The police as an institution is older than the Republic itself.
So are the bad people who make the police necessary.
“Cops and robbers” is more than a cartoon cliché—it’s a yin-yang dynamic that continuously entangles lawbreakers and law enforcement within the same social/civic ecosystem.
But just as we have college graduates (and even history majors) who can’t name the continental general who bested Cornwallis at Yorktown, and just as we have many citizens who can’t name a single Supreme Court justice, or any presidents further back than Clinton or Bush, we seem to have an education crisis involving police interaction.
Heightened friction between police and the communities they protect may be the result of too many kids in too many neighborhoods not being schooled properly in Police Encounters 101.
• Treat police with respect. It’s “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” Every time, all the time. I know as sure as I know that the sun rises in the east that if I ever begin a conversation with a police officer with “F*** you” (the way Michael Brown reportedly did in Ferguson, Mo.) it’s going to go downhill fast.
• Obey the police. A disobedient citizen sparks lots of dangerous thoughts in a police officer’s head, beginning with motive: Why would a citizen disobey a police command? The answers to that question are all bad, and police will start sizing up the situation accordingly.
• Never run from the police. Nothing speaks louder to a police officer than fleeing. Innocent, nonviolent people don’t run. And fleeing criminals are very dangerous. Putting yourself into that category is a sure-fire recipe for risk of life and limb.
• Don’t touch a police officer. Ever. Any physical contact is inappropriate, and if a movement could be construed as an assault, it will be met with defensive, including lethal, force.
Simple courtesies and gestures of respect (a police officer represents the law) go a long way toward making police comfortable that you are not a threat. Threats to police are often disguised, and police know it takes barely one second for a criminal to pull a gun and shoot. That means in their job (unlike your job or mine), if they let down their diligence for a single second it can be a fatal mistake.
That also means they have to make decisions nearly as quickly about neutralizing a threat. This ups the ante enormously regarding citizen behavior. In those instances, the rules become absolute requirements.
• If an officer ever pulls his gun, submit fully, cooperatively and unquestioningly. If an officer has a weapon drawn, that is your cue to stop, shut up, listen and obey. If they say don’t move, do not move.
An officer must make a split-second decision whether to shoot you. You want it to be the right decision, so everything you do must be directed toward proving you are not a threat, and persuading the officer to re-holster his gun.
• If you ever reach for a cop’s gun, expect to get shot. Police know what happens 100 out of 100 times when a criminal gains possession of their service weapon. Any effort or motion that even remotely resembles trying to touch their gun will convince the police you are a threat that must be neutralized.
• If you’re a violent felon carrying a gun, expect to get shot. Felons with violent convictions who illegally carry firearms are essentially primed for a gunfight. There is no category of criminal more dangerous to society or police.
Data are still incomplete about whether race is a true differentiator in police shootings or merely sensationalized propaganda.
Just this week, Harvard professor Roland Fryer Jr.—who was spurred by news reports to research the matter—discovered, after studying more than 1,000 shootings across 10 major police departments in Texas, Florida and California, that no racial bias was found.
“It is the most surprising result of my career,” he said.
Education can improve police-community relations. How many black lives lost in publicized police shootings would have been saved had the victims followed the above rules?
In a body-cam video released this week of a police shooting in Fresno, Calif., in June, officers are heard ordering the victim sitting in a truck to show them both his hands no fewer than 15 times in 50 seconds. He refuses.
Once he exits the vehicle, officers order him to get on the ground four times in 10 seconds. Instead, the victim walks toward police, who order him repeatedly to stop. He hides one hand behind his back, again ignoring a barrage of demands to show both his hands and get on the ground.
Ultimately, he is shot four times, even refusing to obey and continuing to reach inside his shirt while lying mortally wounded on the pavement.
Headlines may characterize him as another unarmed man killed by police, but the real story is he broke all the rules of interacting with police.
We already have laws to punish the occasional bad cop. Maybe it’s time for a national public service campaign that teaches citizens of all colors how to properly behave around police.