Let me start by saying I support policemen. There are plenty of police that “get it,” that work hard, that serve and protect in every sense of the word. That said, I’m a 43-year-old black woman and I’ve always had a fear of being pulled over (well before social media). In the black community, the types of videos and experiences that the world is able to witness now, isn’t anything new and a “healthy” fear of the police was ingrained in me as a little girl growing up in Atlanta, Ga.
When I’ve been pulled over, I’ve always immediately changed my music to classical music, started speaking in a proper tone, and tried to have the most pleasant demeanor possible (using “yes, sir” from time to time). This isn’t who I am but I have instinctually (now more consciously) done these things because I know it helps me seem less threatening. Sad, right? It’s a shame I feel so much fear and that I’ve let this fear motivate me to give in to stereotypes but I want to get home safely.
This fear is heightened when I’m in the passenger seat and my husband is driving. He’s had two policemen pull guns on him while being pulled over and says he too always begins to think about how he appears, where he is, etc. As a black man however, he feels that it doesn’t matter what he considers, that nothing really helps him. Sadly in some cases he is right―if someone is that afraid of you based off of preconceived notions, or that intent on causing you harm, there is little you can do, proving that the solutions to this problem are multi-faceted.
But all you can control is yourself in this situation and for that, I think a lot of black people have a strategy when pulled over. Don Lemon is a fan of the “yes, sir” approach and many others are taught to kowtow or find a way to be less “scary” for the officer. What’s been your strategy to stay alive when pulled over? And even more, what will you teach your children to do in that instance?
Until things get better and we are able to turn a corner, I’ll be teaching my kids the following:
• It doesn’t matter what you’ve done to get pulled over. I don’t care what it is, we can deal with it after the fact. Don’t try to figure it out or discuss it with the officer.
• Do whatever the policeman instructs you to do, WHEN he instructs you. Not before.
• Don’t ask instigating questions or talk unless asked a question by the officer.
• Don’t do anything, no matter what, without the officer guiding you to do it first.
• Keep your hands in clear view at all times ― no sudden moves, no reaching for anything.
• Try to be respectful, use your manners when it makes sense, and get home alive, nothing else matters at that point.
In my mind, these instructions are intended to keep the interaction calm and focused, and hopefully help ensure that my babies get home safely.
Note: If you’re looking for something to DO, this organization has some great ideas ― Campaign Zero.