As your father, I feel there are some very important things that I must tell you right now. Many of them may seem totally contradictory to things I’ve told you in the past but I need for you to listen carefully and do everything exactly as I tell you. It breaks my heart to tell you this, but it seems apparent from recent events that these measures are what are required to ensure you stay alive if confronted by police.
If you are ever pulled over by police:
1) Avoid Extended Direct Eye Contact
Yes. I know son. I always tell you to look each person you encounter directly into their eyes as a sign of mutual respect for yourself and as a way to acknowledge the other individual’s shared humanity, but this is a different encounter...and you are black. Because of the confidence you have in who you are, your extended direct eye contact will force an officer to immediately grapple with their own fears and insecurities. They need to feel in control of the situation, and that they have an upper hand. Eye contact for too long may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.
Direct eye contact may force an officer to immediately grapple with their own fears and insecurities
2) Say Yes Sir - No Sir
Yes. I know son. Your mom and I don’t require it nor do your teachers. But (pause, deep breath), I guess police officers think they need more formal signs of "respect" than even your father. Never say “yeah,” and if the answer to one of their questions is “No” and you forget to say (or can’t make yourself say) “No Sir” DO NOT say “No” with any intonation or with any emphasis. Saying “Yeah” or “No” may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.
Police Offices think they need more formal signs of respect than even your father.
3) Don't Ask Why
Yes. I know son. I taught you to question everything. I know that even when you are in trouble with me you are always allowed to ask questions because I feel you entitled to know why you are in trouble. But (long pause, suppresses anger) you are not to expect the same level of respect by police you are shown at home. Sandra Bland asked why she was asked to step out of the car and why she was being arrested 14 times and the officer's response was get out of the car or "I'll light you up". I don't want this to be you. It seems that asking ‘Why’ may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.
You are not to expect the same level of respect by police you are shown at home.
4) Ask for Permission
If asked for license and registration, ask for permission to reach and get them.
Yes. I know son. They just asked for it and asking them for permission to do what they just asked you for sounds crazy but because your license will inevitably be in your pocket and your registration will likely be in your glove compartment, you will need verbal affirmation. Reaching to grab either one without this verbal affirmation may be interpreted as a) a challenge or b) a threat…and these are bigger crimes than anything you were stopped for.
DEAR GOD, I PRAY YOU NEVER NEED THE FOLLOWING RULES
5) Open Door Using Outside Handle and Move Slowly
If you are ever asked to get out of the car, slowly show both of your hands and open the door using the OUTSIDE handle. Looking down and reaching for the car door on the inside may be interpreted as reaching for something else.
Please make sure every move you make is slow from this point forward.
*You are about to enter very dangerous territory.
Once an officer sees your entire body, they will begin to IMMEDIATELY hone in on your physical attributes and no matter what your size is, your physical presence alone, as a black man, will somehow pose an immediate threat…and this is a bigger crime than anything you were stopped for.
Your physical presence alone as a black man will somehow pose an immediate threat.
6) Raise Both Hands Above Your Head
Yes. I know son. You have no idea why you were stopped or what you are being asked to step out of the car for but if you find yourself at this point it is of CRITICAL importance that you do exactly what I say.
7) Bite Your Tongue
While you are being frisked do not move and do not say a word unless you are asked a question. If you are inappropriately touched, or groped, or if your genitals are fondled, please Son, do not react in anger. If you say, “What the hell are you doing?” or “Don’t touch me” like Eric Garner or move suddenly or kick or even snatch away from these violating gestures, your life is now certainly at risk because it is already evident by their actions that you are dealing with an individual who is now intentionally trying to provoke you (because up to this point, you have literally done everything right).
8) Let Them Cuff You
If they attempt to put cuffs on you, let them.
Yes. I know son. Your heart will be beating fast. You will be afraid. You have never been in this position before. You will be angry. You will be confused. You will be embarrassed. But PLEASE DO NOT LOSE FOCUS! If you turn to your emotions now, anything that comes out of your mouth or any movement of your body will bee seen as a threat and WILL BE met with violence. Please son, hear me!
9) Remain Silent
You are being arrested and though you may feel as if you have been wronged and your rights violated, this may be the only right you have left.
10) Know That I Love You
No matter what the situation is. No matter if you turned without a signal or not. No matter what they said to you or what they did to you or how they made you feel or your sense of helplessness or how stupid you think I was for making you follow all these rules to only end up in jail. No matter how much the “burden” of your blackness may make you want to wash it all off. No matter how much confusion comes flooding your mind, know that I am proud of you. Know that you are a man even if you don’t feel like one right now. Know that your dignity is not something anyone else determines.
Know that hate is rooted in fear and fear is rooted in ignorance and ignorance is rooted in being too arrogant to learn and arrogance is rooted in privilege and privilege is the direct result of a well crafted, calculated, systemic plan initiated many years ago to build a wealthy independent empire…and empires don’t work if everyone benefits equally. Though privilege itself doesn’t make a person bad, it is a very difficult thing to let go of or to use constructively…particularly if there is no acknowledgement of its existence in the first place.
And since "Power" is the bastardization of Authority, it is the most abused privilege of all…with the harshest consequences.
The love I have for you.
The love we have for each other
can overcome this situation, Son.
Don't do anything now to harm yourself.
I am coming to bring you home.
And you have permission to be angry when you get there.
And you have permission to cry.
I am crying right now.
May our collective tears serve as baptism
And may we emerge from the water with clearer vision for what to do next
To restore justice
To dismantle this system and its “empire” ideology that put you through this to start with.
Pick your head up. Let’s work.
I love you son.
Director of the Ethics & the Arts Program at the Emory University Center for Ethics
Creator of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE™ and its signature project 50 Shades of Black