You have likely heard people use the phrase “driving while black” or “shopping while black” more often in recent times. Blacks have come to use such phrases to describe how they feel mistreated or feel as though they are looked at suspiciously by police, store workers, security guards, and others simply because of the color of their skin.
A few months ago, an upscale department store in New York City reached a $525 million settlement with two young black people who experienced such discrimination. 19-year-old Trayon Christian and 21-year-old Kayla Phillips both legally purchased items from the store, however after they left the store, they were followed and detained by police officers who had been summoned by store workers on the suspicion that they had stolen the items from the store. Others, particularly black men, have reported that such “shop and frisk” cases are common for blacks who shop at higher-end retailers. Even though they felt insulted and humiliated, these two young people worked through the legal system to resolve their cases. Not only did they end up winning a legal settlement in their favor (and a whole lot of money), but they caused the New York store chain to adopt a Customer’s Bill of Rights which prohibits employees from profiling customers and acting on suspicions based solely on the race of the customer. In short, they made things better for everybody.
The sad truth, however, is that such a case may still happen to you as a young black person in America. You may face scrutiny, suspicious glances, or extensive questioning from store workers, security guards, and the police when all you are doing is shopping, driving or walking down the street. Many people make the mistake of reacting negatively or in a hostile manner when they are confronted by law enforcement because they feel as though they are being treated unfairly. Such a reaction, unfortunately, often leads to arrests, rough handling by the police, and, far too often, a police officer fatally shooting the suspect.
Today, I want to begin sharing with you how you can survive an encounter with the police. Contrary to what some today would have you to believe, the police are not your enemy. The police are a part of a God-ordained governmental authority structure. The Bible says in Romans 13:3-5: “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” When you show respect for the police and the government, you are being obedient to God by honoring the authority He has set up.
However, police are human. They are flawed, and they sometimes make mistakes. Some often harbor prejudices and subscribe to stereotypes that cause them to see a young black man or a young black woman as more likely to commit a crime, and therefore, more deserving of suspicion. Thus, they may be more inclined to deal with a young black person in a rough manner. So, my aim in talking with you over the next few episodes is to simply help you stay alive and stay out of jail. No matter how you feel about how the police or the justice system treats minorities in this country, I think you would agree that it is better to have such feelings and be alive and free than it is to be dead or in jail.
So, today, I am going to share with you how to survive an encounter with the police while driving or while walking. These tips are from the National Black Police Association. They state:
If you are driving a vehicle, the police can ask you to pull over at any time. The best thing to do in this situation is to pull over and follow the officer’s directions. The officer will request to see your driver’s license, registration and/or proof of liability insurance – this you must do.
If you are stopped at night, turn on your dome light and show the officer that nothing is wrong. It is best to do nothing which may give reason to search further. Having your lights on and keeping your hands on the steering wheel will usually put the officer’s mind at ease.
Chances are that the officer is going to write out a ticket for a traffic violation. Of course, you may start to explain at this point but you should limit your comments. Be careful how you protest. A simple traffic violation may start costing you a fortune in fines for other violations. If you think that the ticket is incorrect – then, carry your protest to traffic court. If you’re given a ticket, you should sign it; otherwise you can be arrested.
Police may stop and detain you only if they have a reasonable suspicion or probable cause that you are about to commit or have committed a crime. If you’re suspected of driving under the influence (DUI) and refuse to take a blood, urine or breath-test, your driver’s license may be suspended.
In certain cases, your car can be searched without a warrant as long as the police have probable cause. To protect yourself later, you should make it clear that you do not consent to a search. It is not lawful for police to arrest you simply for refusing to consent to a search.
Now, if you are stopped by the police while walking:
The police may ask for your name if you have been properly detained; you can be arrested in some states for refusing to give it. If you reasonably fear that your name is incriminating, you can claim the right to remain silent, which may be a defense in case you are arrested anyway. It’s not a crime to refuse to answer questions, but refusing to answer might make the police suspicious about you.
Police may “pat-down” your outer-clothing – if, they suspect a concealed weapon. Don’t physically resist, but make it clear that you don’t consent to any further search. Ask if you are under arrest. If you are, you have a right to know why. Don’t bad-mouth the police officer or offer resistance, even if you believe what is happening is unreasonable. That could lead to your arrest.
Most of the problems you may encounter with the police can be avoided. Remember, the police may think they have reason (probable cause) to stop you and ask questions. At this time, you should collect your thoughts and remain calm. Whether or not you are detained or arrested may just depend on how calm and prepared you are at this time. Think carefully about your words, movement, body language, and emotions. Don’t get into an argument with the police. Remember, anything you say or do can be used against you.
We will continue with more tips on how to survive an encounter with the police in our next episode.