As a 26 year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, few people know as well as I do just how complicated and often destructive the relationship between Black folks and the police can be. Though our frustration at many of the officers in our community and the harsh realities of the "injustice system" may be warranted, it is also worth noting just how many of us enter our interactions with the police in a hostile or disrespectful manner before an officer has even opened his or her mouth. Now, you have a system that is designed to keep us incarcerated and cops who may be harboring biases against us because of our race (including some of the Black ones), let alone the many Black people who have been killed by law enforcement…wouldn't it be wiser to keep a cool head when dealing with the police? The EBONY Police Survival Guide is designed to help you and your loved ones to make wise choices when encountering law enforcement officers.
Remember: what you do when pulled over by the cops can save your freedom and perhaps your life.
- Have your documents in order: VALID driver's license, CURRENT insurance card and proof of registration. Don't have to search for these items-keep them together in one location.
- Pull over as soon as you can safely do so when you see the police lights behind you. If it turns out they are not actually stopping you, they will drive on by. If they are, they may actually appreciate your quick response .
- If stopped at night, turn on your interior lights. That way, they can see you when approaching your vehicle. Remember, you have nothing to hide.
- Put your hands on the wheel or somewhere in plain view.
- Be polite, hand the officer your documents, and wait.
- Immediately demand to know "Why are you stopping me?" They will not admit to stopping you for "Driving While Black" if that is the case. Remember, you might have ACTUALLY violated a traffic law. In either case, you want this to be over as quickly as possible and to drive away without a ticket (or worse). If you were pulled over for a valid reason (illegal lane change, missing license plate, etc), remain polite and humble about what you've done wrong. If you feel that you were pulled over unjustly, don't argue. Get his information and report him to the precinct.
- Roll the window down 1-inch and pass your license through the small opening. This says "I'm hiding something."
- Dial your friends on your cell phone and say "this punk a*s cop just stopped me for nothing." There is no point in "baiting" the officer, especially if he or she is someone who has decided to target you for an unfair reason.
- Give the police permission to search your car. If they do it anyway without your permission, contact legal representation LATER and remain calm..
- Act like a jerk. Many police are jerks, but not all of them. But at the end of the day, the system is designed to protect them, not you. The idea is to stay out of the "just-us system", not to escalate what may already be a bad situation. You don't have to kiss their behinds, just be polite.
If all this fails, the names and badge numbers of the officer(s) involved will be on any paperwork they generate. Let your lawyer take it from there. Don't hesitate to report officers who you feel have treated you unjustly. It doesn't always feel like those reports make a difference, but they can, especially when an officer has a desk file an inch thick with people complaining about his or her behavior. We cannot simply get angry, we have to be proactive in taking officers to task when they fail to serve and protect us fairly.
David Lemieux is a retired Chicago Police Detective, a former member of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and an activist.