AP writer Jesse Washington recently wrote about having to tell his 12 y/o son about the Black Male Code as a result of the Trayvon Martin fiasco.
As I explained it, the Code goes like this:
Always pay close attention to your surroundings, son, especially if you are in an affluent neighborhood where black folks are few. Understand that even though you are not a criminal, some people might assume you are, especially if you are wearing certain clothes.
Never argue with police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility. When confronted by someone with a badge or a gun, do not flee, fight, or put your hands anywhere other than up.
Please don’t assume, son, that all white people view you as a threat. America is better than that. Suspicion and bitterness can imprison you. But as a black male, you must go above and beyond to show strangers what type of person you really are.
This is a good start; but one should remove all references to race (do you really think it’s ok for white people to argue with the police?) and then beef it up a little. Further, it’s not about dealing with people who might “have a badge or a gun,” it’s about being polite to everyone in society. It’s getting a little crowed here and we all have to get along.
As an attorney I get asked on a regular basis something like, “What should I do when [insert interaction with police here.] Here’s what I tell my generally white, generally upper middle class, generally men, who generally are driving a late model imported car about how to handle traffic stops:
- pull over as soon as it’s safe when you see the “lights” come on;
- turn the car OFF;
- roll down ALL the windows, yes, the back one’s too;
- remove the keys from the ignition and place on the dashboard;
- make sure your foot is off the brake;
- if dark, turn the interior lights on;
- turn the radio off;
- place your cell phone on the dashboard;
- do NOT fidget trying to get your wallet out of your pocket (purse) or ins. card from the console;
- do NOT turn around looking for the officer to approach;
- keep your hands on the steering wheel or out the window;
If you simply do that you’re doing better than most people the officer pulled over that day and the interaction between you and the officer should go more smoothly than if you did not do these things. However that’s really only the beginning. You should also:
- Answer all of the officer’s questions simply and directly;
- do NOT admit guilt – but do NOT argue;
- if you’re asked for something you have to reach for, ask permission to get it (e.g. “My drivers license is in my wallet in my back pocket, may I get it?”;)
- describe all of your actions to the officer BEFORE you do them (e.g. “Proof in insurance is in my glove box it’s just a piece of paper but I also have a silver case for my sunglasses in there, I’m going to have to remove that first.”;)
- follow all of the officers instructions, if you’re told to get out of the car, don’t argue or ask why, just get out of the car;
- be polite, engage in a conversation as normally as possible;
- if you have questions ask them but do not interrupt.
You get the idea. Now, would it be fair to say that this should become the Upper Middle Class Imported Car Driving White Male Code? Of course not. This is advice for everyone regardless of age, race, gender, and automobile country of origin.
If we keep trying to focus on ways that we’re different we’ll never discover all the ways that we’re the same. When it comes to dealing with authority figures, we’re all very much the same.