Please Don't Call The Cops On Kids Smoking Pot In The Park, Okay?
If there is anything people love more than complaining about how kids never go outside anymore and are always on their phones, it is kicking kids out of public spaces like parks and malls.
On Friday, a Twitter account that posts things heard over Chicago police scanner tweeted that someone had called the cops about a group of about 15 teenagers smoking pot in a park.
\u201cPrinters Row Park: caller says approximately 15 teens are smoking weed in the park. #Chicago #ChicagoScanner\u201d— Spot News (@Spot News) 1676067456
I have to know. What kind of person does this? What is it that they wanted to have happen here? Did they want these kids arrested and thrown in jail? Were they frightened? Were they scared the teens may have caught reefer madness? Who looks at a bunch of kids just hanging out, smoking pot in a park and thinks "Oh, I'd better call 911! Surely the solution to this problem is sending these kids to prison for however many years." Weed is legal in Illinois (though only for people over 21), but the kind of person who would call 911 to report kids in a park smoking pot probably doesn't know that.
I have many questions here. But mostly i'd like to know what this person would have done if the police had killed one of those kids.
I am sure this was just a regular old busybody, someone who thought they were being a Good American Citizen by reporting such dreadful juvenile delinquency to the police. I realize that a lot of people's heads are in a different place than mine (at this point omertà is my default status) is as far as this goes and that they are accustomed to thinking of the police as their friends. But in the world we live in, when you call the cops on people — people of color in particular — you put their lives at risk. Police have killed unarmed people over much less than a joint.
It's also worth considering whether or not the punishment for the crime one is reporting would be just or if it would itself be a worse crime. In Illinois, minors won't get arrested for smoking pot, but they can be fined $100-$200. Do you even want a teenager to have to come up with $100-$200 for smoking pot in a park? Is this something you really care about and think is important and beneficial for society? In the case of other drugs or minor crimes, does the punishment fit the crime? Is it the best thing for society to lock someone up for maybe 20 years because they sold drugs as a teenager?
We have the largest prison population in the world and we put people away for a very long time in this country, in prisons that are unsafe, for relatively minor and often victimless crimes, derailing their lives and making it harder for them to support themselves when they get out.
Judges will happily consider the "bright futures" of well-off white rapists like Brock Turner, but that doesn't go for everyone.
It's impossible to know what the statistics are on prison rape — about 4 percent of prisoners actually report being sexual assault, but some peer-reviewed studies say it could be that as many as 41 percent of prisoners are sexually assaulted while they are incarcerated, and this is an especially big risk for juveniles. This, too, should be taken into consideration when reporting crimes. I'm not saying "If you report a crime you are causing someone to get raped in prison," but it's not something people should put out of their heads, either.
We have an ethical obligation to consider what calling the police on someone actually means. Calling the police and then figuring "whatever happens, happens — I've done my part and I'm not responsible for what happens afterwards!" is not an acceptable position in a society that does what we do.
Apart from this, there are a lot of other situations where one does not necessarily need to call the cops and another service would suffice. For instance, if someone is having a severe mental health episode, maybe instead of calling people who could very well decide to handle that by putting a bag over their head and pushing it into the ground until they die of suffocation, you might want to call people better equipped to handle such a situation — like a crisis intervention unit that is actually trained to do so. For such occasions, there are a lot of resources at Don't Call The Police, a handy website that lists community-based alternatives to calling the cops in a bunch of metropolitan areas around the country.
It's one thing if you're being chased down an alley by a psycho killer with a machete. In that case, by all means, call the cops. If you or someone else is in immediate physical danger — go ahead, dial 911. Although you might want to be aware that there's a 95 percent chance they won't get there in time to do anything about it or even catch the attacker — and that they are not constitutionally obligated to do anything to protect you. If someone robs you and you need to file a police report for insurance purposes? Knock yourself out.
However, if it's a victimless crime like, say, a bunch of teenagers smoking pot in a park? If you see something, don't say something.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse