an illegal search, our system presumes innocence & you'll get the best (ie. nearest) public defender. @bogeymanweather

Where do you fall? Do you think Dutta’s words are unnecessarily blinkered and or inflammatory, or do his words speak to an uncomfortable reality that we all should bear up under? Sound off below.

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