As we’ve seen countless times, basic traffic stops can lead to deadly consequences. This is especially true for people of color. Even when Black and Hispanic people are not committing crimes, they are often the victims of excessive force at the hands of police. As a Chicago police brutality lawyer, I’ve seen many cases where unarmed Black men are shot and killed by the police because the officer perceived a threat that wasn’t present. Bias and prejudiced attitudes towards Black and Hispanic citizens often lead to deadly outcomes. Police officers should be safe when dealing with the public. But Black and Hispanic citizens should be able to leave a police encounter alive and without harm.

In Chicago, over 70% of a the time that a police officer uses force, it’s against a Black person. Chicago has a long history or allowing its police officers to brutalize Black citizens. The City of Chicago has spent over $1 billon on police misconduct and brutality lawsuits since 2000. And Chicago shows no signs of slowing its steady pace of inflicting injustice on Black people.

No one can predict how a police encounter will end and you can never assume that the officers will treat you fairly and with dignity. However, there are some steps that you can take to hopefully increase your chances of leaving a police encounter alive.

Here are some helpful tips you can follow when dealing with the police.

  1. Follow Instructions
  2. Keep Your Hands Visible
  3. Ask For Permission
  4. Don’t Run
  5. Complaint Later

Follow Instructions

The most important tip to follow when encountering police officers is to follow instructions. This rule applies no matter the situation. Whether it’s a traffic stop, street encounter, or arrest, follow the officers’ instructions. Following their instructions does not mean that you agree with what they are doing. Their reason for stopping you or initiating the contact might be unlawful. But that does not mean that you should engage the officers in a lesson on the constitutionality of their stop or lawfulness of their actions. As a Chicago police brutality attorney, I’ve seen countless officers say that they escalated their force because the person didn’t follow commands. Some police officers have a tendency to equate not following their commands as a sign of evasiveness and indicator that a person might be armed or is hiding something. Because of this, traffic stops and arrests that should be simple often end deadly. That’s why it’s important to always follow instructions.

Keep Your Hands Visible

It should go without saying that you should ALWAYS have your hands visible when encountering police officers. The excuse officers often use for fatal police shootings is that the person moved their hand towards their waistband and the officer thought they had a weapon. Your hands should always be visible to police officers and if possible in the air with your palms facing outward.

Does this mean that a police officer won’t shoot a person and claim that a person reached for their waistband? No. But it could be a deescalating tactic used by you to let the officer know that you are not a threat and are following instructions. Also, in the event that you are injured or shot by the police, forensic experts would be able to opine about the location of an injury to discredit an officer’s depiction fo what you were doing at the moment he fired his weapon. For example, civil rights attorneys have used forensic and medical experts in police brutality lawsuits to show that an officer was lying when he said a person reached for his waistband when he shot them because the medical evidence proved that the entry and exit wound of the bullet showed that the person’s body was in an upright and straight positioning and their body was not bending when they were shot.

Ask For Permission

Before reaching for your wallet or trying to retrieve something out of your glovebox, always ask for permission first. This serves two purposes. First, you are telegraphing to the officer that you are being cooperative and are not a threat. Second, you are letting the officer know of your movement before you do it so that the officer won’t be caught off guard and make a fatal mistake. Also, now that we are in the age of bodycams, you want to be sure that if an officer is wearing a camera that it is recorded that you were cooperative. In police brutality lawsuits in Chicago, officers often use the defense that the person they used excessive force on was uncooperative. However, having bodycam video that shows that a person asked for permission before moving helps to prove that it was the officer that escalated a situation and not the citizen.

Don’t Run

Black citizens are often unarmed and shot in the back by police officers. Chicago is notorious for shooting unarmed Black men in the back. Because of this Chicago police brutality lawyers often file lawsuits against the Chicago police department for unjustified fatal shootings that stemmed form a foot pursuit. If you are a Black or Hispanic citizen, police encounters can be scary and sometimes a person’s first response is to run and to get away from this situation. Given the history of police violence against minorities, this is understandable. However, running can sometimes unnecessarily escalate a police encounter and cause officers to make assumptions about the reason for the person running. These assumptions often lead to an officer making the decision to use deadly force on a citizen. It is best to stand where you are and follow instructions. Remember, your job is to go home safely. It’s better to be arrested and fight your case in court than to be killed by the police because you were afraid to be arrested for possessing drugs and you ran. Your life is worth more.

Complain Later

All of the tips presented here are not to suggest that you should just accept police brutality and misconduct. Actually it’s the opposite. The goal is that you stay alive so that you can tell the story of how the police mistreated you. This could be by filing a formal complaint with the police department or agency that reviews police officers’ actions. Or it could be by hiring an experienced civil rights attorney to represent you in your police brutality lawsuit. The law provides citizens with rights. You should use them. The best way to use them is to stay alive and fight against the injustice later.

If you followed these tips and the police violated your rights, get justice for the wrong done to you. Speak to an experienced police brutality and misconduct attorney so that you can know what your rights and options are.

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