Michael Brown shot and killed by an officer. A teenager girl in Texas dragged down and arrested. Scenes like this across the country are leaving some Metro Atlanta teenagers scared and confused about what to do in an encounter with officers.
Thats why the Emerging 100 from the 100 Black Men of Atlanta held a special forum at the all-boys BEST Academy in Northwest Atlanta.
I dont know any officer who woke up and came into an encounter with a kid and said, ‘Im going to kill him,’ Atlanta Police Detective Tyrone Dennis told the group of sophomores, juniors and seniors.
With the past years incidents involving police and young black men, the panels sole purpose was to educate the teens, while still making sure they knew their rights.
When an officer comes up to you, you can ask the question, ‘Officer, I dont have anything to say. Am I free to go?’ said attorney
Mawuli Mel Davis. Whatever you do, do it in a respectful way.”
The group told the students other rights, like not consenting to a search and not speaking without an attorney president, still can be done without escalating the situation with officers.
If the officer said, ‘Put your hands up,’ you put your hands up. Dont make any sudden movement, dont say anything crazy, said attorney Justin Miller. Just put your hands up and see whats going on. You need to do whatever you need to do to get home at night.
Miller added that includes never running from police, or trying to win an argument with an officer. He told the students to live to fight the case in court – even if wrongly accused.
Its not like talking with one of your friends or someone on the street, Miller continued. You cant just slap a police officer because you dont like what they said. You cant do that. You have to eat it. At that moment, they have all the power, and you dont have any.
Several of the teens asked the panel questions about being an innocent bystander at the scene of a crime.
If you didnt do anything, you stay there. You put your hands in the air, and you wait until the officer tells you what to do, Miller said.
Each question that y’all keep asking has to do with running and being involved, said Dennis. Dont run. End of discussion.
The panel also addressed what to do if an officer asks you to get out of your car during a traffic stop.
If he has probable cause to have you step out of the vehicle, you step out of the vehicle, said Dennis.
Miller added, Once you get out of the car and hear what he has to say, hopefully youll get back in the car and go about your business.”
One question really got the interest of students. It involved when it is OK to use a cellphone to record a police incident that doesnt involved you.
It is legal to record police. It is not our right to take your phone, Dennis said. But at the same time – if Im tussling or struggling with someone, dont come up over my shoulder to get the best shot to post it on Instagram because I dont know if youre coming to help that person or not. Give me my space. If you need to go across the street, your camera still is going to pick up the interaction.
The closing remark from the panel was for the teens to make smart decisions every day. That includes the way they dress and the friends they have. That will help them avoid police completely.
There are 10,000 steps before you end up dead on the street at the gun of an officer, said attorney Travis Townsend.
For some of the students, the message came after their first run-in with police.
I was in a convenience store down the street from here. I went to the back to get something to drink. The clerk automatically assumed I was trying to rob somebody, said junior Abdul Allah.
Thats why the panel said it was so important to have an officer answer the teens questions.
Ninety percent of police officers arent bad. Its the 10 percent that are giving cops a negative impression, Miller said.
Its important to have an officer here so the kids know, this is just a guy. Hes not scary. Hes not out to get us. But you sort of understand their perspective and hopefully that will alleviate a lot of the tension that youll see in those interactions, said Kevin Gooch of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta.
For the rest of the students, whose schools sits in the shadow of some of the toughest areas in Atlanta, the lesson was well accepted.
“For the community that were in, its very helpful for certain students, said sophomore Nik Christian.
Student Javion Pressley believes what he learned will give his parents peace of mind.
Now they know that I can interact with police or law enforcement in a good way, theyll loosen up on me, Pressley said.
The teens also added it was important to get the message from successful men who looked like them.
“Its important for us to show, ‘Hey were lawyers, were police officers. Were people who look like you and we care about you,’ said Tony C. Jones of the Emerging 100 of Atlanta.
“Were focusing on saving their lives, Townsend said. We can give the message to them better than somebody on the outside that they really cant relate to.
After this forum, a kid walked up to me and said this was extremely helpful. He said the students needed this message, and they needed to hear from police officers, said Joseph Wilson. A lot of these kids are scared and they dont know what to do in these types of situations.
For others on the panel, the responsibility to give back was a bit more personal.
I have a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old son, Davis said. So when I look at these young men, Im looking at my sons. I just really want them to be able to make it and do well and be safe.