Barry Saunders

Saunders: Lunch with retired cop didn't go as planned - for either of us

The dude, a recently retired Raleigh cop, had some thoughts about me he wanted to get off his chest, but he couldn’t do it as long as there was a badge on it.

Never one to pass up a chance for free victuals, I agreed to meet him when he called and invited me to lunch.

The ex-cop said he was upset at the way I portray cops and wanted to know what I had against them.

Nothing. Cops, I explained, are like everyone else: Some are good, some are bad. Fortunately for me, 95 percent of the ones I’ve encountered on the road were professional, did what they had to do and either took me to jail or let me go on my way with a ticket or a warning.

Thank God I didn’t run into one like the one in Ferguson, Mo., who shot that kid several times after an encounter, apparently for walking in the street.

How many times, my no-longer-in-blue lunch companion asked accusatorily, did I reckon I’ve been stopped by cops while driving?

At least 100.

You must be a pretty bad driver, he said, because there’s no way anyone could get stopped that many times without breaking some laws.

Therein lay, for the rest of the awkward meal, the source of our tension. The foodeteria’s seafood omelet was already struggling to reach the level of “mediocre,” but sharing it with a guy who regarded me as a habitual, self-deluded scofflaw made it inedible.

I didn’t even bother to tell him 100 stops was a conservative estimate. Nor did I tell him it wasn’t always about my driving. “You match the description” are the worst four words any man stopped by the cops can hear, second only to “You are the father” when you’re on “The Maury Show.”

Our realities – lunch partner’s and mine – were so different that all real communication ceased shortly thereafter.

I didn’t tell him this, but I’m telling you. Of the times I’ve been pulled over and told to assume the position – or to sit over there on the curb while they run a background check as motorists creep by and try to guess what heinous crime I’ve committed – there were only a handful where I felt threatened.

Only once do I remember seeing in an officer’s eyes his willingness, nay, his eagerness, to kill me. One false move – or even a move he could’ve construed as false – and I’d be taking the dirt nap right now.

While driving up Broadway in Gary, Ind., one Saturday afternoon in 1991, another car cut me off. I gently, nonconfrontationally tooted my horn to let the guy know he was sharing the road. He held up his middle finger, possibly to show me his I.Q.

Being a male, I showed him mine, too.

I thought the incident was over until he pulled out a gun and held it up.

I reached into my car’s secret compartment, grabbed my licensed gun and placed it on the front seat. He followed me for a few blocks while talking on a CB radio. I figured he was calling his buddies to come and ambush me, so I swerved, finally got away and proceeded on my original run to the bank.

My transaction at the drive-thru window was interrupted by the blaring of police sirens. The reporter in me immediately thought “Gee! The bank is being robbed, and I’m right here on the scene. This is great!”

Boy, talk about misreading the situation. Seconds later, half of the Merrillville, Ind., Police Department had my car surrounded and had guns pointed at me. You know how on TV shows when the cops corner a suspect they shout “REACH FOR THE SKY, PUNK”?

That is the most superfluous command ever given, because if you’ve ever had a gun pointed at you, you know that your hands automatically go up. The officer who’d jumped on the hood of my car, his gun fastened on my head through the sunroof, shouted “GIVE ME YOUR LICENSE!”

I looked at my license on the seat beside me. It was also beside my gun. He looked at it, too, and repeated his command. That’s when I, hands still skyward, said, “No, sir. If I reach for my license you’re going to say I’m reaching for my gun, and you’re going to kill me.”

The 50-ish woman teller at the bank drive-thru window spoke up. “Don’t worry, honey,” she said. “I’m watching everything.”

She saved my life, no doubt about it. As for the disappointed cop, ooh, I’d still love to have lunch with him when he wasn’t strapped and wearing his badge.

Despite that, I like cops. They’ve saved my butt or home many times. I consider some to be friends, although they beg me not to publicize that fact. My reality is not everyone’s reality, though.

There are other people who know the police only as adversaries – when they’re seeking a suspect, banging heads, trying to restore order or barking commands – which is why they view cops as a hostile, occupying force.

So that, guy who wrote me the stupid letter asking why blacks riot, is why the young people in Ferguson are so damned angry.

I understand their anger, their rage.

You’d better try to, too.

As for my lunch with the ex-cop, did I say it was “free”?

Hmmph. When the waitress came over after our unpleasant pow-wow and meal, the cop quickly said. “Separate checks.”

Dang, I thought while driving away. I just paid to be verbally abused.

Fortunately, though, verbal abuse isn’t deadly.

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