By Talitha Hankins – Collegiate Staff
My parents, Gary and Cassandra Hankins, grew up in Detroit in the ‘60s and ‘70s when police brutality was rampant. Fortunately for my mother, she didn’t experience that first hand, however she’s experienced other countless forms of racism. My father on the other hand, barely made it through the month without have some kind of confrontation with a white officer. He would often tell me stories about getting booked for so little as answering a question a bit too smart for the officer’s taste. He told me that every time an officer would ask him a question, he would always answer with, “I was blind until I saw you.” Which, in turn, landed him in a jail cell until his father bailed him out the next morning.
Upon taking driver’s training at the age of 17, both of my parents talked me through the different things to look for while driving and as a result, I passed my drivers test the first time (surprisingly). But, through all the things they talked to me about, there were some that stood out the most. When a cop stops you, what do you do? This is important because whether or not some choose to acknowledge it, prejudice and hate still live in the hearts of men. This is the list they gave me to stay safe when you are D.W.B. or “Driving While Black.”
1. Record. This is probably the most important step, because if all the other tips I give you fall through and don’t help you survive a traffic stop, this won’t either, but it sure helps when deciding on whether or not you’ll receive justice.
2. Be still, keep your hands on the wheel until they are at your window. You don’t want them to have any reason to be suspicious of you for more than speeding or whatever it is you did.
3. Answer questions concisely until they ask questions that have nothing to do with why they pulled you over. At that point, answer vaguely.
4. Never reach for anything until they tell you to.
5. When they tell you to give them some form of information, don’t just do it. Tell them what you’re doing exactly when you’re doing it. For example, when an officer asks for your license and registration tell them, “My license and registration are in my glove compartment, I’m going to grab them now.” Or something to that extent so they know exactly what’s happening and when it’s happening.
I have three brothers and each of them have stories about traffic stops. In one instance my brother was a passenger in a car and an officer, instead of asking the driver for their license, he asked my brother for his. My brother gave it to him, as to not be confrontational toward the officer, but it still didn’t make sense and it still made him upset. In another instance, my dad was driving with his cruise control on 70, cross country in Oklahoma, on his way back to Michigan when an officer stopped him for speeding even though the speed limit was, in fact, 70. Before much talk had transpired, the officer asked my father to sit in the back of his car to just “talk.” An odd request to say the least, but my father did it anyway. The officer questioned him about where he was coming from, why he was coming from there, where his wife was, what was his occupation, where’d he live and so many other questions. And the end of all this he told my father that he’d let him off with a warning for speeding and that was that. But, after witnessing, via video, how quickly simple traffic stops can escalate, I can say that I am truly grateful that God protected them both.
I know that if it had not been for the grace of God that could have very well been my brother or my father that was gunned down because of the assumptions of a naive officer. I cannot even begin to tell you how much pain that would have caused my family if we were victims of police brutality.
My heart goes out to the families who have had to struggle with the lose of a loved one taken from them by the hands of an officer. I saw a meme the other day which read, “Police brutality isn’t new, cameras are.” Basically, police brutality has always been a problem, but it wasn’t as clear or blunt as it is now, meaning we didn’t have the cameras to back up our words.
On September 16, Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, was fatally shot by officer Betty Shelby after his car broke down in the middle of the road. He was reported and seen on video to have been following orders with his hands up, but after being tasered and then shot, he died at the scene. It breaks my heart to say that when I heard about and saw this, that I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t surprised because we’ve see these same stories play out in different settings over and over again.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good officers, and I’ve had the privilege of having some in my family. I just pray we figure out a way to weed the bad ones out. One way we can do that is to make it a little bit more difficult when it comes to becoming an officer. You’ll be surprised to find that it takes longer to get a cosmetology license than it does to become an officer, and in my opinion, that’s wrong.
The same day the Terence Crutcher story took place I expressed my frustrations to my mother about the measures we go through to stay safe and/or survive something so little as a traffic stop that sometimes, in the end, doesn’t save us. But my hope is, that these tips that my parents gave me will benefit you as they have me.