What to do When Contacted by Law Enforcement

I've been asked the following by a friend, Gerald Villoria...

"In a racially charged climate where the slightest misstep (or even full compliance with unconstitutional demands) can result in being killed by law enforcement, how are people of color supposed to approach such demands by police? 

How are people supposed to stand up for their rights when doing so can be a death sentence?"

WHEW! How many times have I been asked this or something like this? Too many. And there is no perfect answer. 

What I advise all of my clients is, "Do what you can to stay alive, then lets focus soon fixing the problem afterwards."

A lot of my clients have families, have friends that would be far worse off without them around, and while law enforcement can act excessively (and we have seen plenty of that on the news lately) there is very little merit for your family and loved ones in going to your funeral.

Yes, this sucks out loud. And it can damn well be debasing, shameful and painful to adopt this view. But, consider what happens when you are gone and all that's left of you is a memory.

Frankly I hate answering this question because as many attorneys as there are in California, you can't keep one of us in your back pocket at all times to look at the interactions between a potential client and law enforcement in real time. So, I have to tell my clients to do what they can to de-escalate the situation, comply with law enforcement's commands, and let me or someone like me review the interaction once the accused is back in a good environment with friends and family.

It's not all bad though. Seemingly small things can help interactions with law enforcement. Being polite and following their instructions (as wrong as you may think they are) really can help make it a less stressful situation.

The biggest thing in my experience is to keep your hands away from your waistband! Most folks that carry a gun, or are assumed to carry a gun often do so in that area. Any movement towards that area when law enforcement makes contact with you will not make them trust you any more! If you are told to keep your hands where they can see them, do it. 

I can already hear some of you saying, "Christien, you drive a desk, how can you talk with any authority on this issue?" 

Well, I've been held at gunpoint by law enforcement before, and I didn't care for it in the least. It was an innocent contact by that law enforcement agency, and it was a mistake that they were even there. But, I was held at gunpoint. I was not happy to be held at gunpoint, and I was pretty scared. I did the only thing I could do in that situation: I kept my cool, complied with their requests and they let me go along my way. 

Obviously I'm white, and not someone who resides in a high-crime area or a person who has historically suffered discrimination, so that makes my situation somewhat different.

That difference notwithstanding, there is nothing to gain arguing with a person who has a gun. Save the arguing and lawsuits for people licensed to do it, the lawyers.