This Is The Advice I Gave My Teenage Brother On The Police
Advice For My Teenage Brother is a column where I give advice to my teenage brother 17 years my junior unbound by any parental obligations to shape his mind or financially account for his mistakes, I can flex my brotherly instinct and tell him things I feel his parents, sports heroes, and television won’t. You know how you would do things differently if you knew what you know now? It’s like that, but for someone else. Maybe your teen needs advice too.
Let’s Start With The Facts, Little Brother.
- You’re 16 years old.
- You’re African-American.
- You live in a predominately Caucasian suburb outside of a major city.
- At some point you will have to interact with the police.
It’s likely, and if the news lately is any indication, how you handle this interaction could literally be a matter of life and death. You’ll either be hanging out with wrong knuckleheads, be at the wrong party, lose control of your higher brain functions, or upset the wrong knucklehead at the wrong party with no control over his higher brain functions. Not to mention that you’ll be driving soon, and if Chris Rock can get pulled over, you don’t stand a chance. I suggest you be ready. Any of these factors and a host of others could result in police involvement. Regardless of who is to blame or how innocent you may be, it behooves you to know what your rights are and how to properly conduct yourself in dealing with the law.
Keep in mind, I am neither a lawyer nor police officer, despite regularly fraternizing with both. While I’ve learned a thing or two from being Black in the United States, nothing I say should be considered legal advice. In fact, this disclaimer leads me to rule number 1 for dealing with the police which is:
Do Your Own Research
No matter what you think you know or saw on an episode of Castle with your mother, the only information you can trust is the information you’ve located yourself or gotten first hand from a proper, trusted professional. Your friends are idiots. I say that not just because I know them personally, but because they are young and inexperienced and not Black. It’s surprising how much of a difference that makes in beliefs about dealing with the police. Unless you’ve recently become friends with a 3rd year defense attorney, double check everything you hear. Both the internet and library are full of legitimate sources that will help you confirm anything you feel may be valuable to know. In fact, I’m pretty sure your libraries have transformed into buildings filled computers connected to the internet.
Police deserve your respect. Their jobs are dangerous, difficult, and a vital part of how our society functions. Keep in mind however, that they are also armed, humanly flawed, and have the backing and support of an exceptionally well funded and well equipped fraternal organization behind them. Imagine getting an audience with a high ranking drug dealer or gang member. Would you yell at him, curse him out, or disrespect him? Of course not! Because he is a member of a well armed and well equipped fraternal organization. In other words, he and his homies would have no trouble stomping you out.
- When dealing with the police remember the following.
- Do not mouth off.
- Do not speak out of turn.
- Use “ma’am,” “sir,” “please,” and “thank you.”
- And never ever use the word “fair.”
If that looks familiar, it’s because this is the same advice for dealing with adults, authority figures, and pretty much everyone you interact with that is on the job. Whether it’s a waiter or an officer, common courtesy and kindness will lower the chance that you get served something extra with your order like pubic hair or bullets.
Most importantly, keep in mind at all times that police officers have the support of the justice system and the entire community of wealthier, older, and better established people than you. When it’s your word against the police, do not expect the public to side with you. The internet might side with you if there is a hospital bill or a bodybag involved, but unless its severe and on camera they’re unlikely to do much other than get mad. The last thing you need to do is give the officer a reason to dislike you to the point he shows up at those hearings he doesn’t have to attend for a routine ticket. Thats how you know you messed up.
Police Don’t Want To Work Extra.
While a police run in might be a significant event to you or any average person, to the officer your situation is just one more thing he has deal with before the end of his shift. Most of us are just bumps in the routine to police officers. With this in mind, the easier you can make the interaction, the faster and more smoothly it will go. Contrary to popular tweets, police officers don’t wake up with a hard on for all the Black teenagers they get to beat up that day.
Most cops don’t want to chase you. Most cops would rather not fight. Most cops would rather not discharge their weapon or take someone’s life. In addition to the obvious risk, physical and psychological toll of these activities, they can lead to uncomfortable conversations with bosses or the press, and will all lead to more paperwork. Cops hate paperwork. It’s pretty much the most accurate thing action movies portray about the general attitude of that aspect of police work. Most officers would rather go home unscathed, eat dinner, read the new comics from that week, and share stories about all the real good they did in the community than stay up late finishing up paperwork because some punk kid wouldn’t follow instructions. Keep this in mind whenever it feels like something stupid could go down. It’s true that police presence can be inconvenient for you, but to them it’s more like being told to do chores before they can go to bed. If they have to, they’d like to be as smooth and simple as possible.
Keep Your Ass Clenched and Your Mouth Shut
Just because you’re being polite to the officer, does not give you a license to get chatty. Keep your composure and keep your mouth shut. I say shut up within the confines of good taste, but others say you should clam up immediately and feed the officer a cold side of “I’m going to remain silent.” I’ll leave that to you, your own research, and your situation. Nevertheless, you should always be mindful of what you say to police and what you agree to. Police are legally required to ask before searching your property. However, if allowed at all, they also have access to search any related items such as your glove compartment, phone or computer. After all, you gave him permission. If asked, politely refuse and ask for your parent and an attorney. This should stop the questions. If not, politely repeat it.
- Politely refuse the search.
- Politely ask for your parents and an attorney.
- If an officer starts a search without permission or a warrant, make a mental note of it because your lawyer will be very interested to know that.
While we respect the police and remain polite in all dealings with them, we do not at any point consider the police our friends. You’re just a part of their job that day. Tomorrow it will be someone else. Do not allow the relationship to become anything but professional. These days especially, if you’re in spitting distance of an officer, assume there is a camera on you recording everything. Since “everything you say can be used against you in a court of law,” the smart thing is to give them no more weapons than they already have. There is an entire Amendment in the constitution for just that. Bonus points if you know which!
The Courtroom Is The Most Important Legal Battlefield.
Being young often comes hand in hand with being short sighted. When I was 16, any time I got involved with the cops, I’d hyperventilate thinking of the things our father was going to do to me if he found out. I was far more afraid of him than the repercussions of the legal system. This is monumentally inverted perspective about what is most important. As a great master attorney once told me, “The cop can mess up your night, but the judge can mess up your life.” To this day, I consider that notion whenever dealing with any police matters.
When faced with a police encounter, it’s easy to think that your world is crashing down around or that your life is over. This fear is what motivates some to become belligerent, act out, run away or start fights. This is short sighted. Remember that there will be other nights and other parties. Keep your wits about you and stay focused on preserving your long term future. Don’t be afraid to leave a bad situation before an altercation devolves into madness and the police arrive. Be wary of giving police undeserved access to produce something potentially illegal that they may not have even been looking for. Understand that sometimes getting arrested may be your best option. Don’t be afraid to ask for your parents and a lawyer. Make smart decisions. Know your rights and exercise them properly while treating police with respect they deserve.