Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Socialist’s Journal: A Time and a Place (What Charlena Michelle Cooks Should’ve Done)

Trevor Brookins
Trevor Brookins

*Last week police in Barstow, California were exposed as having been unnecessarily forceful with a pregnant African-Americans woman, Charlena Michelle Cooks, who was arrested because she refused to identify herself to officers after arguing with a Caucasian woman.

(Scroll down to see the video)

The facts of the case are pretty straightforward: two women argue, one called police, after hearing the story the police decided this isn’t worth them arresting anyone, in speaking with the black woman the police asked her name and she wouldn’t give it to them.

There are two related but separate issues in play here. First is the proper way to behave around law enforcement officers; second is how those officers treat you. I think these two issues are equally important so do not read a value judgment into the order I’ve placed them.

The first issue is important because it is about the immediate well being of a person dealing with people who have the ability to kill. For anyone in that situation it is imperative that they do everything in their power to come out alive. This is why people, especially those who are part of groups that have historically been targeted by police lacking integrity. You don’t know who you are dealing with but it goes without a doubt that there is a power imbalance and the police officer(s) have the advantage.

The second issue is important because if we, as a society, get this issue worked out the first issue probably goes away. Even from a societal vantage point this second issue is not necessarily more important. While police training may be giving officers a certain mindset when patrolling certain areas or encountering certain people, any one on one interaction can overcome prejudices in an officers mind. Furthermore most police officers are products of an integrated society and will uphold the dignity of the people they are speaking with. So even on a macro level, the second issue should not trump the first.

I’ve written multiple times about inequalities both in the United States and internationally. There are plenty of ways to argue about the second issue, and plenty of time to do it. When you are trying to convince the police of your version of events that might not be the appropriate time.

I’m sorry if this seems overly conciliatory. But if you think that then you haven’t fully separated the issues. When someone is driving a car on the sidewalk you don’t argue with them about where cars belong – you get out of the way.

Now – after she has made it home safely – Ms. Cooks should shout from the rooftops how she was unfairly treated. She should sue the police department. She should get an apology from Barstow dignitaries.

But let’s understand that without handling the first issue she wouldn’t be alive to do any of that stuff.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.



  1. I disagree with your take of the Cooks situation in Barstow. All of us, especially citizens of the U.S.A. should be aware of our rights and responsibilities. Those who should be most aware of those rights and responsibilities are the law enforcement professionals who police us. Because law enforcement has the power of life and death, and freedom and arrest in a particular moment, and most importantly, because they have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution, the burden is on them to know and to uphold the law. Instead of placing the burden on the victim in these situations, the onus should be on the arresting officers. When Cooks was arrested, the officer committed a crime and violated her Constitutional rights.

    Almost universally, whether siding with Cooks or the arresting officer, commenters criticize Cooks for not remaining more calm and for failing to identify herself. The fact is that the officer was dead wrong. He knew or should have known that arresting Cooks for failure to identify herself was, flat out, clear as day, illegal. Period. She had every right, and perhaps a duty to protest that illegal arrest.

    In January of 2014, the Barstow Police department arrested the Katz brothers for the very same offense, failure to provide identification to one of their officers. As with Cooks, the charges against that Katz brothers were subsequently dropped. Ironically, about a week before Cooks’ arrest, Barstow and its police department entered into a settlement agreement with the Katz brothers. In addition to paying monetary damages to the brothers, the police department had to retrain its officers concerning arrests for failing to provide identification to an officer.

    The training document provided that, in almost every instance except for a driver of a vehicle, no one is required to provide identification upon a police officer’s demand. Consequently, since there is no law in California that requires it, an officer cannot legally make an arrest for failure to provide identification.

    Until we level our criticism at law enforcement for making willful, illegal arrests nothing will change.

    • Agreed. Too many people march and died (black and white) to make sure that constitutional rights crossed ethnic lines. If the author would like to hand his over to some ill-informed, inadequate officer, that’s his right to do so…..but he should make no assumptions that others should do the same. This article should have been titled ‘What I would do while police violate my rights’.

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