A tale from the generation gap

Opinion: Columns

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Alex Waheed

Last week, I was at cross country practice on a distance run. A police car drove by our team, and I looked into the window of his car and saw the officer with his smart-phone in his lap, texting as he drove. I knew it was rude, but I just couldn't resist the irony, so I ran by his window and said, "Hey, you shouldn't text while driving; it's dangerous." I didn't shout it or use any profanity, but I definitely said it with some attitude.

A quarter-mile later, the officer pulled up in his car and made us stop running. He asked who made the "smart comment" earlier. I owned up, and he asked to talk to me about it. He made the rest of the team continue the run, leaving us alone.

Officer: You (expletive), who the (expletive) do you think you are, making some (expletive) comment like that about me. I deserve more respect than your (double expletive) showed me. I'm out here on these streets trying to deal with (expletive) way worse than you. Do think you're a (expletive)?

Me: No

Officer: Do you think you disrespected me?

Me: Yes

Officer: How old are you?

Me: 17

Officer: 17; I've been out on these (expletive) streets since you were smaller than your daddy's (expletive). What's your dad do for a living?

Me: I don't really know. He doesn't live with me anymore; I haven't seen him much the past couple years.

Officer: Oh, so is that why you're making (expletive) comments to me? Are you looking for some kind of father figure in your life?

Me: No

He asked me some questions to identify myself and then sent me off. My father is an aggressive parent, and when he used to get mad at me, I learned to passively absorb his anger and not resist. So when this officer was talking to me, I didn't resist him verbally or defend myself. I just let him blow off his steam. The comment I had made about his texting while driving had probably come off as disrespectful to him, and he simply lost control when he went off on me and ended up abusing his authority as an adult and his power as an officer.

Neither of us showed the respect the other deserved. I made a "smart comment," and he made some comments of his own. Our interaction highlighted the typical gap between generations. Adults view kids as disrespectful big shots, which is sometimes true. Kids see adults as hypocrites, who call out kids for texting and driving, but then turn around and do the same thing.

Adults and kids alike sometimes feel they know everything and consequently think their generational counterparts should show them deference. Adults and kids are more similar than most would like to admit: they are both equally prone to mistakes and both deserve equal respect.

And they both forget: perfection is impossible, but forgiveness is endless.

Alex Waheed

Alex Waheed is a high school student in Oak Park.

Reader Comments

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Posted: June 23rd, 2013 10:10 PM

Well-written and mature response to an embarrassing display of low-class name calling/bullying. (An ethical cop would have wanted witnesses to the exchange.) I hope the officer will be reprimanded appropriately. This may discourage texting while driving for all residents, especially public servants who are supposed to exemplify lawful behavior. By bringing attention to this, Alex may have saved a life: distracted driving kills. That's why it's illegal.


Posted: May 21st, 2013 11:47 AM

This officer abused his position and instead of enforcing the law and protecting the public he broke the law and bullied a child. This deserves a closer look. I don't condone smart comments from children, but he young man was correct in pointing out the officer was breaking the law. If you have a child learning to drive (and I do) the don't text and drive movement is shoved down their throat at every turn, and rightfully so. If I so much as glance at my phone, my daughter pipes up.

Wrong Side of the Tracks  

Posted: May 20th, 2013 7:38 AM

If the account is true, the cop took it too far, no doubt. The "kid" (17 years old) initiated the entire event by trying to show off in front of his teammates which backfired on him and made it worse by writing a letter to the WJ for even more attention. Kid should go apologize privately and cop should be advised on a better way to handle smart*** remarks.


Posted: May 19th, 2013 10:54 PM

"To serve and protect", isn't this what the police are suppose to be about? To "serve" the community, and to "protect" them against criminals? In what part of that do some of you read "to protect, which gives us the right to verbally abuse teens to put them in their place"? I suppose it's too much to ask for the police to both "protect" the community, while also having the maturity to show restraint to kids?

Matt Baron from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 18th, 2013 9:52 PM

I don't know if a formal complaint needs to be lodged in order for the police department to make a formal inquiry, but I would not be surprised if Chief Tanksley looked into this incident in a behind-the-scenes way. If Alex's account is true, then the officer's tactic of isolating him before going on this tirade sets up a classic "he said, he said" conundrum. In this era, however, any public servant would do well to assume all that they say or do will be recorded and disseminated later. (Toronto's mayor, who is apparently the gent smoking crack cocaine on a phone video so widely reported the past few days, can readily attest to this truth.) If these allegations by Alex are true, the officer's bullying behavior is exceeded only by his foolishness.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 18th, 2013 9:44 PM

Regardless of Alex's initial comment, the police officer's response was way...over...the...top. Let's say I'm in a job and a patron makes a smart comment to me about my performance. What would you think if I starting yelling, swearing, and belittling the person? Further, police officers are trained to deal with high-pressure situations. If this officer freaks out at a smart comment from a 17-yr old, is he fit to "serve and protect?"


Posted: May 18th, 2013 1:18 PM

So we all believe that Alex went to the ofcr and shared his sincere concern for the example the officer was setting and the safety of others? Yeah right folks. My mom always put the onus on me, that even when adults were wrong there was an appropriate way and an inappropriate way to address it especially as a child. I was held accountable for my decisions even in response to the wrongdoing of others. And Bill says take away a day's pay from the officer b/c of his response to a smart aleck kid.


Posted: May 18th, 2013 1:10 PM

The funniest comments are about the illegality of texting and driving. That is true. This is what is hilarious...it isn't illegal for the police to operate laptops and drive. Guess what? They often NEED to do that to provide your services. Brian is right, no one cares about the rude citizen or smart aleck kid. You people only want tough police when you feel in danger otherwise they should be doormats with smiles on their faces. He was being a smart aleck kid to a cop and in OP that's commended.

Wrong Side of Tracks  

Posted: May 18th, 2013 12:39 PM

The kid got off easy but it sounds like he didn't learn his lesson. Some day he may run into the wrong authority figure and things will go very badly for him. He wasn't trying to help, he was being a smart***. A public apology without qualification might be in order.

Bill from Oak Park  

Posted: May 18th, 2013 10:44 AM

This police officer should be suspended for verbally abusing a minor. In the context the boy involved may have come off like a smart alec, but he is only 17. Our police need to show restraint and courtesy when dealing with the citizens that they are hired to protect. Clearly no crime was committed, just an authority figure called out by a minor for not setting an example. WJ - will you investigate?


Posted: May 18th, 2013 3:07 AM

This "cop" should have thanked Alex for pointing out his offense. Rather than thinking of it as a kid being disrespectful, he should have taken it as an opportunity to correct himself to be a better role model. This "cop" obviously has anger issues, and should save his pent up anger for the "real" threats that enter our village, as oppose to unleashing it on the innocent. The reactions of this "cop" is nothing short of cowardly.


Posted: May 18th, 2013 2:59 AM

I commend Alex for writing his side of the story publicly. He may have come off as a smart a@#, but the police officers response is nothing short of bullying and intimidation. He see's a teen calling him out on something he KNOWS is against the law, and he feels his authority is threatened, so he verbally beats down on the kid to show him who's boss. He should be ashamed of himself. Just because you fight serious crime does not give you the right to abuse lesser offenses.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 9:53 PM

I personally feel that police officers are role models for the public, and that includes kids. Generally they need to follow the same laws as the ones they enforce. Obviously, there are some exceptions. This incident was not one of them. I wish the writer had pursued this with a police supervisor before going to the press. But again this police officer used his authority to take unfair advantage. Seems a public article of the event may not be so far off base.

Reality Check  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 9:34 PM

Since when is it "rude" to point out to a police officer that he/she is breaking the law? And how is any construed "rudeness" anywhere near comparable to abuse of authority? The kid gave the cop a freebee, when he could have just reported him. So the cop's response is to escalate the situation thereby ensuring reporting and demonstrating that he does not have the skills necessary to be a cop. Good riddance to bad trash.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 4:08 PM

John: the student/citizen was at practice for a school team, his actions are governed by the rules of the school. What if,if, the student used a racial slur against the officer? The incident should have been investigated, not one sided pumped in the papers.The last sentence "forgiveness is endless", on both sides

Joshua OP from Oak Park  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 3:06 PM

First of all how did Waheed know the officer was texting? The phone was on his lap. The officer can't defend himself because it will look like he is making something up after the fact. I guess every time an officer encounters a rude teenager, they should write into the local news. Two wrongs don't make a right but it is a cheap shot to publish a one sided story, knowing an officer can't contact the media without permission. Thanks Waheed for bringing this to our attention. You got your 15 mins.

John from Oak Park  

Posted: May 17th, 2013 2:48 PM

Who will punish the rude citizen? I didn't know that being rude was against any laws or ordinances of Oak Park. While the kid may have made the comment in a smart way, he was right; the officer should not have been texting while driving. And if we are going to start punishing the rude around here let's start with some who are rude to conservatives in this town, because it happens regularly.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: May 16th, 2013 3:17 PM

Bridgett: The writer admits to being rude.If,if, after an investigation the police officer will probably be punished. Who will punish the "rude" citizen?

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 16th, 2013 11:26 AM

I don't think this is about a generational gap. It's about a police officer abusing his authority and lacking self-control issues. I appreciate the writer's calm response, however, it is not acceptable for a public servant to "let off steam" and be a bully.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 16th, 2013 8:18 AM

A badge number, name and report to a police chief is highly recommended. If this happened in Oak Park, the Citizen Police Oversight Committee is an option for an investigation. We don't know where this happened, butt I hope this gets escalated.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 9:04 AM

Sorry,disagree. The correct response was to report the officer to the police department and have the matter investigated.. Was the phone on or being used? Phone company records will tell. Confrontation will not.Checks and balances are what protects everyone.;

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: May 14th, 2013 11:53 PM

And a gifted writer!

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 14th, 2013 11:15 PM

Alex - You are wise for your years!

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