Independence Day

Working as a university police officer, I felt that education should be a part of what I do. With that philosophy, anytime I worked on the 4th of July, I would give people the option of answering a question in order to get out of receiving a ticket. I would ask people if they could name one person who signed the Declaration of Independence. Many people would answer George Washington, but it turns out that General Washington was busy preparing to defend Manhattan from the British and wasn’t available to sign.

I had a significant number of people who were able to answer the question properly, more than you might guess, but the people that answered the best were usually immigrants who had or were currently studying for their naturalization or elementary-school aged children. I once had a University athlete who couldn’t name anyone, but his ten-year-old cousin, in the passenger seat, was able to give me six names.   

On a particular 4th of July, I spotted a homeless man, drinking an alcoholic beverage from inside a brown paper bag. I detained him and obtained his identification and even began writing his citation. Then I remembered my rule and reminded myself that it wouldn’t be fair not to give him the same chance that I had given everyone else.

I told him that if he could name one person who had signed the Declaration of Independence, that I would let him go without a citation. He thought for a few moments and then I saw him reach an epiphany; I could almost see the light bulb appear above his head. He reached into the brown paper bag and lifted out a brown, glass, beer bottle with a familiar blue label.

“Sam Adams!” he shouted.

I wished I could have given him extra credit for having visual aids.