A Letter To My Sons: How to Act When Approached by a Police Officer

Dear Sons,

Growing up as African American boys, it is unfortunate that I  have to give you “The Talk”. It’s not the talk that you might think of. I will need to talk to you about how to act when you are approached by the police. Notice I didn’t say ‘If’ I said ‘When’ so you won’t be surprised when the police target you.  Don’t get me wrong, you shouldn’t never be afraid of the police because the majority of them are here to protect and serve the community.


Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

However, growing up as African American boys that will become men one day; some police officers have in their minds a stigma that is associated with African American men. This view of African American men isn’t totally the police officers fault; the media have betrayed African American men as hoodlums, drug dealers, murders, robbers, and rapist. These imagines of African American men make police officers more suspicious of you even if you don’t participate in these activities, but you may fit the “description” of a person that they are looking for. And there are police officers who are racist and will try to tempt you into doing something irate, so they have a reason to shoot or arrest you because they have a chip on their shoulder and want to take it out on you. Don’t fall for it.

I’m going to give you some advice to save your life when you are approached by a police officer:

Cooperate: Ask the officer: “How can I help you?” Listen to the reason  why the police office pulled you over or stop you in the street. Speak when spoken to and don’t talk over the police officer. If you were speeding, admit you were speeding and take the speeding ticket. If they ask for ID although you may not be required to show it to them, give it to them to avoid a confrontation. Also, make sure that your hands are visible so the police officer can see them e.g hands out of pockets, hands on steering wheel. If you need to reach for your license and registration, tell the officer where they are located e.g glove compartment or wallet, and ask permission to get it. You don’t want the police officer to think you are reaching for a gun. Finally, do not run away.  This will give the police reason to be suspicious of you and more reason to shoot you.  If you don’t have anything to hide: cooperate.

Don’t get irate: If you know that you did not do anything wrong, don’t give the officer any reason to arrest you by giving them an attitude. Also, don’t touch a police officer in any way, or they can arrest you for assaulting them. Let the officer see that they made a mistake instead of arguing with them that they may have targeted you because of your race. Even if that is true, it’s irrelevant as far as you are concern. Your concern is to clear up any misunderstanding calmly and non-threatening manner that won’t give the police officer any reason to detain you.

Know your rights: If the police decide to give you a ticket or try to book you for something that you didn’t do, know your rights. Know that you can fight the ticket in court. Ask the police officer: ‘Am I being obtained, or am I’m free to go?’ If they bring you in the police station and try to charge you with a crime; know that it’s your right to remain silent, know that you are entitled to a lawyer, know that you are entitled to a phone call. If they want to search your car, know that you have a right to refuse a search by saying, “I don’t consent to searches.” If they do search your car without permission, you have a right to complain about the officer violating your rights with a lawyer. Finally, whatever you do, ‘DON’T CONFESS TO SOMETHING YOU DID NOT DO!’  You may think that the police will let you go if you confess but they won’t. The police officer can legally lie to you to get what they want. Keep protesting that you need a lawyer.  Matter of fact, make sure you remember a criminal lawyer’s number just in case you get held up.  Remember, you get one phone call.

Show the police officer that you will cooperate, but smart enough not to give up your rights in the process. Don’t be stupid and think that the police officer is disrespecting you and try to physically or verbally fight back. Knowing these three things will keep you alive to tell the story and to fight to live another day if you’ve been wronged. At the end of the day, it’s your word against the police officer’s and since the police officer has authority, who do you think the judge is going to believe?  Be smarter than the police officer’s perception of you.  Although your ego will get damaged, it’s better than winding up dead in a box or arrested for a charge that could have been prevented.  Stay calm and check your ego at the door; you’ll be a better man for it.