Know Your Rights
BLACK FOLKS KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!1
When engaged and or stopped by the police, do you know your rights?
IN BRIEF: Reduce Risk To Yourself and Others: Black Americans will never be given the benefit of the doubt. Reduce the potential for misunderstanding and conflict by staying calm. We understand that racial profiling, discriminatory stops, police brutality and deadly police violence can be stressful, insulting, frightening and dehumanizing. Nevertheless, do not worsen the situation with confrontational behavior.
- When you are Driving While Black and stopped, keep your hands clearly visible on the steering wheel.
- When you are Walking While Black and stopped, keep your hands out of your pockets and clearly visible.
- Be polite and responsive to lawful orders.
- Do not argue, express hostility or provoke conflict. Police officers are the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system and you will not win a confrontation with them.
- While the burden of de-escalation should fall on police officers, Black people must take the leadership role by de-escalating the situation to halt any racial impulses from escalating into violence.
- Do not run, resist or obstruct the officer nor give false testimony or documents.
I’ve been stopped by the police in public Walking While Black
- You have the right to remain silent. For example, you do not have to answer any questions about where you are going, where you are traveling from, what you are doing, or where you live. If you wish to exercise your right to remain silent, say so out loud. (In some states, you may be required to provide your name if asked to identify yourself, and an officer may arrest you for refusing to do so.)
- In Florida, if you are detained or arrested you must give your name. A refusal to identify yourself could result in your arrest if an officer detained or arrested you while investigating a crime.
- An officer can detain and search you on the street as well as ask for your name if she/he has reasonable suspicion that you committed or are committing a crime.
- You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but again, an officer may pat down the exterior of your clothing if they suspect a weapon or something dangerous on your person.
- Note that refusing consent may not stop the officer from carrying out the search against your will, but making a timely objection before or during the search can help preserve your rights in any later legal proceeding.
- If you are arrested by police, you have the right to a government-appointed lawyer if you cannot afford one.
- You do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you are a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country. (Separate rules apply at international borders and airports as well as for individuals on certain nonimmigrant visas, including tourists and business travelers.
How to reduce risk to yourself
- Stay calm. Don’t run, resist, or obstruct the officers. Do not lie or give false documents. Keep your hands where the police can see them.
I’ve been pulled over by the police Driving While Black
- Both drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent. For example, you do not have to answer any questions about where you are going, where you are traveling from, what you are doing, or where you live. If you wish to exercise your right to remain silent, say so out loud. (In some states, you may be required to provide your name if asked to identify yourself, and an officer may arrest you for refusing to do so.)
- If you’re a passenger, you can ask if you’re free to leave. If yes, you may silently leave.
How to reduce risk to yourself
- Stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible.
- Turn off the car, turn on the internal light, open the window part way, and place your hands on the wheel. If you’re in the passenger seat, put your hands on the dashboard.
- Upon request, show police your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. Don’t argue or demand to know why you were stopped before providing such information.
- Avoid making sudden movements, and keep your hands where the officer can see them.
- If you are lawfully carrying a weapon in the vehicle always ensure that it is separated from your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance.
- If an officer asks if you have a gun in the vehicle or on your person answer the question honestly if you are lawfully carrying a weapon.
How to prepare for possible arrest
- Prepare yourself and your family in case you are arrested. Memorize the phone numbers of your family and your lawyer. Make emergency plans if you have children or take medication.
What to do if you are arrested or detained
- Do not resist arrest, even if you believe the arrest is unfair. Follow the officers’ commands.
- Clearly state that you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer Don’t give any explanations or excuses. Don’t say anything, sign anything, or make any decisions without a lawyer.
- If you have been arrested by police, you have the right to make a local phone call. The police cannot listen if you call a lawyer. They can and often do listen if you call anyone else.
If you believe your rights were violated
- Write down everything you remember, including officers’ badges and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details. Get contact information for witnesses.
- If you’re injured, seek medical attention immediately and take photographs of your injuries.
- Contact the Stono Institute for Freedom, Justice and Security at firstname.lastname@example.org to file a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. In most cases, you can file a complaint anonymously if you wish.
What you can do if you think you’re witnessing police abuse or brutality
- Stand at a safe distance and, if possible, use your phone to record video of what is happening. As long as you do not interfere with what the officers are doing and do not stand close enough to obstruct their movements, you have the right to observe and record events that are plainly visible in public spaces.
- Do not try to hide the fact that you are recording. Police officers do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when performing their jobs, but the people they are interacting with may have privacy rights that would require you to notify them of the recording. In many states (see here) you must affirmatively make people aware that you are recording them.
- Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant, and they may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances. If an officer orders you to stop recording or orders you to hand over your phone, you should politely but firmly tell the officer that you do not consent to doing so, and remind the officer that taking photographs or video is your right under the First Amendment. Be aware that some officers may arrest you for refusing to comply even though their orders are illegal. The arrest would be unlawful, but you will need to weigh the personal risks of arrest (including the risk that officer may search you upon arrest) against the value of continuing to record.
- Whether or not you are able to record everything, make sure to write down everything you remember, including officers’ badge and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, how many officers were present and what their names were, any use of weapons (including less-lethal weapons such as Tasers or batons), and any injuries suffered by the person stopped. If you are able to speak to the person stopped by police after the police leave, they may find your contact information helpful in case they decide to file a complaint or pursue a lawsuit against the officers.
1 This document is a modified version of the excellent Know Your Rights content developed by the ACLU. It has been adapted/amended to complement a predominantly Black readership.
ACLU, Know Your Rights, Stopped by the Police, www.ACLU.org, https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/stopped-by-police/ (last visited December 14, 2020).