A couple of weeks ago, a local man was indicted for assault on a customs agent at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. Apparently, the man was verbally abusive toward an officer, threw an item from his baggage at an officer, and finally struck an officer in the head with his fist. The officer sustained a cut and other injuries and the man was on his was to lock-up. It is not a good idea to enter into a confrontation with law enforcement.
Way back in 1996, I was flying out of Atlanta to some destination. I was dressed in my priest’s collar and a black suit. At the ticket counter, a tired agent asked if anyone had given me anything to carry on to the airplane.
Thinking myself ever so clever, I grinned and said, “Just that Arab-looking guy that was here earlier.”
The man behind the counter slowly looked up, eyed me from head to toe, and said, “Father, you are this close to having a very, very bad day.” Suddenly, I didn’t feel so clever.
“I was just trying to be funny,” I stammered.
“Well, funny, it’s not,” said the man behind the counter. “In fact, the last guy who tried to be funny was taken into a room by agents, stripped, searched, had his baggage confiscated, missed his flight, and was detained for seven hours. You get what I’m saying, Father?”
Properly rebuked, chastised, frightened, and horrified, I offered a profound apology and swore that I would never do that again. After a long moment, he said, “Lucky for you, I’m Catholic.”
I decided to keep very quiet and not reveal that I was not Roman Catholic. “And, at the moment,” he continued, “I’m not ticked off at my own priest.”
“Thank you,” I uttered. “Thank you. I’m sorry. God bless you!” He nodded and I hurriedly went on my way before he changed his mind.
Not long after that, someone exploded a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. I understood then why the ticket guy was in no mood to fool around with a guy trying to be funny.
Even though the man was not a cop, he had the ability to call down the power of law enforcement down upon me and I would have had a very bad day. I should have known better. I did know better. Sometimes it’s better to just be quiet and do what you’re told instead of trying to be clever. On that day, I poked the bear. Not smart.
Which brings me back to the man who was arrested a few days ago. Why, oh why, would you swear at and verbally assault an officer of the law? Why would you throw a can of deodorant at him? And why would you throw a punch in his face? How did you expect it to end? An assault on an officer is a crime. An assault on a federal officer is a federal crime.
Here’s the way it works: If you assault an officer, you are going to go to jail. Maybe for a long time. If you point a weapon at an officer or make that officer feel that his life is threatened, you may very well go to the morgue. Do. Not. Do. It.
Just be civilized, act respectful, answer proper questions, and let the officer do his job. Chances are that the incident will be over soon and everyone goes their way, maybe with a ticket, maybe not.
But if you escalate, if you threaten, if you attack or seem poised to attack, you are about to have a very, very bad day. And you will have no one to blame but yourself.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]