A Lawyer's Advice For Black Men At Traffic Stops: 'Comply Now, Contest Later' Attorney Eric Broyles teamed up with a police officer to pen a handbook for African-American men dealing with police encounters. Above all, he recommends clarity, empathy — and getting badge numbers.


A Lawyer's Advice For Black Men At Traffic Stops: 'Comply Now, Contest Later'

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It's been nearly a year since a police officer shot and killed unarmed African-American man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Since then, more deadly police encounters across the country have prompted anger, activism and reform. Many of those incidents started with traffic stops, routine events that turned deadly. Eric Broyles wants the killing to stop. His new book is called "Encounters With Police: A Black Man's Guide To Survival."

ERIC BROYLES: Bad incidents can happen to any person of any race or gender, but we believe that black men are at a particular risk.

RATH: Broyles is an attorney, and he co-authored the book with a police officer, his friend Adrian Jackson. Their essential advice in four words - comply now, contest later. That's a practice he's put to use in his own encounters with police, like the night Broyles was pulled over while driving home in D.C. The officer said it was because his windows were improperly tinted.

BROYLES: And I was subsequently surrounded by several police officers with their hands on their weapons. And I thought that was strange given that I was just being pulled over for tinted windows. And I didn't have tint on my windows. The windows came the way they were from the factory. And I did what I said in the book; I complied, right. I say comply now and contest later. And so I complied with the officers' demands, even though I was very frustrated, I was angry, and felt I was being racially profiled. And before I let the officers leave, I did tell them, officers, by the way, I want to get all of your names and badge numbers because I do want to take this up for the show of force that was exhibited here. Ultimately, I found out when I went to file a complaint, that a murder had just occurred a couple of hours before by a black male in a silver two-door coupe. Well, I had a silver two-door convertible, and I was one block from where the murder happened. And I wish the officers had told me that at the time of the stop. I still would have been upset, but I certainly would not have filed a complaint.

RATH: What was your big take away from that experience?

BROYLES: The big take away for me is that there's an understanding gap between, number one, what are the police officers doing at the time you encountered them, and then number two, from the citizen's perspective, certain behaviors by the citizens may be misinterpreted by police officers as well.

RATH: Now, in this book, you give advice on a variety of situations involving encounters with the police. But let's stay on with the traffic stop scenario. Let's talk through a hypothetical traffic stop. You're sitting in your car. The officer is approaching. What should you do?

BROYLES: Well, in a traffic-stop context, you have to realize that officers witness training videos of other officers across the country being killed for a simple traffic stop. And so officers approach traffic stops with a heightened sense of alertness and caution. So I tell people to turn on the light, put your hands on the steering wheel, and then inform the officer of every move you're going to make. Officer, I'm reaching for my wallet in my back, right pocket. Officer, my insurance card is in my glove box. Do you mind if I retrieve it? And then, you know, no sudden moves or anything that would trigger a response perhaps from training from the officer.

RATH: Now, what about somebody who would say that that puts the burden on the individual rather than the police in terms of making sure that things go the way they should?

BROYLES: Well, I think it's a shared burden. So the tips and the pointers that I am suggesting for citizens to follow in no way absolves police officers from acting professionally.

RATH: And does this approach of comply now and contest later - is that absolute? Is there any situation where you should not comply with what a police officer says?

BROYLES: It's a difficult question. Many people in the minority communities - African-Americans and Latinos - recognize that in the instance where they do not comply, they're putting themselves at great risk; not always, but since you don't know whether you're getting a true professional or a bad or rogue cop, I would err on the side of complying.

RATH: So if you have been through an encounter and you do feel like your rights have been violated, then what do you do afterwards?

BROYLES: You can simply go to the local police station and file a written complaint against the officer that you encountered. The officer's name should be on the ticket that you were given. If you were not given a ticket, please observe a vehicle number on the police cruiser or the badge number on the officer's badge or name tag. And then after the complaint is filed, what you need to do is to ask for the results of that investigation, for written results. What was the adjudication of your complaint? And you're entitled to receive that.

RATH: Your co-author in this book is Adrian Jackson. He was a police officer. So we have a police perspective in here. There's a chapter titled "Police Are Human Beings." Can you explain why you needed to include that?

BROYLES: A lot of times, we as, you know, citizens treat police officers as if they're robots or as if they're the enemy. So I wanted to humanize police officers because I don't think most people take into account that police officers get shot at on the job, that police officers witness videos of their colleague or fellow officer across the country being killed as a part of their training. And they're human. So any human being - can you imagine if your server at a McDonald's restaurant was someone spat upon them or treated them in a bad way? You're not going to get a good response from that person.

RATH: Eric, I imagine there are probably a number of people listening to this conversation and seeing this book and thinking that, gosh, if just ordinary people need training in order to be able to get through an interaction with the police intact, that's pretty messed up.

BROYLES: You know, I can certainly understand that sentiment. But, you know, there are many instances where you have encounters of any sort, whether it's law enforcement or non-law enforcement, where people just don't understand what is really going on. We really try to give people a look into what police work is like and why comply now is not considered swallowing your pride or being a coward. But it's actually doing something that makes sense when you think about what is occurring at the time of a police encounter.

RATH: Eric Broyles is an attorney and the author of "Encounters With Police: A Black Man's Guide To Survival." Eric, thanks very much.

BROYLES: Thank you for having me.

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