When NWA wrote “F*ck the Police” in the late 1980s, they were heavily criticized. At the time, the police brutality that they spoke of was a racial boogeyman that remained hidden due to the high cost of home video cameras. Rodney King changed all that, and it let America know that the relationship between Black men and the police usually left us at the short end of the baton.
I am not an attorney. I am just a scholar and a Black man who cares about what happens when my brothers interact with that peculiar street gang otherwise known as the police. Sometimes, the cops are here to protect us, but other time, they are here to protect everyone else from us.
Therefore, interacting with police in a way that keeps us from losing our lives is absolutely critical.
Please note that this is not a substitute for legal advice. I recommend that you speak to an attorney to get a more complete understanding of how to handle situations like this one. But my Facebook friends, some of whom have solid legal backgrounds, helped me to compile this list of things you should keep in mind when dealing with the police. Think about these issues carefully, for it might save your life:
1) Be respectful, don’t speak first, and don’t speak with hostility: Getting smart with the cops doesn’t make things better. For at least a short period of time, they have all the power, and you have none. Settle your beef later on, when it’s safe. Also, you’re probably better off not volunteering any information, since many questions are designed to trap you into giving yourself up.
2) Learn your rights: Read short guides on what you should do if you encounter a police officer. Videos such as this one below can be helpful in showing you what you need to do.
3) Don’t make any sudden moves and keep your hands on the steering wheel: Being a Black man already makes you suspicious in the eyes of some police officers. Don’t give them anymore reasons to get out of line.
4) Ask for permission before you grab or reach for anything: Officers are afraid just like you are. Any unexpected grabs may set him/her off and make the officer believe that they are in danger.
5) Keep a valid photo ID on you: If you have a driver’s license, keep it with you. If not, then keep your student ID or something that allows the officer to know who you are.
6) Turn on the interior lights of your car so they don’t mistake your cell phone for a handgun: The officer likely wants to know everything that’s going on inside the car at all times.
7) Keep your license, registration, and insurance in a convenient place: If it’s easy to reach, this keeps things simple and helps to avoid any confusion.
8) Don’t lie to the officer: This is generally a bad idea. Lying will only add to any charges you might already have.
9) Don’t give the officer a reason to search your car: If they have reasonable suspicion that you’re hiding something, the officer will then have probable cause to search you. Suspicious behavior, such as shuffling through your personal items right before the stop, can set off alarm bells in the mind of the police officer.
10) If you are not sure that the person is a police officer, ask for some form of identification: People sometimes impersonate police officers and use the trust they are granted to do terrible things. Make sure you’re dealing with a real cop before making yourself vulnerable.
This is not a complete list, by any means. But it does add to what you may already know about dealing with the police. Education, for Black men, is critical when it comes to our own safety and protection. So, don’t go into the world without your armor.