After the Trayvon Martin killing, there was story after story in the media about black parents having “the talk” with their kids. The talk goes back generations and it’s about how to act and survive. It goes back to Jim Crow laws.
In modern days, it’s how to act when confronted by police officers. The talk tells young people of color to comply, to not talk back and leave their hands where the officer can see them. Don’t have anything in your hands. Remember the officer’s badge number. Even if you felt that you were in the right, don’t resist. In the wake of the Michael Brown killing, protests, riots and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, the talk is back in the news.
A year ago, I wrote a column about my experience being stopped with two friends by a California Highway Patrol officer in the middle of nowhere in Cordelia and how that cop was belligerent, insulting and made us all nervous as we sat in the car with our hands up. We responded to him in full Eddie Haskell mode, trying to comply and get this stop over with. Had we answered him in a belligerent manner or had I exited the passenger side of the car, I think the stop would’ve become much, much worse.
If you live in a community where the police are seen as an occupying army, where your friends have had negative experiences with the police and you, too, have felt singled out, then it’s going to be difficult to stay calm when stopped by police. If every one of my interactions with police were like that incident with the CHP, then I would definitely view law enforcement in a different light than I do.
But when stopped by police, it isn’t the time to act aggressive. It’s not the time to act out. Take a deep breath. Whatever you have to do to get through the experience without mace, a baton, Taser or firearm entering the equation is what you have to do.
At the same time, I think police brass need to have “the talk” with their officers. Cops know that respect is important on the street. It may be a twisted machismo, but that’s the way it is. If a cop rolls up on some young men and yells at them and embarrasses them, he or she could create a problem where there wasn’t one. Addressing a member of the public as a person instead of a criminal can work wonders.
Sometimes it’s that simple.
When I was younger, a couple of friends and I were having a few beers in Allan Witt Park at night. A Fairfield police car rolled up and an officer walked over to us and said, “Hey guys, the park is closed. I need you guys to wrap it up, OK?” We told him no problem and we left.
Often a little interaction like that goes a long way. My friends and I walked away from it thinking that officer was cool, cutting us slack like that. Handled a different way, it could’ve blown up into a bigger deal.
How police interactions go are important because minority communities already have a mistrust of police. And chances are that officer sees me as a bigger threat than if he or she stops a senior citizen. One thing the cop and the person they stop have in common is they both want to go home at the end of the day. Civility works. Peace.
Kelvin Wade, a former Fairfield resident, is the author of “Morsels” Vols. I and II and lives in Sacramento. Email him at [email protected]