By Steve Pomper
Traffic stop, Las Vegas, Nevada
“Do you know who I am?”
Do you know how often police officers hear this challenge? People may say it in different ways, but it’s not necessarily the specific words but the nastiness behind them—I’m better than you. Its twin purpose is to demean someone (officer) and elevate yourself.
Remember the Cambridge, Massachusetts police officers who arrested Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. after a neighbor thought Gates might be a burglar breaking into Gate’s home? The prof flipped the cops a colossal Do you know who I am, accusing the officers of racism. The cops suffered public humiliation, for which I felt they’ve been exonerated.
The cops got the report from a neighbor, who presumably knew Gates who had just returned from a flight, was reportedly intoxicated, and had forgotten his house key. The distinguished scholar should have been grateful the officers responded and that a neighbor cared enough to watch out for his house when she thought he was away. However, Do you know who he is?
President Barack Obama walks on while Sgt. James Crowley assists the President’s friend Prof. Henry Louis Gates assisted by a cane.
As NPR reported, during an interview with one of the officers, Sgt. James Crowley, “Gates was arrested at his home last week after someone saw him forcing open his own front door, mistaking him for a burglar. Police responded to a 911 call, and Sgt. James Crowley arrested Gates for disorderly conduct after a verbal altercation.”
Even President Barack Obama knee-jerked that the officers acted “stupidly.” But how could the officers know Professor Gates was the homeowner simply by his word? Isn’t that what any burglar might claim? I’ve heard it. They don’t issue cops crystal balls in the police academy.
This previous incident came to mind when I read, in a recent New York Post story, about a Georgia mayor who leveled a do you know who I am rant. In this case, not at the police but at the homeowner on whose property the mayor was allegedly trespassing.
The Georgia homeowner called 911 after seeing a “trespasser at his home on Cascade Palmetto Highway.”
The trespasser happened to be South Fulton Mayor Khalid Kamau, who added an expletive flourish to his venomous query: “Do you know who the f—k I am? I’m the mayor, and I’ll wait for my police to get here and see what happens then…,” according to WSB-TV.
Refreshingly (I guess), at least, the mayor praised “his” cops “for their courteous and professional service throughout the day….” A day which included his arrest for “first degree burglary,” indicating the evidence likely showed more than trespassing occurred. According to the Postmillennial, [the mayor] also founded the Atlanta #BlackLivesMatter Chapter. He is out on a $11,000 bond.” Why am I not surprised?
The unidentified homeowner held the mayor at gunpoint for the police. Did the homeowner overreact? Maybe. However, the house appears to be in a secluded, wooded location on a lake. Context is important like if there had been reported area break-ins recently. The mayor reportedly said he thought the house was abandoned, but the story didn’t elaborate.
Still, this is not about the trespassing but about the do-you-know-who-I-am BS that happens so often, especially to cops. When it happened to me, as a cop, I always wondered, do you know how that sounds? I told one guy, “No, but I will after you hand me your license, so I can write you a ticket” (said without the slightest hint of sarcasm, of course).
People saying this is so prevalent, and since we’re in Georgia, in 2018, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution printed a story, “A brief history of celebs asking Atlanta cops: ‘Do you know who I am?”
They wrote, “The question has been thrown around by powerful people in an attempt to wield influence since the beginning of time — or at least since the 1800s. The query so often fails to conjure the outcome it intends, it’s a wonder the six word phrase ever gets any play.”
If you’re going to ask a cop, “do you know who I am?” at least answer, “the biggest cop supporter you’ve ever met.
The Atlanta Constitution (at the time) reprinted an article, back in 1887 and then again in 1922, from The San Francisco Chronicle about the proliferation of the “DYKWIA” phrase. “The 19th-century article explained it this way: It’s ‘human nature to be ashamed of being insignificant, of being unknown,’ but ‘there is nothing a man resents more as quickly as being asked ‘Don’t you know who I am?’”
There have been musicians, politicians, artists, actors, athletes, wealthy businesspeople who’ve uttered those ubiquitous words. Every cop, no matter how remote the beat, has had at least one such encounter. Many of those wielding the “DYKWIA” rebuke blame it on “one too many drinks.” One encouraging aspect of some stories is how many celebs later said they regretted their actions.
In 2013, a well-known, beloved actress later apologized for her DYKWIA moment and said she had “nothing but respect for the police.” An NBA star also “returned to the scene and apologized for disrespecting the police.”
Still, there was also a Maxim Model and a former Atlanta Falcon who berated cops, and an NBA super star who, reportedly, bullied a hotel bellman “about a package not arriving: ‘Do you know who I am?’”
According to the article, a famed suspense writer may shed some insight on the issue: “It’s frightening how many novels of suspense I’ve written, but still, when I’m not recognized it just kills me.”
I suppose people just want to know they matter, but some don’t quite know how to express that appropriately. How about just treating everyone with respect until they prove they don’t deserve it?
Ultimately, it seems the DYKWIA folks are either trying to elevate their stature or attempting to demean someone else’s, often a police officer. More likely, it’s a bit of both. But, instead, they only demean themselves. Do we know who you are? Sadly, we do.