25 Years ago, early one morning while rushing to work in my car, I was pulled over by a police officer for speeding. I put my car in park, rolled down my window, put both hands on my steering wheel and waited for the officer to approach my door. When he reached my window, the police officer politely asked, “Do you know why I’ve pulled you over?” “No officer”, I replied. “I’ve pulled you over because you were going 10 miles over the speed limit”, said the officer, to which I replied, “OK”.
The officer then asked me for my driver’s license and it was at this moment that our encounter almost became fatal for me. With my left hand still on the steering wheel, I reached with my right hand into the left hand pocket of my suit jacket to retrieve my wallet and in the same second that it took me to perform that action, I observed the police officer reaching for his gun, so I froze.
I politely and calmly looked directly into the police officer’s eyes and said, “Officer, you did ask me to show you my driver’s license, yes?” “Yes!” the officer replied. “Well, it’s here in my wallet and I am attempting to get it for you. What would you like me to do?” From that moment on, the rest of my encounter with this police officer went fairly smoothly; however, I do think he became slightly annoyed by my repeating each of his requests and asking him to confirm before taking any action.
That experience happened to me 25 years ago. But, if I had that same encounter today, I am highly concerned and in great fear that this same white police officer would have pulled his weapon from his holster and shot me three or more times before ever giving me the chance to prevent such a fatal escalation. Am I exaggerating? Absolutely not! Are my fears warranted? They absolutely are! We have all borne witness to such a fatal outcome less than one week ago.
The truth of the matter is that I can ride my bicycle 50 miles deep into valleys and up 5000-foot mountains with only two water bottles, one inner tube, a CO2 cartridge and a cell phone that hardly works in the mountains and valleys most of the time and not have a single worry for my health and safety.
And yet when I get in my car to leave my home and drive less than two miles to my favorite restaurant, in that five-minute trip, my physical and mental experience is quite different from that of my bicycle rides; it is stressful because I’m a black man in a car. I know that if I’m pulled over for any reason, for any reason whatsoever, in that next five minutes my life can very possibly come to an end.
I must live with this concern every single time I get into my car. Every man and woman of color must live with this concern each time they drive their car.
When I spoke with my son on his birthday only a month or so ago, he told me that his mother bought him a car; so, after congratulating him, I had to give him THE TALK, the same talk that my father didn’t want to give but had to give to me.
Son, now that you have a car, I must tell you these three things and ask you to take them to heart.
One, never ever, ever drive your car intoxicated.
Two, please know that in your early experience driving your car, you do not fully understand the laws of physics, centrifugal force, laws of inertia and the energy present when driving your car. So, please observe and follow all speed limits especially around curves for your safety as well as the safety of others.
Son, this third one is the most important; listen very carefully. When driving your car, if you are ever pulled over by a police officer for any reason, any reason at all, even if you think you’re in the right and there was no good reason for the police officer pulling you over, I want you to take the following steps:
- Pull your car over to the curb
- Turn your car off
- Place your car in park
- Turn on your hazard lights
- If it is dark out, turn on the ceiling lights in your car
- Roll down your driver side window and if you have electric windows, roll them all down
- Place your hands on your steering wheel
- When the officer speaks to you, always respond with “Yes officer” and “No officer”
- When the officer asks you to do something, before doing it, repeat back to the officer what he or she has asked you to do and ask for their confirmation; doing this may annoy them, but it should keep them basically calm and you safe.
Son, at all times you must be in control of your interaction with the police officer. Even if the officer is disrespectful to you, calls you outside of your name, raises his voice to you or tries to provoke you into conflict do not, I repeat, do not lose your composure; do not raise your voice to the police officer and do not argue with the police officer; remain calm, at all times remain calm and in control of your environment.
Son, please remember this; if a police officer is being disrespectful to you in any way, shape or form, but you are continuing to converse with the police officer calmly and respectfully, at no time should you ever consider or feel that you are having to compromise or to swallow your pride.
Son, please hear me on this; if you are walking alone in the woods and you happen upon a wild or injured animal, what do you do? You freeze and calmly assess the situation; for you know if you’re not in control of your encounter with this wild or injured animal, it may attack you because it is weak, in fear of you and in fear for its life. Thus, if you ever have such an encounter with a wild or weak animal, you know the actions you’re taking have no effect on denigrating your pride; on the contrary, it is your pride and your survival instincts that will kick in so that you can take charge of your situation allowing you and the wild or injured animal to survive your encounter with each other.
Son, not all police officers are weak and dishonorable, not all police officers that you may encounter during your lifetime will treat you dishonorably, but you must be prepared for the ones that are and the ones that do.
Son, please comprehend this; if you are ever in a situation where you are being victimized by a police officer, you are NOT the victim; the police officer is the victim. The police officer is a victim of his or her own fears and prejudices that have been drummed into them from others and by a societal set of ill-fated norms and incorrect beliefs systems that have yet to be fully dispelled and dissipated, but have permeated the mind of the police officer and restricted his or her ability to think correctly, function responsibly and to see you as a human being equal in all rights and respect, honor and sovereignty equally afforded to them. Even if the police officer is taller than you, is larger than you, weighs more than you, is wearing body armor and carries a weapon that can maim or kill you, that police officer is more afraid of you than you are of that police officer.
Son, your goal in all encounters with any police officer is to be respectful as humanly possible, always remain calm, present, in control of the situation and to the best of your ability, stay alive.
To all men, women and children of color I implore you to remain calm, present and in control of your situation; stay alive and come home to your children and your parents each evening; live to see another day.
Though you may be victimized by a police officer, you are not the victim; the police officer is the victim.
Though you may be being mistreated by a police officer, cursed at, spat upon, beat down, shot at and brought to your knees, you are not the weaker vessel in your situation; the police officer is the weaker vessel.
Though you may not see justice done to the police officer who has persecuted you or done worse to you and is set free by a judicial system that is unbalanced, unconcerned and slated in the officer’s favor, judge not lest ye be judged.
You are already exalted by the creator, the one who transcends all religions, race, sex, color, creed and knows and loves you even as equally as the misguided, feeble minded police officer who has wrongly harmed you; your pride has not been altered nor shaken and your spirit cannot be broken; it is the pathetic police officer who has no pride, whose spirit is lost and in great need of rescue and the one we must pray for even as we deal with our own pain and anger and pray for our own dead and wounded.
Hycel B. Taylor III
I and My Father Are One