It is an ugly truth: parents of African American children live with the constant fear that our children, especially our sons, may have an encounter with the police that ends in their arrest, or even worse, in their bodily harm.
We know we need to have “The Talk” with them about what to do if they are ever stopped, but what should we say? A lot, it turns out. To start, here is a list of instructions of what to do (and what not to do) if you are stopped by the police courtesy of the New York Civil Liberties Union. We should all review this list and share this information with all of our children who are old enough to travel alone.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE STOPPED BY THE POLICE
Stay calm and in control of your words, body language and emotions.
Don’t get into an argument with the police.
Never bad-mouth a police officer.
Remember, anything you say or do can be used against you.
Keep your hands where the police can see them.
Don’t touch any police officer.
Don’t resist even if you believe you are innocent.
If you complain at the scene, or tell the police they’re wrong, do so in a non-confrontational way that will not intensify the scene.
Do not make any statements regarding the incident.
If you are arrested, ask for a lawyer immediately.
Remember officers’ badge numbers, patrol car numbers and physical descriptions.
Write down everything you remember ASAP.
Try to find witnesses and their names and phone numbers.
If you are injured, take photos of the injuries as soon as possible, but make sure you get medical attention first. Ask for copies of your medical treatment files.
This information is a subset of a longer discussion on the NYCLU’s website found here, which includes information on what to do if you have a police encounter, are stopped, questioned and frisked, stopped in your car, if police come to your home, or if you are arrested.
Here are some additional tips to share with your children:
If Driving, Be Prepared and Cooperative. If your child is stopped while driving, he should have easy access to her license, registration and be prepared to hand them to the officer when requested. Tell him or her to turn on the interior light if it is nighttime as soon as the car is pulled over. Car stops are one of the most dangerous assignments a cop can have, so an officer approaching the car may well already be on high alert.
To Record or Not To Record? Having a recording of an encounter is a good idea if there is any reason to be concerned that something is going wrong. If your son or daughter decides to record, they should do it as discretely as possible. Aggressive recording of an encounter (e.g., pulling out the phone, holding it in front of you and announcing that you are recording) is unnecessary and, in fact, could negatively escalate the situation. Never record in a way that interferes with the police activity (e.g., physically getting in the way of the police; stopping them from seeing something). If your child is not alone and there is an issue, she should encourage those around her to quietly record the activity.
Your children should know that they may be recorded as well, as more and more police officers are wearing body cameras during encounters. In addition, police cars have dashboard cameras that can capture footage. So they need to be mindful that any responses they make during the encounter are likely to be seen and evaluated.
ACLU Mobile Justice Apps: Here is another helpful resource: The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) has created a mobile app called “Mobile Justice,” which at least 18 states have adapted a variant of for local use. This app enables users to report and record an incident which will be automatically sent to their local ACLU. Mobile Justice also has a “Your Rights” section that provides very helpful information regarding what to do when you are stopped on the street, in the car, or while using the app to film an incident. Check here to see if Mobile Justice is available in your state.
Hope these tips will help with the tough but important conversations we need to have with our children. This is good information for us all to remember and especially good for our teenaged and young adult children to have as they travel on their own.
This post was originally published in 2013 and was recently updated. Thanks to Al Pettus, Angel Harris from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for their help with this post.