How Should a Black (or Half Black) Man Deal with the Police?

by havilandp


I recently read Stay Alive, Black Men, Stay Alive by television personality, T.J. Holmes.

It was a passionate plea to black men that really hit home- a guide for how to survive an encounter with police.

In the article, Holmes recounts a time he was unjustly pulled over for what amounted to being guilty of DWB or Driving While Black.

As Black men, we can’t actually PROVE why we get stopped but I, like Holmes and too many other Black men that have been pulled over know why.

Holmes described his interaction with the police:

I put the car in park, roll down both front windows fully, turn off the engine, take the keys out of the ignition and dangle them high in the air out the driver’s side window before placing them on the roof of the car.

Next, I cross my arms at the wrist, spread my fingers and display my empty hands out of the window and wait for the officer to come to the door to give me instructions. When the officer asks for my license and registration, I explain that they are in my pocket and my glove compartment, and I ask if it’s all right to move my hands in order to retrieve them. I don’t make any movement without first getting the officer’s blessing to do so.


Holmes knew he had done nothing wrong but he knew he had to suppress his anger and frustration in order to survive this encounter without going to jail or even keeping his life.

I’m on board with that- we both understand that an interaction with the cops is NOT the time to “keep it real.” It will go wrong.

My issue with Holmes’ actions is the extra (in my opinion, excessive) measures taken to convince this cop he was not a threat. Its one thing to remain calm, show no aggression and comply with the officer’s requests, but its completely another to take those extra steps to ensure that someone that is harassing you is completely comfortable as they methodically strip you of your personhood.

It’s a validation that behavior by a rogue racist is okay.

Holmes went on to report the incident and was told that the officer in the wrong and other officers were retrained- a victory. But is it?

To the racist officer, Holmes was at first the compliant, perhaps even the affable Negro that he pulled over. Made him feel in power and control in the situation, which is what racial profiling is really all about. But then Holmes reported the incident and I’m confident the officer didn’t say: “Aw shucks, I shouldn’t have done that.” He probably at some point thought, “That snitch nigger.”

Now obviously no one can prove that, but I cannot imagine that this one instance did a whole lot more than create an inconvenience for this officer and one he likely blamed on… a Black man.

I would hate to be the next guy.

I would hate to be the next guy pulled over and didn’t take the key out of my ignition, show excessive manners and politeness while asking for confirmation that I can access the proper documentation requested.

I would hate to be just a regular guy handling the situation like any regular guy would.

To an extent, Holmes is completely right with his advice:

Stay calm. Breathe. Don’t get animated. Don’t get loud. Don’t be a smart-ass. Don’t even move. Don’t do anything.

To that effect, he is 100% correct.

I just can’t get on board with the excess.

I will comply and be respectful but I absolutely refuse in an instance like this to go the extra mile to prove to some racist cop that I’m one of the “good ones.”

With recent events, in Ferguson, Missouri perhaps not going the extra mile would make me a martyr or worse- a statistic. But if we continue to go farther to prove we’re “nice” or “good” to an established bigot what does do besides give a racist cop the figurative ammo to use the real stuff on just a regular guy?

The reason we continue the struggle is so that we can be ourselves in whatever form we choose to be. By creating a veil- a false sense of who we really are, we showcase the wrong reality to those who need to see our truth the most.

Perhaps I’m wrong in my stance here. Perhaps Holmes is on to something and we have to put on an act to survive in America.

But I’m going to fight like hell until I’m right. The next guy needs me to.