Detroit area parents warn kids how to react to cops

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

After police shootings this week that resulted in the deaths of two African-American men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and St. Paul, Minnesota, Metro Detroit parents are thinking a little harder about what they tell their children to do if they’re pulled over by police.

For many, the advice doesn’t come easy.

Carmen Stovall of Belleville — the mother of three sons ages 22, 23, and 27, and a 21-year-old daughter — said her husband, father and brother have been racially profiled by police.

Metro police urge caution to high-profile cop shootings

“We always tell them, ‘You stop, you listen, you obey everything they tell you to do. You do not talk back. You let them see your hands. You don’t reach for anything. If they arrest you — even if you didn’t do anything — you put your hands behind your back, and you get in the car and you fight and go to court later, but you don’t debate and go against anything that that cop has to say, even if he’s in the wrong.’ ”

Phillip Holley Sr. of Southfield is the father of three sons. He and his wife, Brenda, began talking to their youngest sons in 2012 after the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin in an effort to make sure they were aware of their surroundings. When their middle son, Jordan, turned 18, they wanted him to understand his legal responsibilities as an adult, particularly when it came to dealing with law enforcement.

“I told my sons to be respectful (to officers), to answer questions honestly, and if they feel uncomfortable with the questions, they should reserve the right to say ‘I need to talk to my mom or dad first,’ ” Holley said.

Detroit resident Dawud Shaheed, 42, has four girls ages 11, 13, 16 and 17 who live with their mother in Maryland. He tells them to address every officer with respect and acknowledge the cop as “officer.”

“When they pull you over, their job is to gain control, so just give them control of the situation. That’s the only thing you can do,” he said.

“Don’t reach for anything unless they ask you to reach for something,” he added. “If you’re reaching for it, say, ‘This is what I’m reaching for.’ Or if they say ‘Give me your driver’s license and insurance,’ say, ‘OK, it’s in my glove box, can I reach in there?’ ”

Judge Greg Mathis, a Detroit native who’s the star of the nationally syndicated courtroom television show “Judge Mathis,” said the culture has created an environment where police are “suspicious and fearful” of African-American men. In turn, racial profiling has led African-American men to distrust the police.

The retired Michigan 36th District Court judge said his own son was pulled over in Malibu, California, at age 24 and thrown on the ground, guns drawn. Mathis said the police told his son he fit the description of someone who recently broke into a home.

Meanwhile in Detroit, Mathis said the citizen-led Detroit Police Commission has worked in the the last several decades to reduce the tension and anger against officers. Now, he said, residents have positive relationships with the officers in their communities.

“The Detroit administration from the top all the way down is kind and sensitive to police misconduct because that’s one of the things that Mayor Coleman Young focused on,” Mathis said.

Yet Stovall told her children not to take any chances, especially when her 21-year-old daughter is driving.

“We tell her, ‘Pull over somewhere where there’s a nice lit area. If you’re on the freeway, you just drive slow with your hazard lights on and ... stop somewhere where someone can see you because anything can happen.’ ”

News of the Louisiana and Minnesota shooting incidents have upset citizens across the country, including celebrities. On Thursday morning, comedian D. L. Hughley appeared on CNN in an emotional interview, where he said every black parent he knows has a conversation with their kids about how to act around the police. “That is amoral,” he said.

The father of three children, Hughley said he doesn’t go to sleep until his children come home at night.

“I keep my clothes on in case my children need me in the middle of the night,” he said. “I just do not understand. We love our children. ... They’re brutalized,” Hughley said, breaking down in tears, “and nobody says anything. It’s too much. It’s too much.”

Oak Park resident Niles Heron, 30, said whenever he’s pulled over, he puts his wallet in the cup holder to show his ID and proof of insurance are ready, and he keeps his hands on the steering wheel when addressing an officer. He said despite the set of rules black people have been given by their elders in years’ past on what to do when interacting with police, those instructions didn’t matter in the two incidents this week.

“Two people just got shot on camera in 48 hours doing the exact things our parents told us, which is, ‘Don’t resist. Tell the officers exactly what you’re doing, produce your ID, show them who you are, don’t make sudden movements,’ ” he said.

Currently single and childless, Heron said he wants to be a father, but shooting incidents like these make him question whether to have children.

“I don’t know how to bring children into a world where they cannot trust that they are safe at any point for any reason,” he said.

If he does have kids, he plans to tell them as soon as they’re pulled over, start recording.

“After these kids get shot, there will be talk for days about how they’re thugs and weren’t angels and all of the things that they’ve done wrong in this life that have nothing to do with the incident that got them shot. Zero,” Heron said.

“So record it so they can’t say what your story was. If you’re going to go to heaven in a hashtag, be damn sure that you get to control the narrative. ”

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Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg

How to interact with police

Detroit native and nationally

syndicated TV judge Greg Mathis offers these tips:

■Do not get upset. “Obey the commands because that’s essentially what police do,” Mathis said. “They command you — they don’t ask you politely when you’re a black youth.”

■One thing you shouldn’t do? Ask why you were stopped. “Simply obey commands,” he said.

■Memorize the name and badge number of police officers. “If you’re mistreated, then go and file a complaint, which is what my son did, and the two officers were disciplined.”

■Record interactions with the police. Mathis said it’s a “very good idea” because it provides proof of excessive force or an unlawful action. “But if you’re told to turn it off, turn it off,” he said.