20 Things To Do When Stopped by Police as an African American
2020 saw another unprecedented year in which a disproportionally number of African Americans were killed in the hands of those are supposed to protect us – the police. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, and Ahmaud Arbery are a few of the many helpless, non-violent African Americans, that were murdered by police in 2020.
According to a study done DeGue et al. in 2016, the majority of deaths due to the use lethal force by law enforcement in 2009-2012 were majority white (52%) but disproportionately black (32%) with a fatality rate 2.8 times higher among blacks than whites. In that study, it was noted that most victims were reported to be armed (83%); however, black victims were more likely to be unarmed (14.8%) than white (9.4%) or Hispanic (5.8%) victims.
And it doesn’t stop there, according to mappingpolicevoilence.org, black people 3 times more likely to be killed by police than white people. Black people are also 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed during these killings compared to white people.
With such disproportional numbers, it is not surprising that one will draw the conclusion that African American are specifically targeted by police with more force/brutality than their white counter parts for similar or lesser crimes.
This is why is it ever so important today understand what one can and cannot do when approached by the police. Knowing your rights can go a long way when it comes to dealing with law enforcement and more importantly saving your life.
Here are 20 things to do when approached by a Police Officer as an African American:
1) Do take out your camera to record any interaction with the Police
According to the First Amendment, you have the right to record any and every encounter you have with the police. This ensures that you have documented proof of your encounter and it also keeps the police accountable for their duties, whether done correctly or incorrectly.
The only limitation to recording is if it interferes with or obstructs the law enforcement duties. In such a case, a uniformed law enforcement can ask you to stop recording at which you are required to comply.
2) Do take the names and badge numbers of the interacting officer
Writing down officers names and badge numbers. These can be used as evidence to build your case if you believe your rights were violated during your interaction with the police.
3) Do take out your license, registration, and proof of insurance when pulled overWhat most people may be unaware of is that driving is a privilege, not a right. Therefore, if police pulls you over for a suspicious act, you are required to comply with the minimum of providing license, registration, and proof of insurance when pulled over. This will allow the officer to determine if you are indeed eligible to operate the vehicle. Depending on your state however, you may not be required to comply with a search of your vehicle without a warrant no matter your circumstance.
4) Do be polite but firm with your answers
Understand that although being polite can go a long way, don’t be too nice. Police are trained to keep control of every situation and act as an authority over you. Answer questions firmly but respectfully, especially those in which you are refusing to comply as a result of rights voilations. Although police have authority in many situations, as a citizen, you have rights in which they must obey and comply to.
5) Do keep hands visible at all times
Police are trained to observe body language and movement for their safety and can use lethal force if they feel that their life is gravely endangered. Keeping your hands out of your pocket, not folded and visible at all times, decreases any suspicion of threats.
If you are stopped on the street for any reason, keep hands open and in front of you where the police can see them. When pulled over in a car, place all required documentation on your dashboard before the cops arrive and place your hands on the steering wheel where the cop can visibly see them.
6) Do let the police know if you are reaching for something out of sight
If you are stopped by the police and you are complying to show them something out of sight (ie in your picked on glove compartment), let the officer know what your are reaching for and where you are reaching. Move very slowly when reaching for any objects. Any fast and immediate movements can be seen as threatening to police at which point they are obligated to protect themselves.
7) Do ask for a lawyer if under arrest
This is the probably the biggest mistake most people make when placed under arrest. When placed under arrest, you are told “you have the right to an attorney”. Always exercise this right. If you are not placed under arrest, you do not have to speak to the police. Never make any statements to the police unless you have your lawyer present. Anything can and will be used against you in court.
8) Do remain silent
You have the right silent if you are suspected of any crime. Don’t give law enforcement ammo to use against you in a court of law. Always ask for your lawyer if you are suspected of a crime and only speak in the presence of a lawyer
9) Do ask what you are being charged or stopped for
There are many instances where law enforcement will use their authority to exploit you. Do not let them. Law enforcement can stop you based on reasonable suspicion of a crime and they are obligated to disclose the reason they have stopped/arrested you when you ask them – this is the law.
There are however exceptions like the “no knock” warrant which allows law enforcement to enter a property without immediate prior notification of the residents (i.e. without knocking or ringing the doorbell). This warrant is issued if there is suspicion that evidence may be destroyed during the time that police identify themselves or if there could be a threat to an officer’s safety by their notification.
With this, also know what it means to be detained and arrested in your state as each may have different requirements from the law depending on your state.
10) Do turn on your flashers or emergency signal
This is especially true if you are pulled over by the police. Your flashers are the first indication to the police that you have acknowledged them and are trying to find a safe place to stop and park. It is also adds as a safety measure for cars around you to slow down and acknowledge that you are being stopped by the police.
11) Do stop when asked to do so
A common mistake people make when being stopped by the police is that they run. This could be due to many reasons. Perhaps you could be scared or nervous of what could happen next. This is natural human tendency (fight or flight response). However, it is in your best interest to stop when questioned by police. If they had any suspicion you did something, stopping may ease that suspicion.
When you run from the police, even though it could be because your are nervous or scared, they may see that as a threat or suspicious and may pursue you for further investigation.
12) Do file a formal complaint if you feel your rights have been violated
People may think the police are held at higher standard than the rest of society. This however is not the case. Law enforcement have the same civil duty as citizens to abide by federal and state laws. This means that if you feel your rights have been violated during an encounter with the police, please make sure to file a formal complaint in order to hold them accountable.
13) Do let them know you have a weapon (legal or illegal)
It is perfectly legal in some state to have a carry and conceal weapon but you have to let the law enforcement know you have it. This will put law enforcement at ease as they conduct their investigation as it limits the element of surprise.
14) Do ask if you are free to go
If law enforcement do not give you a reason for arrest. Ask they as if you a free to go. If they say “yes”, simply walk away. If they say “no”, it means you are being detained or stopped – do not walk away if they say no.
If they say no, always ask why you are being stopped or detained. Law enforcement may have further questions which you may or not need to answer based on the laws in effect in your state. During questioning and if not placed under arrest, continue to ask if you are free to go and only leave when they say yes.
15) Do ask for a warrant if you are being searched
A warrant is a formal permission from a judge to search your property based on a reasonable suspicion of a crime. Unless a “no knock” warrant is in effect, law enforcement is required to serve a warrant before they conduct any search of your properties. This includes a search in your house, car or even on yourself.
If an officer asks to do a search of your property without a warrant, you do have the right to say no.
16) Do stay in your vehicle when stopped
When stopped by law enforcement in your vehicle, do not voluntarily get out of your vehicle. This is for your safety and also for the safety of the officer. Law enforcement may view you as threatening if you approach their vehicle after they have stopped you in a traffic stop.
17) Do turn down any loud music if stopped in your vehicle
This is a common courtesy to better hear and understand what the officer is telling you. Not doing so can be irritating to the officer and they will give you a hard time for this.
18) Do tell any passengers in the vehicle with you to remain quiet
If you are stopped in your vehicle and you have passengers, remind the passangers that they also do not have to speak to the police at any time. The police are only required to question the operator of the vehicle during a stop under there is reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed by them. This also means that the passengers to do not have to identify themselves unless there is reasonable suspicion of a crime.
19) Do comply with the breathalyzer test
In some states, it is mandatory to comply with the breathalyzer test without suspicion that the person may be drinking. In such a case, when asked for a breathalyzer test, willfully comply. Refusal to take the breathalyzer test in states where it is mandatory will result in additional fines and penalties.
20) Do Not Resist Arrest
This is the most important rule of them all. Regardless of what you did or did not do, if an officer decides to arrest you, simply comply and do not resist. You are better off complying and fighting your case in court than resisting and being beating or even killed. Do not under any circumstance, resist arrest as it may be deemed threatening to officers and they will use force to restrain you.
That being said, there are officers who will claim resistance even though you are not in order to use more force to restrain you. Make sure to file a formal complaint against these officers in order to hold them accountable for these actions.
An encounter with law enforcement as an African American, regardless of whether or not you have committed a crime is a scary situation no doubt. Unfortunately for many African Americans, death is the only thing that passes through their mind when faced with such an encounter. However, by knowing your rights, you empower yourself and are better able to handle these encounters peacefully and lawfully.
To recap, here are the 20 things to do when stopped by law enforcement:
- Do take out your camera to record any interaction with the Police
- Do take the names and badge numbers of the interacting officer
- Do take out your license, registration, and proof of insurance when pulled over
- Do be polite but firm with your answers
- Do keep hands visible at all times
- Do let the police know if you are reaching for something out of sight
- Do ask for a lawyer if under arrest
- Do remain silent
- Do ask what you are being charged or stopped for
- Do turn on your flashers or emergency signal
- Do stop when asked to do so
- Do file a formal complaint if you feel your rights have been violated
- Do let them know you have a weapon (legal or illegal)
- Do ask if you are free to go
- Do ask for a warrant if you are being searched
- Do stay in your vehicle when stopped
- Do turn down any loud music if stopped in your vehicle
- Do tell any passengers in the vehicle with you to remain quiet
- Do comply with the breathalyzer test
- Do Not Resist Arrest