In light of recent events across this country – and the ongoing terrorism of black bodies by law enforcement and the criminal justice system – I have found it necessary to consider what to do when you are confronted by an officer of the unjust law. I am no lawyer, so please don’t regard this as legal advice. I am simply a man with some formal education, a good head, sound mind, well-raised, and – in the eyes of many whites – unfortunately black.
When walking down the street, or driving a car, or purchasing clothing and toys, you must remain vigilant. You may be harassed by a cop who thinks that you’re up to no good. Who thinks that by stopping you now and putting you down like a dog, they’re paying it forward and doing a service toward the greater good of the dominant society. So beware breathing in public. Beware glancing at a person of another race or walking too closely to someone white. Beware shopping in places where people who look like you may not usually shop due to the history of American wealth being rendered inaccessible to blacks. Beware attending school or church in a place predominantly populated and funded by white people, and if you must, be prepared to be confronted and/or ignored as if your existence does not matter all the while indoctrinated with a racist, reductionist, biased paradigm of the world.
But what about being confronted by the police. Police are here to protect and to serve. But make no mistake; there are a great many cops who pledge to protect the status quo and serve the few. Of course, there are plenty of officers from minority backgrounds who do remember from whence they came and who do care about the majority minority. There are plenty of white officers who sincerely and legitimately care and try to do good for everyone and counter the stains left upon them by their less than savvy counterparts. But we can’t really distinguish or judge a book by its cover.
There are still a lot of cops out there who will kill you for being black and alive in America, and even more who have considered it yet never have the opportunity to realize their intentions. This is true although cops can’t legally justify killing a civilian unless 1) they feel threatened, and/or 2) a suspect is attempting to flee and evade arrest for a deadly felony. In the first case, which is referred to as “defense of life”, a cop must be using lethal force in order to protect oneself or the life of another innocent party. In the second case, the officer must have probable cause to think that the suspect has indeed committed a serious violent felony. In both cases, you can see how the exceptions can vary and the logic can get sticky.
In the “fleeing a violent felony” situation, it would make sense that the officer would shoot you in the leg or arm in order to disable the suspect’s flight and can then arrest the suspect properly. But racism doesn’t make sense. Listen to me when I tell you that an officer under the influence of racism is equivalent to an armed man/woman who has been under the influence of alcohol and hallucinagins all his/her life and has been given a license to kill. Racism has no logic, no sense, no rationality, no ethics, no morality. Racism makes cops shoot black kids in the street with impunity and choke fathers to death in broad daylight.
Here’s what we can do as citizens of this country to fight criminal police brutality with our dignity and honor intact:
When you are confronted by an officer, be respectful always. Even the most sincere, rational and mature people often have bad days and you don’t want to unnecessarily antagonize any working adult, especially a cop. If possible, try and be calm. Assume the best.
If you feel threatened in any way during a confrontation, call 911 and just leave it on speakerphone.
Also, get into a habit of video and audio recording. Know the laws about surveillance and recording in your state. If you’re in a public area, then in most states, consent is automatically given by all parties that recording, may take place. Yes, this means that you can record the cops. Even if they snatched your phone or camera, they can’t delete the information on it, but just in case, you should invest in an app that will automatically backup your media. When you record something, your recording and “photojournalism” can’t interfere with the police investigation which means that you probably shouldn’t cross the yellow tape. The site Photography is Not a Crime is a fantastic resource on your rights as a citizen in such cases and even offers tips for such recordings.
Always ask questions. Maintain control of the conversation. Don’t just answer their questions. They can’t search you or your property unless they have a warrant and/or they’re going to arrest you. Also, if they’re not going to arrest you, then you really don’t have to answer their questions. Be careful what you say when you do speak. Don’t incriminate yourself without a lawyer present.
Don’t travel alone, if possible. Obviously, a racist officer will not really care, but seeing you with another person could possibly deter their efforts and force then to think twice.
Always carry identification. Carry two forms, just to be safe.
Don’t run from the cops or resist arrest. Understand these words: “lose the battle; win the war.” If you know that they are in the wrong, record it and document it. Show it to a lawyer – before giving it to television and news media or sharing it on YouTube. Let the lawyer consul you to the proper actions so that the tables don’t turn around on you.
If you see something unjust happen to someone else, record it and report it. If you don’t trust the police, like so many of us, give the recording to a lawyer. Don’t try to take justice into your own hands and blackmail someone. You’ll be stirring up a new pot of mess that takes away from the injustice at hand.
Don’t feel like you have to conform to any public attire standards. As a woman, you should feel comfortable dressing however you please without being victimized and shamed. Men, you shouldn’t have to pull up your pants in order to be taken seriously. The structure of power and perception must change. If a woman is raped or harassed by a cop (or any person), it is not because of how she was dressed or how she swayed her hips. It is because of his own diseased mind and insecurities. If a young man is profiled by as a drug dealer by a cop (or anyone), it is not because of the dreadlocks in his hair and the size of his pants and the fitted on his head. It is because of the irrationality of that officer’s mind. Make no mistake. Even with three degrees, I can still get harassed while wearing a suit coming from a long day of work. So don’t apologize for how you were dressed or behaving. It does not excuse any form of police brutality, profiling, or harassment.
These are just some things on my mind right now. God bless you and the families of those young black men who have lost their lives to the hands of police stupidity. Pray for our criminal justice system, our communities, our children, and our future.