Police encounters: A Black man’s guide to survive
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On April 4, a 26-year-old unarmed Black man, Patrick Lyoya, was shot and killed in Grand Rapids, Mich. by a police officer during a traffic stop. It was a death many experts believe could have been avoided.

Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstorm released a disturbing video that showed the officer on top of Lyoya lying face down in the grass when he was later shot in the head at point blank range.

Prior to the shooting, the video showed a foot chase on a residential street after Lyoya ran from the officer who stopped him for driving with a license plate that didn’t belong to the car.

Lyoya’s parents came to the U.S. to flee violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014. To their disbelief the country they sought refuge from was the same place where their son would die.

Lawyers for the family are calling for the officer to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, fired from the force and to be publicly named.

Marcus Esther is the founder and chief attorney of Law Office of Marcus Esther PLLC

Since the release of the video there has been public outcry for justice. During a news conference, Lyoya’s parents explained their reason for coming to America after surviving years of civil unrest in their home country. They were accompanied by prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump and Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Louisville police officers during a forced entry into her apartment as part of an investigation into a drug deal operation.

As history repeats itself, Black men should take certain steps to survive. Marcus Esther, founder and chief attorney of Law Office of Marcus Esther PLLC and a Houston criminal defense attorney, shared several important tips about what Black men should do when stopped by a police officer.  

Tips on what to do when in the vehicle:

  1. Have proper documentation on hand

Upon request, show the officer your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance.

  1. Start recording

If you have a phone, start recording, even if it’s only the audio.

  1. Stay in your car

You’re not supposed to get out of the car. That can escalate situations very quickly. If the officer asks you to get out of the car, then do so. Otherwise, Esther said they can hit you with another charge, such as “resisting arrest” or “failure to comply.”

  1. Don’t consent to a search of your car

“Always say NO,” said Esther. “Say it loud enough where the body camera or dash camera can pick it up. [The officer] would have to request a warrant if they don’t see anything. I would advise that if you have anything that is open in plain view that can lead to a stop going completely left, [alcohol for example], put that stuff in your bag before you enter the car. I tell people to put their things in the trunk. If an officer walks up to your window, doesn’t ask for consent and starts searching your car and finds something, they will hit you with that. I don’t advise someone trying to hide something or throw something out when the officer does search the vehicle with a warrant. Back away from the car.”

  1. Remain silent

In the case the officer does find something in your vehicle, put your hands behind your back and don’t say anything. Anything you say from that point on will be used to convict you with whatever you are charged with. To make it easier, the moment you are stopped give them your documentation. If [the officer] asks you where you are going, keep the answer very short. From there just keep quiet and ask for an attorney.

Tips on when you are stopped by an officer on foot

  1. Show your ID

If you are walking down the street and an officer stops you, show them your identification. If you don’t have an ID, give the person your real name and date of birth so they can run the information.

  1. Comply with the law, not the officer

“I hate that I have to say it but you have to comply,” Esther said. “Give them your license and stay calm. Some officers believe comply means everything they say you need to do, and that’s not true. I would only need to do what I’m required to do under the law.”

  1. Don’t run

That is a misdemeanor. It’s different if an officer didn’t stay anything to you and the officer is walking towards you and you start running, that’s different. At that point, the officer didn’t stop you.

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...