A few days ago, Donald Trump was talking about law enforcement. Punching his words, as he always does, he said something like:
“You guys bust down doors, chase down suspects, and take them down.”
This amped up, Adrenalin-filled speech made me think about two things.
The first was Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink,” all about the surprising effectiveness of snap judgements.
The second was a story that Jake, a rookie NYPD cop who’s the son of one of my best friends, Yvonne, told about a day on the job.
Before I get to Jake, a bit on Malcom Gladwell’s “Blink:”
Gladwell says is that snap judgements can be incredibly effective, but only if the person who’s making them does so with a cool head. With a cool head, time expands; those split seconds stretch out in time, and the person making that decision often makes the right one.
Gladwell then goes on to talk about various instances in which cops mistakenly shoot suspects. In so many cases, this tragic mistake comes from that amped up state of mind, that awful place that turns that second or two in which a person must react into an even shorter time, a microsecond at best. What’s so important, Gladwell says, is to create a mindset in which people in already high stress situations learn to calm down, learn to find that extra time in periods where there is so little of it.
Gladwell then goes on to tell the story of a veteran police officer facing a kid who obviously was up to no good. The kid put his hands up, but then suddenly reached for his waist.
So okay, the cop had a split second to react…what to do?
And in that moment in which he had to decide, the cop kept his cool. No, he said, the kid wasn’t going to draw on him. He was reaching for his weapon to throw it down.
Somehow, by remaining calm, the cop just…knew.
And he was right.
I thought about this as Jake told a story about a complaint he and his partner had to check out a while back. I don’t remember the details that well, but that’s not the main point of this story.
Whatever the case, it was a hot-button call: the woman was African American, and itching for a conflict.
Jake and his partner knocked on the door. Immediately, the woman bombarded them with all the things a cop dreads: screeds about police brutality, angry words about cops preying on black people, the whole bit.
She went on, and Jake stood there. He noticed the TV was on.
Did he bust down the door?
Did he chase her?
Did he take her down?
No. Jake had served a Marine in The Middle East, and he had reserves of calm, and a coolness under fire.
He sat on the couch.
“Whatcha watching,” he asked.
And that broke the tension. The woman started to talk about what she was watching. Jake started to talk about what she was watching.
In about a minute, the woman was calm.
Again, I don’t specifically remember what the exact situation was. Maybe she was in a screaming match with someone, maybe her set was just too loud. The point, however, was that when he knocked on the door, she was amped up, and instead of amping himself up as well, Jake decided to go the other way.
And it's a shame that these things don’t fit into the Trump narrative. For him, the notion of a “peace officer” is obviously a sign of weakness. Yet the way I see it, when these folks who we entrust with so much power know not the only the right times to use it, but, more importantly, the right times not to use it, they often do the exact thing that we hope they will do: not just serve, but protect.
No, Jake did not break down her door, chase her down, and take her down. Instead, he knocked on her door, sat right down, and calmed her down.
To Trump, I guess, Jake showed what he would no doubt see as weakness. There wasn’t the action movie outcome of gunfire and dead bodies. Instead, nobody died, and Jake and his partner went back to their squad car, peace restored.
No, he didn’t rain down the fire and fury that Trump keeps talking about, the kind that makes his crowds roar.
All Jake did, with infinite calm, was stretch out those few seconds in which he had to react, and diffuse the situation.
Trump would call him weak.
I call him a hero.