The Importance of Civility

Civility Logo Web 1The Importance of Civility: Why Don’t We Understand It?

The following is from an opinion article in the Nov. 29, 2014 issue of The New York Times. It was written by Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown and the author of a forthcoming book on President Obama and race.


But the most poignant for me was his retelling of an incident that happened to him many years ago and how it stays with him even to this day. It should be instructional for all police officers.

Police must understand the power and fear they bring into a contact with a person of color. A little empathy exhibited by them can go a long, long way. When mistakes are made (as they always will be) police need to apologize. A simple and sincere, “Sorry to have had to stop you, sir, but I did think I saw something that I needed to take action on. Again, I am very sorry!”

“It is nearly impossible to convey the fear that strikes at the heart of black Americans every time a cop car pulls up. When I was 17, my brother and I and a childhood friend were pulled over by four Detroit cops in an unmarked police vehicle. This was in the mid-70s, in the shadow of the infamous Detroit Police Department task force called Stress (Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets), which was initiated after the 1967 riots. The unit lived up to its name and routinely targeted black people.

“As we assumed the position against the car, I announced to one of the plainclothes officers that I was reaching into my back pocket to fish the car’s registration from my wallet. He brought the butt of his gun sharply across my back and knocked me to the ground, promising, with a racial epithet, that he’d put a bullet through my head if I moved again. When I rose to my feet, cowering, showing complete deference, the officer permitted me to show the car’s registration. When the cops ran the tags, they concluded what we already knew: The car wasn’t stolen and we weren’t thieves. They sent us on without a hint of an apology…”

The entire opinion is worth reading and you can read it HERE.


  1. Perhaps it is just me but, if I still were active in policing, I think I would feel that we have reached the “piling on” stage. I don’t see much opportunity for dialogue in the current atmosphere.


    1. George, I often reflect back on what we would do given the situation. What would be our response today to people of color in Madison? I think you know. Remember when the LAPD mercilessly beat Rodney King and how we went to the media and discussed the incident and tried to assure our residents that this thing would not/could not happen here? I think it helped even if police today have to push the dialogue. To me, one of the bottom lines is that the safety of our officers is now in jeopardy because of the acts of a few (which I am often reminded of), but like the abuse of children by a few priests, the implications are tidal! As I see it today, some police leader, some group of leaders, must stand up and speak out!


      1. Well, David, I certainly agree that we need to push the dialogue as those speaking often seem to lack a grasp of what is important or real. The 24 hour news cycle does not help. Can’t help but wonder how soon they move on to the next issue just like Ebola.
        For example, it wasn’t just the military equipment give away that fueled the militarization of the police. The gun manufacturers and NRA keeping war weapons and high capacity clips on the street did their part, too. The tragic death of the 12 year old in Cleveland was not the first with look alike guns but have not seen too many protesters visiting the retailers who put profit first in that instance. Just think the issue has a lot of layers, few of which are being revealed.


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