Since the proliferation of cell phone cameras and YouTube, citizens have been documenting contentious, and even violent, run-ins with the police. At one time, police were free to do whatever they wanted to whomever they wanted without much recourse because their actions went unnoticed. Today, although they may still not be held accountable for their actions, the public now knows when the police cross the line.

Undoubtedly, being a police officer is an extremely difficult job. Each day cops are charged with laying their lives on the line to protect the public, some of whom view them suspiciously. Police officers are trained (or should be) to withstand insults, deescalate situations, and ensure the safety of everyone involved in an incident.

Recently, I saw a video of a group of teens on the subway in Harlem, NY. According to the man who recorded the video earlier this month, the girls allegedly jumped the turn style in the train station so they could ride for free. After being confronted by officers and asked to exit the train, the teens refused and were dragged off. Mayham insued. The girls tussled with the cops, and the police–perhaps aware of the large crowd surrounding them with a multitude of cameras–collared the girls with a minimal amount of force (imagine what would have happened if the cameras were absent).

While it’s easy to look at these girls and write them off as ill-mannered, “ghetto animals” (as some of the comments suggested), I think incidents such as this can lead to teachable moments.

When I was teaching, I’d talk to my students (all teens) about life and how they should act when they are in the world. Whenever the topic of the police came up, many of them would make comments like, “If the police tried to talk to me crazy, I’d punch them!” I’d quickly let them know that not only would they be on the losing end of ANY fight with the police, they might also end up dead.

To some extent many young people feel invicible. They feel like negative situations won’t happen to them, even if it has happened to many of their friends. Somehow, they’ll rise above it, they think. But too many times, they don’t.

What these girls should have been taught (aside from not jumping the turn style and breaking bad with the cops) is how to deal with being confronted by police. Despite what many of us might think, many people don’t know their rights or what to do when approached by the authorities.

If you happen to ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to deal being accosted by the police (perhaps due to protesting, mistaken identity, doing dumb ish, or walking while Black/Brown), there are a few steps you should take.

1) Be Calm: Appearing agitated or overly angry will not work in your favor (especially if you’re a minority). Not only will the cop respond in an equally aggressive manner, but you will most likely end up arrested.

2) Don’t Jump In: Yes you love your friends, but if one of them is being confronted by the police, voice your disdain from the sidelines. Do not jump into the mix to help your friend unless you’re prepared to deal with the consequences (being jailed…or worse) as well.

3) Don’t Resist: Even if you KNOW you shouldn’t be arrested, just allow yourself to be arrested and sort it out at the station. If you resist, you’ll still be arrested and they’ll charge you with a crime.

4) Know your rights: I’m sure we all know we have the right to remain silent, but did you know you can refuse to be searched? Also, if  you aren’t under arrest, the police can’t legally detain you, so leave…calmly.

Still have questions? Peep this.

Have you ever had a run-in with the police? How did you handle it?

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