Who Is Your Cop Whisperer?

Even the sniffer dogs turn into Burners on the Playa Image: Simon Pearce/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Even the sniffer dogs turn into Burners on the Playa. Image: Simon Pearce/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Summer Burkes has written a really good article at The Ladies Guide to the Apocalypse about the interactions between law enforcement and Black Rock City. The general consensus for Caravansary seems to be that Burner/LEO relations greatly improved after BMOrg settled their lawsuit against Pershing County.

From summerburkes.com:

We’re proud of our Gate and Rangers for offsetting so many of the more minor duties police are forced to deal with in the real world but not here, such as traffic control and too-drunk people. This shows the real world a different model of non-interference and enhanced social contracts… Law enforcement is certainly enforcing the law, but with an enhanced understanding between the parties. The XRT (External Relations Team) has been working all year with Burning Man’s police and BLM, and no jinx, but our relationship seems to be better than ever

Cop Whispering is a thing in the Cacophony Society, and a very important thing at that. Cop Whispering is a cute name for a serious skill requiring a sober person with a competent and respectful attitude.

In the Cacophony Society and its outlying (and sometimes unwitting) spokes-shows like Cyclecide and the Life-Size Mousetrap, we always designate a Cop Whisperer. This person is THE person who talks to the cops…

Imagine you’re a police officer answering an unknown-intruder call in San Francisco in the ‘90s. Scenario one: You walk into an abandoned building, where crazy freaks seem to be dining in full formal attire at a candlelight banquet, the contents of which all seem to have been carried in by hand. You, policeperson with off-the-chart adrenaline washing through your system as always, are ambushed by most of these kooks, who all get up from the table to start speaking to you at once, making jokes and snapping flash cameras. Some drunk idiot starts yelling platitudes about knowing his rights. Cringe and duck, right?

Scenario two: You, policeperson, respond to the call in the same abandoned building, where amidst the dust, broken glass, and a strange full-formal banquet table, a group of weirdoes are calmly and quietly sitting in a circle on the ground, with their empty hands resting visibly on their knees. One of these people is in a gorilla suit, inexplicably. You, cop, are approached by one person — the designated Cop Whisperer. You, cop with heart pounding and adrenals pumping, not knowing what you were just walking into, are overjoyed to see a circle of weirdoes? maybe art students? or whatever, AND a gorilla suit guy, sitting in a circle why? are they a weird religion or … ? and for heaven’s sake you, cop, may even be laughing by the time the Cop Whisperer talks to you.

See the difference?

Cop whisperer? (1997, photo by Lenny Jones)

The rules for Cop Whispering are simple. Realize that most cops are sometimes-scared, sometimes-vulnerable, flesh-and-blood people doing their best to serve and protect society. One person talks to the law enforcement and others do NOT gather around — a crowd makes anyone feel outnumbered and threatened. Don’t lie to law enforcement, don’t be nervous, and don’t taunt them (doy). Treat them like humans, not Terminators…

As we continue our policy of being friendly and open to law enforcement out here, let’s not forget to invite them to participate as well. The BLM and local officers are as much a part of the Burning Man community as they want to be. Those who are a part of this community, and not on the outside looking in, are protective of this community…

we — all of us — have been practicing building a brand new society and interaction-based reality out here. What we do and learn and make up at Burning Man radiates out into the larger world, and we’ve got a real chance to show everyone how we shine together. We all want to make America mean something great again.

We know, what lamely sappy notion, but we’re feeling it. Dusty punk rockers, techno-ravers, and machine-art freaks are out here working on it.

Read the full story at summerburkes.com

It’s probably not a bad idea for every camp and every party to designate a Cop Whisperer or two…just in case.

17 comments on “Who Is Your Cop Whisperer?

  1. LEOs realized they could catch more bees with honey. Simply pretend like you’re just there to keep the peace. The police are there to ticket people and make arrests, not to be your friends. Undercovers dressed as rabbits and as DPW are out there.

    But now you have burners going up to cops and thanking them for being there. Taking selfies with them and inviting them into camp for tea and a nice little chat. And while you’re having this nice little chat the LEOs are checking out your camp’s ashtrays and glancing into tents and RVs for reasons to bust you.

    And don’t get me started on BRC Rangers assisting LEOs in camp raids. It’s infuriating.

    • As a long term volunteer who has served for over a decade in the BRC Rangers as shift lead, REMSA, perimeter and emergency response I take issue with your above statement.

      In fact, I’ll just publicly call you out by saying that you’re not only mis-informed you are a fucking liar.

      Black Rock Rangers have *never* been involved in or collaborated with LEO in raiding a camp. Rangers have worked on the periphery in assisting LEOs in collaring sexual predators and assailants and they have at times responded to calls from camps or neighbors in engaging camps with bad actors but NEVER have they assisted Pershing, Washoe, BLM r Nevada Highway Patron in raiding camps of any type for any reason.

      You do a profound disservice to the Rangers who invest hours – days – on the playa trying to make sure that such raids don’t happen. Rangers act as a social lubricant of sorts in investing themselves in the event so that potential negative interactions with participants and LEO are minimized. *THAT’s what Rangers do. Rangers aren’t skulking quislings playing the role of LEO wannabe’s. That’s the role of mall cops and security guards.

      So yeah Tony, I take offense at your off the cuff response to an issue that you know nothing about. In fact, I fucking dare you to provide me and any one else here irrefutable proof to the brazen accusation that you’ve recklessly tossed off in your above statement.

      Until that unlikely time you are and remain a blathering ass of the first order.

      • I guess you can’t be everywhere, Badger. I watched a BRC Ranger who showed up at my neighbor’s camp with about 10 LEOs and a dog. Someone in camped passed a joint to an undercover somewhere on the playa and the team raided their camp.

        The female BRC Ranger was laughing and joking with the LEOs, and at one point pointed out a potential area where they might check for the dangerous drugs. The two people who were dragged back to camp to watch in horror and everyone’s belongings were searched. Not once did the BRC Ranger go up to them and talk with them, she was too busy enjoying her role as honorary cop.

        It does happen and I’ve heard other similar stories. Just because you really like your gang of overgrown scouts doesn’t mean these little brats don’t let that little bit of power go to their heads.

        The two drug fiends were kicked out of BRC, but were later allowed back in. We spoke about the female ranger and they witnessed the same thing.

        • ” I watched a BRC Ranger who showed up at my neighbor’s camp with about 10 LEOs and a dog. Someone in camped passed a joint to an undercover somewhere on the playa and the team raided their camp. ”

          Your sophomoric retorts aside my accusation stands. Irrefutable proof of what you say to be true rather than a biased perceived actions by someone you accuse of being in cahoots with law enforcement.

          You are a liar.

          • Badger, unfortunately, in the court of public opinion, perception is reality, irrefutably not withstanding. The reader has to consider the agenda you and Tony might have, and make our judgements from there.

            Tony, next time I suggest an HD 2-camera shoot with radio lav mics on all the parties.

          • >Irrefutable proof of what you say to be true

            Believe it or not. I’m not obliged to prove anything to you, especially when proof would be impossible to obtain. I was told by LEO to stand back from the scene or else get arrested. I couldn’t possibly approach the ranger in question to get her side of the story.

            It’s amazing to me that you don’t think a good number of BRC Rangers sign up just so they can play rule enforcers and who get off on wearing the uniform out there.

            During ranger training even Michael Mikel made these folks chant “We are not cops!” … Who were they chanting to? Themselves. Because rangers playing little cops out there happens, often.

            Just read up on Stanford Prison Experiment. If anyone is being disingenuous with their statements, it’s you. To claim that BRC Rangers NEVER participate in camp raids… well, as far as you know perhaps. I guess they don’t chat about it with everyone back at camp. But you should know better.

          • It’s much easier for me to believe the account of the Tiger, a Burner (“I saw this happen”) than the Badger, head shift leader of Rangers (“I know everything that every Ranger ever did at Burning Man and it’s impossible that this could have ever happened and therefore the witness is a fucking liar”).

            As Nomad points out, readers should consider the different agendas here. Who has a reason to lie? Who is stating facts and details, and who is name calling?

            On another note, I remember a few years ago a Ranger who would swing by our camp EVERY DAY to see if anyone wanted to buy mushrooms.

          • Badger, can you say that every Ranger involvement with LEOs and burners results in a report? And have you read every single report and can assure us that there has never been any Ranger who has ever done anything like Tony reports? Pretty amazing since you don’t have a year, let alone a date of the reported abuse of trust.

            I hope you realize that you have done more harm than good at this point. The only person who has been juvenile here is you. In fact, your unilateral dictatorial position on something you cannot have witnessed actually suggests that there is a culture of being blind to these type of problems.

            My opinion of the BRC Rangers has dropped more from your reaction than Tony’s report. Your reaction suggests that this in fact does happen but is, by Ranger policy, not disclosed. It appears you have adopted the BOrg refute-all-evil stance on anything that sounds bad.

  2. Summer,
    what, exactly, is an “enhanced social contract”?
    Just FYI: though it may seem like it today, police going about their jobs in a respectful and restrained manner is nothing new, and definitely not an original concept pioneered at burning man.
    Feel free to visit Black Rock Legal Defense Fund (brldf.org) to read about the contrast between responsible law enforcement, and everything else.

  3. The more mainstream the crowed, the greater the desire for order, predictability, non spontaneity, regularity, and safety from a mainstream perspective-all of which a large active police presence can be hoped to provide.

    I don’t disagree that some type of police presence is required but since the makeup of the attendees has radically shifted their presence will, imo, become much more visible and potentially intrusive.

    • Amen, Chuck. I was about to complain about the rising LEO presence over the past few years, but it is necessary now that the NV burn has been defaultified.

      One thing that is interesting about PDF in DE is that the event is on the grounds of and co-sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club of Delaware. As such, there is an existing “coordination” shall we say with local LE, and that is part of the PDF draw. Unfortunately, that draw attracts people that are disjoint from my necessary burn experience.

      But I have heard no reports of underage serving narcs at PDF, which was beginning at the NV burn the last time I went. I heard that the Abstininthe camp got busted and fined. Before the sellout, that was the main problem on the playa. Of course the best solution is to simply card people as a condition for entry, which is what many if not most other burns do.

  4. There are great concepts in the article for staying safe. Also very positive ways to conceptualize police…at least for white, mostly middle class folk who contribute extensively to the local economy. Except for non-economic activities such as drug use, Burning Man and the local cops are mostly on the same side: prevent harm to the local citizens. But that’s not the whole case in the default/real world. There, the cops are also present to help keep the aggrieved in their place and protect the interests of the wealthy few. In the Rodney King world, cop whispering is a wishful fantasy.

    There’s no reason for Burning Man’s educated, privileged citizenry not to use their advantages. It’s just not ok to pretend BM and the default world share the same relationships to power.

    • Yes, Cop Whispering is for white, middle-class types who have the someome-to-be-reconed-with-might-law-a-lawyer-and-look-bad-on-TV card to play. The main thing is to let the cop know you are holding that card ASAP.

        • Better yet, “Yes, officer, this is my camp mate, James, he is my drinking buddy and attorney.” The CCamp wristbands may be a way of keeping the LEOs focusing on the poor folks. Works better than a limo license plate for your Bentley.

          I hope someone is working on counterfeit CCamp wristbands.

          • My Samoan attorney is usually around somewhere. Lucky I stay out of trouble 😉

            Wristbands are a good idea. “I DO NOT CONSENT”…

            An unspoken truism of the Commodification Camp controversy is that the walled RV compounds are a pretty natural response to LEO stings, night vision goggles, underage undercovers, etc.

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