ON A PERSONAL NOTE/By Maramis
Last week I wrote my column about some of the various ways that Black men in particular can help themselves to stay alive when out and about where police may be.
Even though I am not Black, and not male, I can stretch my imagination for the cause. But more important than my imagination, hopefully some of the things I’ll suggest will actually save some lives out there.
In addition to always carrying your ID, having your necessary items such as your driver’s license, registration, and any other document you were told to always carry (you know what that might be), do not say even one word about being stopped by the police, such as, “What did I do wrong?” or “Why am I being stopped?” or “What now?” or the like. No matter what you say, be polite. Let the police officer start the conversation. And don’t let a bit of attitude surface. (You can talk about it later with your friends if you must.)
Remember to not go into your pockets for anything, but if you must, tell the officer what you are about to do, and ask if it is okay to do it. Don’t pull out anything except what you need to retrieve.
Depending on the circumstances, anything could look like a weapon to a police officer who might be more afraid of you than you might be of him.
Be aware of everything you do, and need to do, while in your car, such as signaling a turn, stopping at all red lights or stop signs, not throwing anything out your car window, not having your radio turned up too loud — or so loud that you can’t hear the voice of a police officer speaking to you or calling to you. Do not be foolish enough to give the police officer any reason to detain you, search your vehicle, or arrest you, such as having an open container of alcohol in your vehicle, having a broken or missing tail pipe or noisy muffler, having a prohibited item hanging from your rearview mirror, smoking any illegal or suspicious smelling substance, or having any weapons in your vehicle that are not registered; have been used in any crime, even if you were not the one to use them; have any blood on them or in any way look like they’ve just been used, etc. (Yes, it’s going to seem like you have a lot more to consider nowadays, but it beats the alternative, the possibility, that a police officer might jump to a conclusion that causes one of you to end up dead.)
Remember, police generally have the video cam on their person, so why not decide now, before you’re ever in that position, to make the most favorable impression on anyone viewing it after the fact, so be your best self when interacting with the police. (You know you have a best self in there somewhere; if you ever bring it out at all, interacting with the police should be one of those times when you do.)
While you may believe that all this extra stuff should not have to be told to Black men, or Black boys, the point is that all of the above is just logical common sense: it’s called obeying the law and not even looking like you might be breaking the law.
And while we’re on this last subject, I need to remind you that sometimes just wearing a black hoodie can call unwanted attention to you since it is easier to hide in the darkness when you blend in with the dark. Consider putting your hoodie down when walking into stores or banks, or anywhere you might be seen as suspicious. Allow your face to be seen and speak politely to those behind the counter. And do not walk too close to others on dark streets.
Of course I need to add that you need to do whatever the police say to do, no matter how unnecessary or even silly it might sound. You can always take it up in court if it turns out to be that the officer was in the wrong. But as someone once told me, do what it takes to get out of the situation with the least amount of trouble or difficulty by simply going along with the “requests” or demands of the police officer.
When I was in the Army, my last assignment was as a recruiter. Naturally, my job was to recruit for the US Army, but I made it a point to always tell my recruits the truth. Just as I am now writing as much as I can as a White woman to help Black men and boys to stay alive, I had to also tell my would-be recruits about the dark side of enlisting. Yes, I got in trouble with my superiors at the time for possibly turning some of them off (since the whole point of recruiting — as far as my Recruiting Command was concerned — was to sign up as many new recruits as I could); but let’s face it: if they thought it was going to be somewhat glamorous for them, coupled with a big financial bonus to pay for their education and they had no idea what basic training would be like, and then they had no idea of what being in a war would be like, or being away from their family for months or years at a time, they might well start thinking of ways to get out of the deal they made when they enlisted. (Klinger in Mash comes to mind.)
So it was my philosophy that made me believe that the best kind of soldier knows full well why he (or she) is joining, that there is a possibility that they may be called up to go overseas and be part of the armed forces in any one of the many countries where we are currently stationed, or even be called up for actual fighting, It is not at all glamorous, but it takes a certain kind of mindset and spirit to be a soldier. I wanted our Army to have the best. And while what I told those would-be recruits didn’t always make them happy, I knew if they got past what I told them and they still wanted to join, they would make much better soldiers than those who were just looking for a job and a paycheck and benefits.
It is my hope that those Black men and boys who might usually have a chip on their shoulders (maybe with good reason) or an attitude ready to explode will understand that their life might be on the line for just expressing how they feel in a situation that seems all out of proportion to what the so-called problem really is. If they could just imagine themselves in one of those situations and do whatever it takes to get out of it as peaceably and as quickly as possible, alive, then I will feel I’ve done my job here to the best of my ability.
The explicit plan of staying alive is called common sense.
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email
her at email@example.com.