“Step up to the table in the middle of my life. / I take my cards and I check them twice. / I’ve got a killer hand; I’m ready to stake my claim... / The cops raid the game.” -- “It’s Always Something,” Rick Springfield
Well, actually what we are is a poker group mostly consisting of teachers. We have a tournament once each month with a $25 buy-in. Most of the time we’re talking about a whopping $250 prize pool.
Depending on whom you ask, what we are doing isn’t illegal. In theory, it would only be illegal if the guy hosting us ordered some pizzas ahead of time and then we pitched in to pay him back. Because, in theory, he could make a profit by hosting a gambling event.
If you play poker, you know just how random and incomprehensible most laws that affect the average person can be to the average person.
In April 2012, a “high-stakes” poker game was busted by police in Chattanooga, and one of the participants got shot after allegedly drawing his weapon on an officer during the raid. The dude had a gun because their game had been robbed at their previous location. They felt, somewhat understandably, unsafe.
When asked why the police raided the game, Chattanooga’s police chief said, “One reason the vice unit goes after such operations is because of the robbery possibility that could end up with a number of people being shot.”
So, if you’re following the logic, the police busted the game and shot a man who was carrying a weapon to defend himself against possible robbery in order to protect all of the people in the room from possible robbery. Several message board comments about the raid suggested that the man drew his firearm fearing a robbery and not, as the police account suggested, because he wanted to go intimamente with a small army of cops.
The first time our group met and played following this incident, we yukked it up with a police officer who was a regular participant. Haha, they’ll come bust us next for our $250! Haha, they’ll send in the whole SWAT team for a bunch of deadly teacher gamblers! Except the cop didn’t laugh. He advised us to take the cash and place it in another room -- preferably a different location altogether, he said. He advised us to never have the game at any home that stored (even legal) firearms or even any large number of prescription pills.
“If they bust y’all, they’ll look for something to make it worth their time.”
We’re breaking records this year in Chattanooga for shootings. Something like 63 as of July 15. We’ve got serious and frightening crime coming out of our ass here in the Scenic City, but the ones who are nervous are a bunch of teachers and middle class fellas trying to escape their lives for a few hours of harmless low-cost fun. And the cops will bust our game in order to, apparently, protect us. So long as they don’t have to shoot us first. Which they could do if they feel threatened by how we quickly we drop to the floor and let go of that dealer button, which could be a deadly weapon.
Compared to most, I’m sympathetic to the lose-lose world of police. It’s a thankless job that pays for shit. And for every moment of adrenaline-pumping action you see on TV, cops go through hours and hours of mind-crushing paperwork and more hours and hours of unsexy work keeping the peace responding to thefts, minor domestic disputes, false alarms and so on. I tend to believe we get what we pay for, and we pay Walmart wages to protect our city but expect Fort Knox results.
What scares me is that cops seem to be taking out their frustrations and chasing adrenaline on the backs of some very un-dangerous, un-threatening individuals. A man named Radley Balko has written an entire book on this: "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces". Several harrowing excerpts from it are included at Salon.com, including this one focusing on some disturbing anecdotal police raids.
We should pay our police more. We should expect more from them and in turn show a greater respect for them when they handle their responsibilities well, which most of them do most of the time even without much money or respect to show for it.
But can we expect the militarization of our police to wane? I wouldn’t bet on it. Because that’s illegal, and they might shoot first and ask questions later. You know, for my own good.