Frank Zafiro and Colin Conway, two former officers of the Spokane, Washington, Police Department, have collaborated on the important novel, The Ride-Along. One day, at the beginning of his ten-hour overnight shift, experienced officer Lee Salter is asked to have a civilian ride in the patrol car with him. This is not an unusual request in many police departments where ride-alongs are considered part of community relations. In this case, the person who’ll accompany him is a member of a vocal citizens’ Policy Reform Initiative named Melody Weaver. Salter expects a difficult few hours, and so does she.
The authors deserve considerable credit for trying to set aside their biases and present both sides of the police-citizen disconnect. Both parties make their arguments, though the authors’ thumbs seem on the police side of the scale. Weaver is querulous and argumentative, not appearing to want explanations, but rather to criticize. At least at first. Exposure to situations police officers face routinely does get through to her to some extent.
Salter acknowledges missteps by the authorities, particularly in the case of George Floyd’s death. But for the most part, he dismisses the research she cites and she doesn’t come up with specifics, making almost an “everybody knows . . . .” kind of argument. Under pressure, they both tend to retreat to established positions, which not only keeps the dialog from moving forward, but also effectively illustrates how far apart their positions are. Salter’s fallback is “you weren’t there.” That’s an inarguable position.
While the story wasn’t satisfactory in a conventional sense, in that there was no great epiphany by either of them during the ride, it is brilliant in showing how much more dialog is needed to bridge the gap. The book, with its biases (the authors make the point that we all have them), like the ride-along itself, is only a first step. But someone has to take it, and Zafiro and Conway have made a worthy effort. I hope it achieves a wide readership among thoughtful people.
Earlier this week, I wrote about Unexpected Synchronicities. Here’s another one. Recently, I watched the highly regarded 2019 documentary The Human Factor, by Israeli film director Dror Moreh. It chronicles the negotiations undertaken in the Clinton Administration to bring peace to the Middle East. Through photos and video coverage you see the main players—President Clinton; Israeli presidents Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak; Palestine Liberation Army chairman Yasser Arafat; and younger versions of six chief US negotiators: Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, Gamal Helal, Aaron David Miller, Daniel Kurtzer, and Robert Malley, who gave interviewers unprecedented access for this film.
Like in The Ride-Along, you see two intractable sides, locked in a mutually damaging struggle, in which no resolution seems forthcoming. The two sides’ frames of reference barely overlap. At one point, one of the American negotiators comments that the whole idea of peace meant something different to the Israelis than to Arafat. Then, strategic slips in the last round of negotiations set the stage for 25 additional years of conflict. What had been moving in the right direction slid back into chaos. We need to learn from that on the home front.
Film reviewer Matt Fagerhorn says The Human Factor shows “how much we have to lose when we give into the easy temptation of demonizing those who think differently.” It’s a judgment that applies equally to the conflicts in The Ride-Along.
Further reading and viewing:
Shots Fired: The Misunderstandings, Misconceptions, and Myths about Police Shootings by Joseph K. Loughlin and Kate Clark Flora.
Dror Mohreh’s riveting documentary, The Gatekeepers, consisting of interviews with past heads of Israel’s internal Security service, Shin Bet, about the consequences of failure to find peace.