The Other Columbus: When police enter a space it no longer belongs to you

Scott Woods
Columbus Division of Police vehicle logo March 1, 2019

There are a number of reasons why you should only call the police as the last possible resort, but here’s one you don’t process much until they’re in the same room with you: When the police enter a space any space it no longer belongs to you.

You are no longer the homeowner or the parent or the boss or the institution. Your space becomes an outpost of the state. The police are not in service to you. They do not work for you. If they do something once they’re in your space, you are no longer in charge. Somehow, you now work for them. You have called for a clean-up in aisle 12 only to find yourself deputized.

You cannot debate what they are doing in your space because their power circumvents all authority. To do so makes you an accomplice at best, a target at worst. It is, in fact, the difference between power and authority. Authority is conferred. We agree on your authority. But power? You don’t need authority to be powerful. This is true wherever they go. The only one who doesn’t get it is the person who calls.

If they want to come into your private spaces, the places where you haven’t actually called for them to police, they simply walk into them. They are not negotiators. They are colonizers of space, of time, of souls. They are not trained in debate or democracy. Nothing is up for discussion, let alone a vote. Yelling at them doesn’t work, not because it is loud, but because it isn’t on the agenda, isn’t part of the process. Yelling may be called for, but it was not asked for, and it has a good chance of making you a target, too.

When police officers enter your space that is no longer your space, they become magnets. Anyone who has something to say can catch these cuffs. Any observer can become the subject, lassoed into the moment. 

The air changes around them, becomes charged, becomes powder and electricity. That sensation you feel when they pass is the wind of your freedom flying away. It is the heft of your guilt bullying its way into the fray because you have done this. You have summoned them. And now you are not in control. What happens after that is something you will have to carry.

You can do a right thing the wrong way. You do not see it when you are in it. You see “problem” and “bad behavior,” maybe even “crime.” It is easy to distill crime out of fear and suspicion, to create a problem where there isn’t one. All you need is a phone.

Remember that you have called a potential executioner to the scene. You have called the power of the state into your space.

The space that is no longer yours.