Race relations are at a fevered pitch. For many it may seem as bad as its ever been in this country with the recent killings of unarmed Black men at the hands of white police officers. Its as if one cant turn on the TV, the internet or any aspect of social media and not learn a new name of a person killed at the hands of law enforcement. The untold stories are of those stopped, harassed and disrespected by those under oath to serve and protect. Mothers and fathers are rightfully worried every time their child leaves the house. And while I don’t promote the ideal of living in fear on any level I don’t have the reasoning to suggest these parents should not be fearful.
It appears as if police training now includes how a police officer establishes justification for stopping, questioning and inferring aggressive action based on their own fear for life. Perhaps this is the training that comes outside of the academy, on the streets, and by older and more seasoned officers. The police academy teaches the RIGHT way of policing and the probationary period each officer under goes teaches the REAL way of policing on the streets. “I feared for my life” has become a mantra every police officer utters as justification for emptying his entire clip of rounds into a suspect. And it would appear anyone not in a police uniform is suspicious of something. Of course there’s the story circulating of the 28-year police veteran while off-duty and in civilian attire not only being harassed but physically secured and detained by fellow officers while someone in the background of the video is shouting “he’s a cop” goes viral. That decorated New York city detective of 28-years chose to retire after a lose of faith in those he served with. If this Black man can be harassed and chooses retirement over fighting his own system what options do civilians have?
I maintain great respect for those that take up the career of law enforcement. It’s hard and dangerous work to serve and protect. Many come into the ranks of policing after military service because belonging to an order has a predefined culture one follows and adheres to: the rules, regulations, brotherhood and camaraderie makes sense and feels right to many that join. It’s work I once considered myself many years ago and thank God due to a clerical error I was turned away from even taking the entrance exam at that time and never followed up with an original copy of my DD-214 as opposed to the copy I presented. Perhaps a story for another time.
Maybe a reflection of my age, the period that I grew up in or the experiences Iv’e had along the way that shape my perspective. Perhaps also in my understanding that police are necessary for the safety of people, property and society as a whole I offer my point of view. This is a sincere offering to those seeking an answer, a response, to how we all can navigate this different world.
We now live in a world where literally ever aspect of our rights and freedoms have come into question. Many boundaries and limitations are being pushed at every turn. Marijuana appears to be gaining national ground toward legalization, marriage is being redefined, gender expression becoming more a choice and bestowed with protections under Federal law. Gun sales at an all time high with some counties making it a mandate for residency to own fire arms in every home. Open carry and concealed weapons permits are being processed at a rate never before seen in the history of this country. The rights of every citizen under the Constitution are abridged by new laws created to address terrorism overshadow the inalienable rights granted by the founding fathers of this country. Our world has changed. Our rights as citizens have changed. The loop holes expanded. This is a different world. No longer are we moved by the simplicity of right versus wrong.
I wont begin to tell others how they need to proceed. I have a 22-year old nephew venturing into the world and a 12-year old grandson who will soon follow I’d like to impart some sage wisdom upon. If my words suit you, the reader, and those you love and care for perhaps you’ll follow suit and have a conversation with them as well:
* Do not live in fear. As Black men you each have a right to the freedoms and protections afforded every citizen of this country.
** Be about your business. Develop purpose and reasoning in every aspect of your life. Move in that purpose knowing that your own righteousness is protection enough. In this day and age hanging out may eventually lead to trouble on some level. Hanging out in a group will lead to some type of negative interaction with police.
*** While you might fit the description you are not a suspect. There is no reason to resist or argue with law enforcement. This will be difficult because no one likes to be accused, talked down to, or disrespected while being about their business. Give that officer no reason to escalate the aggression, you won’t win in that interaction.
**** Maintain a calm demeanor. Again difficult in light of the present climate surrounding police harassment. Ive been followed by police, stopped by police, and I was scared every single time. I will also admit to driving “dirty” and knowing I was wrong in doing so. That “dirty” status increased my anxiety and impaired my own judgement while operating my vehicle. I will also admit to being less fearful being stopped by police while knowing my status and all my paperwork were “official” and in order. My demeanor reflected a calm and responsible person who may have made a mistake while operating my vehicle. Make no abrupt or sudden movements while keeping your hands visible at all times and follow the instructions of the police officer.
***** Have identification ready and accessible at all times. There is an ongoing debate as to whether a police officer has a right to ask for identification, assume the officer does have that right. While interacting with a police officer is not the time to pursue that debate. Again you might fit the description, we all do, but you are not a suspect.
****** Answer questions that do not incriminate. You have a right to remain silent and to not have you or your property searched without permission. In the event you are being detained those rights are curtailed. Let me remind you being “right” in these interactions will serve you in your best interest. If you are being detained you have a right to know the charges and grounds under which you are being detained. Demanding to know may be perceived as an implied aggression and again the system of law enforcement will win. Maintain your calm. In the event the officer is accusing you of breaking the law invoke your right to remain silent. Believe it or not you are still innocent until proven guilty.
******* Record and report. In this day and age of electronic devices and gadgets it is now easy to record every interaction using the feature on your smartphone. If stopped while driving, place the phone in plain sight (on the dashboard above the steering wheel or on the center console) in record mode. The recording will stand as witness of your calm demeanor and willingness to cooperate with police. Every law enforcement agency has a police review board. Report every unwarranted interaction to that review board. Review boards are made up of law officials and citizens who will eventually begin to see a pattern in a rogue officers frequent negative interactions with citizens and if for no other reason than to avoid further litigation will move against that officer. Historically Black people are known NOT to report or write letters of injustice. This attitude needs to change now. Information is power but only if you utilize it.
My hope is my nephew and my daughter will embrace these words of wisdom. Like every cop on the street we want our young people to live safely and come home alive.