Thursday, July 05, 2007

How not to get your ass kicked by the police

When I was director of the Police Accountability Project at the ACLU of Texas (2000-2006), I was asked with some frequency to give presentations to various local groups around the state who would always specify some topic beforehand that I'd dutifully research before arrival.

But after I'd told folks whatever it was I'd prepared to tell them, during the Q&A period, questions to "the ACLU guy" would inevitably revert to "What should I do when stopped by the police? Can I say 'no' to a request to search my car? What are my rights?" After a while, I started to give that presentation first and leave specifics about whatever question I was asked to speak on to the Q&A. For the most part that's the information average folks were really looking for, from the "ACLU guy," at least.

I am not a lawyer (IANAL), but I'm competent to walk through the high points of what the Supreme Court has said are your rights at a traffic or pedestrian stop (though with each passing session of the court they become fewer and less substantive). ACLU has a little "know your rights" wallet-sized card that covers most of the bases, a great handout for such gatherings, and after the group Flex Your Rights came out with their Busted! DVD, which walks through scenarios and gives examples of "what to say," I was pretty much set. I've used those two props together at "know your rights" presentations quite a few times.

But I often told audiences that the best, or at least most pragmatic and memorable, advice they'd ever get on the all-important subject of "How not to get your ass kicked by the police" might come from comedian Chris Rock's old HBO show. That's the title of his brilliant "educational video" embedded below. I looked for it unsuccessfully on YouTube awhile back, but recently noticed the blog Simple Justice (another recent addition to Grits' blogroll) has the video posted.

Whatever are your legal "rights" on paper, Chris Rock pretty much nails the reality on the ground. So do what he says, and you'll probably be fine. Probably. The only thing I'd add: Say "No" to any request for a search, under any circumstance. In no case will a search benefit you, no matter what you're told, and if police have an actual reason to search, particularly at a traffic stop, they'll do it anyway. And keep repeating the phrase "Am I free to go, officer?" whenever roadside detentions linger on too long. Otherwise, Chris explains the rest:

I'd encourage everyone remotely concerned about such matters to print out this ACLU bustcard, make a double-sided copy, and give the three extra ones to friends. Read it, keep a copy in your wallet, and pull it out again whenever you have a police encounter to remind yourself of your rights. In fact, if you've still got an extra one when you're pulled over, you might give the officer a copy, too.


Anonymous said...

I have been pull over many times and never had a problem.Police Officer's have my respect.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I hope you never do have a problem. If you do, the Flex Your Rights video and ACLU bustcard could mitigate a bad outcome. It never hurts to be prepared.

And you've got to admit, the Chris Rock thing is just flat out funny. :)