(“Johnny) Cochran’s position at the district attorney’s office did not spare him a brush with racist police. One afternoon as he drove with his two young daughters across town in his Rolls Royce, he was pulled over. The police yelled at him to get out of the car with his hands up, and when he did he could see that they had drawn their guns. ‘Well, talk about illegal search and seizure!’ Cochran lamented. ‘These guys just go ripping through my bag. Suddenly the cop goes gray. He sees my number three badge from the District Attorney’s office. They all go apoplectic. I never get stopped again, but I’m careful not to make any wrong moves. I might get shot?’
According to statistics, an incredible 98.8 percent of police involved shootings are ruled justified. And between 2002 and 2011, Black people accounted for 12 percent of officers killed on the job and for 44 percent of persons identified as responsible for the killing of law enforcement officers between the years 2001 and 2010. Also, 70 percent of Black people who have experienced the use of police force against them believed that the police force was excessive. Another sobering fact is that although Black Americans only make up 14 percent of the population-they account for over 28 percent of total arrests nation.2
These statistics and others that examine the relationship between Black Americans and law enforcement officers, indicate a tense and hostile interaction wherein Blacks are routinely harassed, brutalized, arrested and even killed. It also shows that police believe they are in a heightened state of danger when they come into contact with Black suspects. And, no doubt, innumerable Black people that are approached by the police are in a heightened state of fear, anger and anxiety as well.
Police in the United States of America, have a de-facto right to kill anyone they come into contact with while they are performing their duty. Of course, legally the police are not supposed to kill or use excessive force except under strict department policies and guidelines such as to protect their own lives or the lives of others, or when dealing with a belligerent and uncooperative suspect, or to prevent a known felon or dangerous suspect from escaping; but again, in reality, police are known to shoot and savagely beat people-especially if the people are Black, Brown or poor. And they do it with impunity.3
There are far too many rogue and criminal cops roaming around America’s streets. And there are even some who hide behind badges and are psychotic. And from all of them we need to be on the alert to protect ourselves.
Research indicates that over half of the incidents that led to people being arrested, beaten, shot or killed, began as relatively mild, routine occurrences and quickly escalated into dire or deadly consequences.
The highly publicized shooting and killing of 18-year-old and unarmed Michael Brown is a text book example. Brown was shot at least six times by a trigger happy cop and his body was left to languish on the pavement for almost five hours. Is Michael Brown’s death an outrage? Of course. Is the policeman guilty of murder? Any reasonable person would say yes. Yet based on the unfolding of events on that horrid day, Michael Brown’s death could have been avoided.
According to all of the eyewitness accounts, contact was initiated between Brown and the Ferguson Missouri policeman, Darren Wilson who killed him when Wilson approached Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson and told them to get out of the street. Brown and his friend, apparently oblivious to the grave danger they faced, decided to tell the cop that their destination was just a little further up the street and that they would be out of the street in a minute. Their response was obviously perceived by Wilson as a challenge to his authority and it ended in the death of Brown.
Currently, there are countless incidents of police violence and misconduct against people across the United States. The fact is that police in America injure and kill far more people than police of any other nation in the western world. The inequalities, the culture of violence and of entrenched racism are not about to change any time soon. Yet we must do what we can to keep ourselves out of danger until we can establish an effective and comprehensive methodology against police abuse and murder of innocent people.
Generally speaking, minorities and poor people are approached and arrested disproportionately by law enforcement authorities because they are more visible and can be easily targeted by cops that are trained and conditioned to deal with street crime which is, in turn, more observable to police whose job is to patrol the streets and look for any activity that could result in arrests or citations. And when you factor in racial and class bias it makes for an explosive mix.
Unfortunately, the sense of heightened arrest potential and police seize mentality reached its highest notch within the Black and/or poor communities. These communities are known both historically and contemporarily as places where arrests can be made easily and where accountability of the misconduct of police is low to nonexistent.
The following is a brief synopsis of behavior one should assume to make oneself less noticeable to police and consequently less of a target and potential victim of police excesses and abuse. There are also some tips on how to conduct yourself if you are stopped by the police, which will limit your being arrested, assaulted or killed.
Although police are no longer legally allowed to arrest people for walking around without ID, to be able to offer identification when asked by police will often deescalate a situation and let them know that you are not the criminal or suspicious person they are cruising for and allow you to go on your way. To not be able to produce ID or to argue with the police about your constitutional right not to have to show it to them may be effective if you are a lawyer with a litany of witnesses and cameras monitoring you and the cops; it may not be smart if you are poor or a minority who wants to go on his way without being charged with an assortment of trumped up charges after receiving Taser-gun jolts and being beaten and manhandled into the police car. The record shows that to be unable to produce identification when asked, or (worse) to argue with cops about why they stopped you will almost certainly get you arrested and probably roughed up in the process. And unless you’ve got someone like Johnnie Cochran for a lawyer, you will likely get little if any compensation for the experience.
Be careful of the places you frequent and do not hang out at night unless absolutely necessary
The police know that a tremendous amount of illegal activity occurs between the hours of midnight and 4: am. If the police see you meandering about or loitering around during these hours, they are probably going to approach you because they will assume that you may be a criminal and a potential arrest and thus a feather in their caps. Police will also investigate you any time of day or night if you look out of place in an area, like a Black man driving a beat up vehicle in a predominately white and exclusive neighborhood. They may also stop you if you are driving a luxury automobile while wearing torn or soiled clothing with a baseball cap turned backwards on your head. They are also more likely to pull you over if your music is loud and you are under the age of 30 and you’ve got three or four acquaintances riding in the car. Again, it is not against the law to do this, but in the real world you will invite police curiosity, scrutiny and contact.
Do not frequent or hang out at places that are known to be police arrest zones. Places like bars, seedy neighborhood stores, parking lots, abandoned buildings, liquor stores, vacant lots, housing projects, gas stations, dog fight venues, street corners, drug houses, after hour joints, gang areas and etcetera.
Tell the truth
In most states, lying to the police is a crime and they are equipped with on board cruiser computers, two way radios, and polished investigative techniques to quickly ferret out lies. And if they think you are lying, they will also think you are trying to cover up a crime.
Ignore police that try to incite you
Remember the police are armed and have the full authority of the city, the county, the state as well as the federal government behind them. And if they kill you, national civil rights activists may give stirring speeches at your funeral but you will be in a casket and your family will grieve the loss of a loved one.
It pays more dividends than many people think. And, again, being respectful could keep you out of jail, the hospital or the cemetery.
Do not run from the police.
Fleeing from the police is a crime and will only add more charges when you are apprehended. It also gets the cop excited and can result in physical abuse or death by angry, frustrated, trigger-happy cops.
Obey commands by the cops when they stop you or approach you
Do not argue with them or yell at them or act indignant. Also do not attempt to give them instructions about the law. If they didn’t get it in the academy or from their peers, they probably won’t appreciate it from you. Remember, they have a de-facto license to plant false evidence on you, to burden you with trumped up charges, and to beat you or shoot you dead where you stand. I know it shouldn’t be that way, but that’s the world we live in. Hopefully one day we will be able to change it for a better one.
Be very careful not to reach for anything or to have anything that can be misconstrued as a weapon in your hands
There have been many incidents where the police shot someone because they thought they had a weapon, or the thought they were reaching for a weapon. There was a recent incident where a man was shot in a department store while holding a pellet gun. In another incident a man was shot multiple times by police, and all he was carrying were brake pads. And in a case that made national news, a New York man was killed while reaching for his wallet. In all of these incidents, the police were cleared of any wrong doing.
You have the right to remain silent
But if you have not been involved in a crime when the cops stop you, it will probably be to your advantage to answer some basic routine questions. Give them your name, your address, and where you are going. And the names of your parent or guardian if you are a minor. The less suspicious you act and the more respectful you are, the less likely you are to end up in jail in jail as well as in police data bases via a field information report (FI).3
Again, when you come in contact with police you want the encounter to be as brief as possible. The longer you are in the company of the police, the more likely you are to be arrested or victimized.
To be continued with: Part 2- How to protect yourself from psychotic rogue cops.