How To Not Get Shot By The Police

I’ve had a cop point a gun at me.

You can even see the picture of it – which, come to think of it, was probably a bad idea. Who puts his hands over his head and takes a snap of a police officer pointing a rifle at him? But, I was in full journalist mode covering 300 cops in riot gear running a bunch of dirty hippies from the Occupy Movement out of a park in Denver. Earlier, I had been up close to the line of cops taking pictures when they charged forward and they probably thought I was some kind of protest leader. Maybe I should have yelled, “Don’t shoot me, bro, I’m a Republican,” but I didn’t think of it.

I’ve also been pulled over quite a few times because of my lead foot, which always felt more like an annoyance than a threat. You get pulled over; you pay a lawyer; your ticket goes away. Repeat every 6-12 months.

Incidentally, that’s the first key to not getting shot by the police. Don’t think of the police as a threat. They’re really not going to randomly beat you, arrest you or shoot you for no reason whatsoever. It’s like a bee. Don’t start swatting at it and chances are, it’s not going to sting you.

In fact, when a cop pulls you over, you should have your license and registration ready, you put your hands on the steering wheel so he can see them when he arrives, and you say “yes, sir” and “no, sir.”

But, but, but….what if you’ve done nothing wrong? What if you disagree with his pulling you over? Why should you treat cops with so much respect? After all, don’t you pay their salaries?

Like the Bible says, there’s a season for everything. When a cop is pulling you over, that’s the time to be as polite and non-threatening as possible. Why? Because that cop has a gun, he can arrest you and you have no idea what’s going through his head. Maybe someone who looks like you just committed a crime in the area. Maybe one of his buddies got shot on a traffic stop last week and he’s nervous about it. Maybe you just look a little bit like Dave Chappelle and he never forgave him for quitting his show. It doesn’t really matter. If you think a cop needs to be taken down a peg or two, that’s a job for your lawyer to handle in a court roomful of people, not a job for you to handle when it’s your word against his.

Along similar lines, move slowly, cautiously; obey the officer and don’t do anything that makes a cop think you’re a threat. You shove your hands in your pants; you could be going for a gun. Jerk your cell phone out of your jacket? His brain might be screaming, “He has a gun! Shoot, shoot!” If you start whipping around a “toy” gun, well, then you’re just begging to get shot. If you run from the cops, the adrenalin is going to be through the roof when they catch up to you and people full of adrenalin are more likely to shoot you. You don’t even have to run. You start jumping around, screaming at the officer, resisting arrest or generally just getting agitated and guess what? The cop is going to get agitated, too. That’s bad because a calm, cool cop who feels safe isn’t going to pull out his gun, but a cop who gets agitated is more likely to shoot you in the chest. Of course, it goes without saying that if you attack a police officer, or for that matter, ANYBODY carrying a gun, you might get a bullet between the eyes. Maybe you shouldn’t be shot. Maybe a police officer should have used a stun gun or waited for back-up, but that’s not going to be much consolation to your family at your funeral.

Oh, but what if you REALLY hate cops? Well, if you REALLY hate cops, the best way to minimize the number of interactions you have with them is not to break the law. Just to give you one great example from the news, if Mike Brown hadn’t robbed a convenience store, would he be alive today? Absolutely.

You can take that even further if you like. If you dress like a thug, people – including cops – will respond to that. Back in the day, when I decided to put my psychology degree to work in a group home, I remember one of the kids complaining that every time he walked through a store, he heard the clerk call for “security” to look at different aisles. As he said that, he was wearing saggy pants with a bandana on his head (Wasn’t my call on letting him dress like that); so was it a surprise that he was treated with suspicion? Incidentally, since he actually WAS A THIEF, the system seemed to be working.

This applies to cops, too. They’re going to look at you differently based on whether you’re wearing a suit or look like a member of the Crips. Is that unfair? Not at all, because if you want to send the world the message that you’re a thug by the way you dress, then maybe it makes sense to pay attention to that message. The police certainly will and if a cop is looking at the “thug life” tattoo on your arm, then you need to be that much more polite to keep him from getting edgy.

Whether you think cops are mostly good guys doing a tough job (I do) or trigger happy, racist meatheads looking for people to push around, the calculus doesn’t change. Good guys can and do kill people. Trigger-happy Neanderthals don’t behave like that most of the time because they can’t get away with it. Either way, you don’t want to be the one who gives them ANY REASON to pull out their guns.

Telling people to be polite, to not make any sudden moves and to obey the police isn’t exactly rocket science, but 99.9% of police shootings wouldn’t have happened if people followed those basic rules and the other 0.1% of cases, like the Akai Gurley case, are tragic accidents. The police should always be held accountable for bad behavior or shooting people unnecessarily, but people interacting with the police also have responsibilities that shouldn’t be shrugged off just because they ended up on the wrong end of a gun.

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