Surviving a police encounter

These days even the minimally aware among us are buying the media talking points and are under the impression that police are gunning for those they have sworn to serve and protect. This is especially true for black citizens who, if you are to believe the media, leave the house every day with targets on their backs. I’m not a fan of some police programs-DUI checkpoints and red-light cameras to name two-and while I realize there are a few rogue officers, overall I am an unashamed, vocal supporter of the police. I have friends and family in law enforcement and from the time I was a small boy, was raised to respect anyone wearing a badge. I realize I speak from a white perspective-and don’t ask me to apologize for the phony concept of “white privilege”-but the following suggestions are prudent for all races, creeds, national origins, gender identification, thugness, whatever. Consider this a “primer” for surviving a police encounter. It will be useful for anyone who wasn’t raised by people like my parents who, if I’d been caught doing something illegal, would have rained a hell down upon my person far greater than anything the police officer could have meted out.

Rule number 1: Do what the police officer tells you. If he says, “stop!”, stop. If she says, “take your hands out of your pockets,” take your hands out of your pockets. If they say, “put your hands behind your back now,” do so. If you have something in your hands, tell the officer “I am holding my phone” so they know it is not a gun. You can politely ask why you are being pulled over or arrested (if by some chance you aren’t aware of what you did that caught the officer’s attention), but you do not have to agree with it in order to comply with the officer’s request. Resist the impulse to talk, because you’ll want to, and for God’s sake, don’t start badmouthing the officer.

Rule number 2: Do not resist. You know that old saying, “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”? It applies here. This is the time to be polite, not the time to go for his or her service weapon, punch him in the face, run toward or away from him, or initiate any other provocative action that is likely to get you tazed or shot even if you feel like this encounter represents a clear case of police harassment. Be compliant and docile, busy yourself by keeping your mouth shut while you are not resisting, and settle yourself in the back of the police car. You can sort things out at the station and/or in court.

Rule number 3: Shut up. I have already hinted at the importance of not talking in rules 1 and 2, but allowing a stream of profanity that is directed at the police to flow and/or offering some lame explanation without a lawyer present is just foolish. Baiting and berating the police will not help your case, it just elevates the situation, and you need an attorney to keep you from saying things that will not be helpful to you in court. If you feel you must speak, ask for a lawyer. For those of you who cannot suppress the desire to vocalize, you might recite the Declaration of Independence or sing the Star Spangled Banner.

There are only 3 rules, and they probably sound too simple to be effective, but the cops I know will not shoot you if you follow them to the letter. When you look at the cases of police shootings they typically involve citizens not exercising the rules above. Even if I don’t agree with a law or a police stop, I know I must abide by it and then argue my case in court. This is true even when I know I have done nothing wrong; in the street the police rule because they have the badges and guns and are charged with keeping order. Under no circumstances is it ever advisable or appropriate to take a stand anywhere but a court of law. It goes without saying that the best way to avoid getting shot by a police officer is to not break the law, but that’s for another blog…