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Laguna Mobilization 2/21 Writers' Group

Roxanna, Friday Alexander, Jack Crawford, Dorthy Odessa, Alexander Hillian, Andrew Jackson Brown, Sanford Jackson, Mallard Merriman, John Shavers, John Wesley

Rules for Driving While Black or Brown

By Mallard Merriman

You really have to understand that the police really target minorities for arrest and detention. It is totally intentional. They see a black or brown driver and they look for a reason to stop your car. I heard a black cop from LAPD describe the way they operate against blacks and Latinos:

So, if you drive black or brown, don't ever think you are safe. A reasonable level of paranoia is healthy.

Some of the rules outlined below may seem trite and obvious. However, you can visit thousands of unfortunate black and brown people in the courts or jails on trumped up charges, others that are carrying scars of police beatings or are in the morgues and cemeteries around the country. Many of these are people who encountered the police because of one or more violations of these rules. The intent is to avoid any cause for police-initiated contact. The items listed are the main excuses the police use to justify stops. If you are not stopped you won't need to worry about a contact that escalates to your becoming victim to arrest, harassment, beating or murder. And remember, if Rodney King had not become a celebrity he would have been charged with assault on the police and resisting arrest.

One of my favorite movies is "And Justice for All..." Those of you who saw the movie may remember the poor white boy who had been in jail for over six months because he had the same name as a fugitive. Clearly he was misidentified. But he was caught in the system. He had originally been stopped by the police because he had a busted taillight. In this pathetic case, this innocent boy was held with hardened criminals for six months, raped and eventually killed because he could not take what was happening to him. So this is no joke. Driving while black is dangerous and those of us who do it routinely must be very careful.

If you are stopped by the police your primary objective is to end contact alive. Not getting a ticket is secondary. Remember, the cop you encounter may simply be afraid of you. It doesn't matter if racism or experience motivates the fear. It's just as real and potentially deadly for you. You want to avoid capture, harassment, extended searches and violent physical contact. If you realize that you may be dealing with a deranged, hateful, racist individual that does not value your humanity, you will behave in a way that is consistent with a desire for survival. If he kills you his motivation doesn't matter. You are just as dead. If you survive, you can always call Johnnie Cochran later.

Whenever you drive while black follow these rules:†

  1. Before leaving home ensure you have a valid driver's license.
  2. Make sure the car you drive has a proper registration tag and you have the registration and insurance card (be sure the insurance is current). If your state requires a front license plate be sure it's there.
  3. Check to ensure your taillights, brake lights, headlights and blinkers are working. (Remember: police use any nonworking light or a crack in the windshield as a reason to stop you).
  4. Always wear your seat belts. Many states now allow cops to stop you for not wearing a seat belt and issue a summons.
  5. Never carry any liquor or beer in the passenger compartment of your car - not even in a passenger's pocket. It must be in the trunk. If it is unsealed you can be charged. Even a sealed bottle can easily be cracked by an unscrupulous cop. So, don't leave it there.
  6. Don't tint windows beyond legal limits. If you have a cracked windshield, get it fixed.
  7. Don't drive any faster than the flow of traffic. Always signal any turn. If you see a flashing light behind you pull over.
  8. If your car becomes disabled pull all the way off the road. It is better to ruin a tire than to be killed by a passing car or an angry cop.
  9. Don't throw trash out of your car. Littering is against the law and is a valid reason for police to stop you. In most states this may even include flicking ashes from a lit cigarette from your car.
  10. If you are stopped by the police never offer any resistance and try not to be argumentative. Keep your hands in view at all times (best to hold the steering wheel). Ask permission to open your glove box or reach into pockets.
  11. Always warn other drivers (especially brothers and sisters) if you see that their car has a police-attracting problem such as a nonworking taillight. You maybe saving a life.
  12. Be aware that police pairs work where at night one car will sit perpendicular to the road while his partner waits a few hundred yards down the road. As you pass the lights shine on you and your race is identified. This information is relayed down the road and dark people are selectively stopped. If this happens to you check your speed and maintain your cool.

These rules will not assure your safety. They will help to lessen you contacts with police. Just remember, if you are not white you are several times more likely to have negative experiences with cops. Too often we find ourselves protesting some horrible police murder of some poor black or Latino. The cops simply claim they were in some form of danger and fire away. The only time they are in any jeaprody of being prosecuted is if the do something so egregious that the system must act. (Like the Louima case in Brooklyn where the cop bragged about sodomizing the victin with a broken broom handle.) This must stop. The one thing we ordinary citizens can do is be observers. Whenever you see brothers being stopped you can simply park a safe distance away and observe. Take pictures, if you like. You may be saving the poor brother's life.

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