A Lawyer's Advice For Black Men At Traffic Stops: 'Comply Now, Contest Later'

Demonstrators hold up a placard of a man with his hands up during the "Justice For All" march in Washington, DC last December. Numerous protests have brought attention to police violence against people of color. One lawyer, while emphasizing that police are responsible for behaving professionally, also wants to give black men advice on how to survive encounters with police. (AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold up a placard of a man with his hands up during the "Justice For All" march in Washington, DC last December. Numerous protests have brought attention to police violence against people of color. One lawyer, while emphasizing that police are responsible for behaving professionally, also wants to give black men advice on how to survive encounters with police. (AFP/Getty Images)

It's been nearly a year since a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Mo. Since then, more deadly police encounters across the country have prompted anger, activism and reform.

Many of those incidents began with traffic stops — routine events that quickly turned deadly. And attorney Eric Broyles says that the risks for citizens are not distributed evenly.

"Bad incidents can happen to any person of any race or gender," he says, "but we believe that black men are at a particular risk."

Broyles co-authored a book on such encounters with his friend Adrian Jackson, a police officer. In Encounters with Police: A Black Man's Guide to Survival, their essential advice can be distilled to just four words:

"Comply now, contest later."

That means that, even in moments of frustration, when the stopped citizen feels unfairly treated, Broyles recommends complying with the police officer's request. Only once the encounter has concluded does he recommend filing a complaint and contesting the officer's actions during the stop.

As he tells NPR's Arun Rath, he's experienced the predicament in his own life: feeling frustrated and angry by what appeared to be racial profiling, but waiting until afterwards to raise his objections.

And when asked whether there are any exceptions — any times a person should not comply with police orders — Broyles says it's a difficult question.

"Many people in the minority communities — African-Americans and Latinos — recognize that in the instance where they do not comply, they are putting themselves at great risk. Not always, but since you don't know whether you are getting a true professional or a bad — a rogue — cop, I would err on the side of complying," Broyles says.

Click on the audio link above to hear their full conversation.


Interview Highlights

On the time he was pulled over for "improperly tinted windows"

I was subsequently surrounded by several police officers with their hands on their weapons. And I thought that was strange, given that I was just being pulled over for tinted windows — and I didn't have tint on my windows. The windows came the way they were from the factory.

I did what I said in the book: I complied, right — I say, "Comply now and contest later" — and so I complied with the officers' demands, even though I was very frustrated, I was angry and I felt I was being racially profiled.

And before I let the officers leave, I did tell them: "Officers, by the way, I want to get all of your names and badge numbers, because i do want to take this up for the show of force that was exhibited here."

Ultimately, I found out when I went to file a complaint that a murder had just occurred a couple of hours before by a black male in a silver two-door coupe. Well, I had a silver two-door convertible, and I was one block from where the murder happened. I wish the officers had told me that at the time of the stop. I still would've been upset, but I certainly would not have filed a complaint.

On what he'd recommend doing during a hypothetical traffic stop

In a traffic stop context, you have to realize that officers witness training videos of other officers across the country being killed for a simple traffic stop. And so officers approach traffic stops with a heightened sense of alertness and caution.

So I tell people to turn on the lights, put your hands on the steering wheel. And then inform the officer of every move you're going to make. "Officer, I'm reaching for my wallet in my back-right pocket. Officer, my insurance card is in my glove box. Do you mind if I retrieve it?"

And then, you know, no sudden moves or anything that would trigger a response, perhaps from training, for the officer.

On where the burden lies for conducting a safe police encounter

I think it's a shared burden. So the tips and the pointers that I am suggesting for citizens to follow in no way absolves police officers from acting professionally.

On what to do after you feel your rights have been violated

You can simply go to the local police station and file a written complaint against the officer that you encountered. The officer's name should be on the ticket you were given. If you were not given a ticket, please observe a vehicle number on the police cruiser or the badge number on the officer's badge, or a name tag.

And then after the complaint is filed, what you need to do is to ask for the results of that investigation, for written results. What was the adjudication of your complaint? You are entitled to receive that.

On the decision to include a chapter in the book titled "Police Are Human Beings"

A lot of times, we as citizens treat police officers as if they're robots, or as if they're the enemy. So I wanted to humanize police officers because I don't think most people take into account that police officers get shot at on the job, that police officers witness videos of their colleague or a fellow officer across the country being killed as a part of their training.

They're a human being! So, any human being — can you imagine if your server at a McDonald's restaurant was, someone spat upon them or treated them in a bad way? You're not going to get a good response from that person.

On those who'd say that if ordinary people need training just to get through a police interaction safely, there's something deeply wrong

I can certainly understand that sentiment, but there are many instances where you have encounters of any sort — whether it's law enforcement or non-law enforcement — where people just don't understand what is really going on.

We really try to give people a look into what police work is like, and why "comply now" is not considered swallowing your pride or being a coward. But it's actually doing something that makes sense when you think about what is occurring at the time of a police encounter.

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