Race and the Sheriff of Cowlick Crossing

Note: I was out of town this weekend and plan to have my next missing person post ready tomorrow on the Beau Ramsey case.

In the meantime, I offer this.



Kelvin had just completed his first year as a police officer, and we were both assigned to patrol on the overnight shift in a large city in the Southern United States. In general, all of the patrol officers in our agency worked solo (one officer per vehicle).

Kelvin, a young African-American who had started law enforcement career after a few years in the US Army, had good instincts, was a martial arts black-belt, and was well-liked by his colleagues.

Kelvin’s primary challenge with the citizenry was communication-—but it wasn’t his fault.

In our area, where locals often uttered phrases such as “fixin to”, “y'all”, and “pert near”, Kelvin’s Northeastern US (the Big Apple to be precise) vocabulary simply did not include these regional terms.

In fact, when speaking to residents, Kelvin’s brash and rapid sounding New York City accent resulted in citizens regularly responding with blank stares and/or intense noggin scratching followed by a witty replies like “Huh?”

The following exchange occurred on a summer Saturday night/Sunday morning when Kelvin was assigned to an area of the jurisdiction nicknamed “Cowlick Crossing”. Cowlick Crossing, dominated by farms, country folk, and open land, represented the largest patrol zone (in land size) for our agency.

The proprietors at the handful of cowboy dives and biker bars in Cowlick Crossing took care of themselves and, outside of a homicide, rarely contacted authorities for anything.

Since the area was isolated, rural, and distant from other law enforcement personnel, the cop with that assignment, Unit 24, was very much a one-officer show and was jovially referred to by coworkers as the "Sheriff of Cowlick Crossing."




KELVIN: 24. Go ahead.

DISPATCHER: 24. I’ve got a call on a group of disorderly subjects. White Birch Road near Seesaw Circle. Two truckloads of male subjects throwing objects at cars, cursing, squealing tires, and waving Confederate flags from the truck beds.

{Long moment of silence}

DISPATCHER: Car 24; Were you direct on my traffic at Seesaw Circle?

KELVIN: Yes. I was waiting to see what other car you were going to send as backup. I really don’t think the flag-wavers are going to be overjoyed with my tan or my small talk about the best pierogies in Queens.

DISPATCHER: Er... Yes... Sure...

{Unit 22 interrupts and saves the dispatcher from additional stuttering}

UNIT 22: {laughing}I heard that call and I’m in route with car 24.

DISPATCHER: Ok.. Um… Thanks.

Kelvin is now a detective assigned to an urban part of the jurisdiction. It would not surprise me to learn that Kelvin has not been back to Cowlick Crossing since his 12 months of "sheriffing" there.


On a related topic: Prior to spending time as a police officer, I could not imagine citizens encountering a cop, and based on his or her nationality, requesting another officer--but it happened regularly.

I remember a black officer showing up on a call and the citizen demanding to talk to a white cop.

In turn, I have been the white officer responding to an incident and have had someone demand to speak with an African-American officer.

Unsurprisingly, the services provided by either "type" of officer were the same.

I'll have to ask Kelvin if a citizen ever refused to talk with him and demanded to be speak to a non-Yankee cop...


Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,

Very true. When I moved from way South to mid-Atlantic, I kept getting in trouble for saying 'enjoy your dinner break'--I would get back--

Ann, it's LUNCH!!!

Thanks for a hoot and a thought,
Ann T.

P.S. As a WF, I don't care for those Confederate good ol' boys myself. A little scary. . . mean jokes, in my experience, turned into mean not-jokes. But of course they are way reasonable. It's only state's rights. Uh-huh. And too much Budweiser.

Sue said...

Very well written story. :-)

angelcel said...

This made me smile but I can't believe that people actually ask for white/non-white officers. Try doing that here in the UK - if you dare!

gladwellmusau said...

This is an interesting one for me...



jinksy said...

I have a feeling I'd like this post, if I could understand the language...

signed Pen the Brit. :)

Rebecca Watson said...

very cool blog! I'm going to follow you, follow me! http://justcherishtoday.blogspot.com

Happy Monday!!

J. J, in Phila said...

Quite good, and the stories I could tell you! :)

Javajune said...

I thought I lived in a rural area but cowlick crossing wow! Thats country living for sure! Since I'm from Michigan I guess I'm a yank but I have southern roots/gypsy roots. My town is quite narrow minded and we've never had anything other than a causian officer. You would think that times have changed but some areas remain untouched.
Happy V day a little late!

Bob G. said...

Great story...and all too true. I'm from Philly (originally) and even I had trouble with some of the NYC officers and their stacatto delivery when they spoke.

Be nice if they could TYPE that fast...LMAO!

But after a short time, I learned to "mimic" the cadence and inflections...and I can pretty much do it for most of this country (as well as others across the pond)
Dunno if it's a gift...or a curse.
Welcome to linguistics 101...LOL!

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

Stories like that really bother me. Why are people still like that?

Zuzanna said...

I love your style :*

Pamela said...

You have such a smooth writing style and I definitely plan on reading all your posts. Keep up the fantastic work. :)


Luisa Doraz said...

I totally understand this post! I am originally from NYC. We moved to a small town in central CA where it was mostly farm land. We had a farm back then. I had a time trying to figure out those people in that town. It took a bit, but I finally fit in! I am Italian, imagine the stories others might tell! :)

LadyFi said...

Amazing how a country can be divided by its accents! ;-)

Kimberly said...

That sounds like a very small town. It is sad to know there are people like that still out there though.

Dan said...

Around here it has nothing to do with "tan" or even native tongue - it is all whether you have the mid-western twang and understand true cowpoke lingo. I've seen urban cops on exchange to this rural area go absolutely nuts trying to decipher what was being said. So the request usually goes for "someone who speaks either normal or German or Italian or Spanish - something we can understand."

Back when I was a kid, the request might have included Russian. (The area around here was originally homesteaded by German, Italian, Spanish, and Russian emigres.)

Holly said...

Kelvin had a great sense of humor about it. It happens in big cities too...it takes all types.

Slamdunk said...

Sorry for my delay in responding to comments.

@ Ann T.: The dinner and lunch thing is true. I was reading one of the Mrs. student's papers and he referred to supper. I immediately new he was a transplant from the south.

@ Jinksy: When Kelvin is through with his translator, I'll send him your way.

@ JavaJune: Cowlick Crossing is a real place just a "made-up" name. I don't use real names of people or places in my post so that I can remain an anoynomous blogger.

Sue said...

I say supper, and I was born and raised just south of the NY border in PA. Is supper only a Southern term, because most of my family is from this area. I'm confused.

Slamdunk said...

I had to look your question up Sue, and was surprised how "supper" is used differently around the world.

I thought it was mostly a Southern term.

Sue said...

Well, that was quite interesting!

Here and in most of the surrounding areas, we call "suppertime" for our evening meal. "Dinner" is for formal meals, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and those start earlier in the afternoon, but not near "lunch" time, which is mid-day meal.

In our defense, Warren County is a rural community and there are several rural counties in both PA and NY that boast farm life. In fact, I did remember being told that my accent is more like the midwestern accent than a Pittsburgh one.

I didn't realize "supper" was different across the world at all! Thank you!