6/12/2008 – Printed in the NATIONAL section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper
Javon Dawson, 17, is dead. Terrence Nemeth, a 24-year-old St. Petersburg police officer, shot Dawson two times. Police reports state that Dawson, a sophomore at Gibbs High School, fired a gun into the air at a graduation party. After being ordered to drop the weapon, police say, Dawson turned and leveled it at Nemeth as he attempted to run. Nemeth fired. Some blacks, including Dawson’s father, say the officer murdered the teen. I don’t know all the details. I do know that each year, thousands of young black males nationwide have unnecessary, often fatal, confrontations with the police. The following is my short survival guide for black males. The guide is not intended to make you look weak or like a sellout. It’s intended to help you be smart. It offers a few commonsense ways to stay out of trouble with the police. It’s to help you stay alive. Some suggestions are intentionally redundant and in no particular order to help you pay attention and drive home the point. Nothing I write here is based on theory. It is based on time-tested truth.
– Stay away from guns altogether. Don’t own one, and don’t hang out with anyone who does. Children have absolutely no reason to possess a gun. If, for some reason, you wind up with a gun in public, NEVER point it at a police officer.
– If you’re stopped or otherwise find yourself in the presence of an officer, obey every command. Don’t talk trash. Don’t show attitude. Don’t make sudden motions. Never place your hands where they can’t be seen. Never give a false name or any other false information. Memorize the officer’s name and the vehicle number. Your ultimate goal is to get home alive so you can get a lawyer if you need one.
– Never carry contraband of any kind on your person or in your vehicle.
– Always carry proper ID on your person and proper documents in your vehicle.
– Avoid riding a bicycle in the middle of the day in known drug hot spots.
– Don’t hang out where police regularly cruise. If you do, you’re asking for trouble. Police cruise trouble spots.
– Don’t make yourself an object of suspicion. Don’t, for example, stand on corners holding a brown bag. You make the police think you’re carrying an open container of alcohol, which is illegal. Don’t stand on corners drinking from brown bags. Don’t drink from brown bags while you’re walking on a public sidewalk or street.
– Don’t regularly hang out around abandoned buildings that have broken windows and busted doors and trashy yards.
– Don’t duck and hide when a police car appears.
– If you’re being arrested, don’t resist and multiply your problems. You can’t win by resisting.
– Don’t engage in unlawful behavior. For example, when you attend a party, don’t join others in blocking city streets. You need a permit from the city to block a street. The city has a noise ordinance, meaning that you and fellow partygoers need to stop playing loud music and making other kinds of noise after a certain hour.
– Put the names of your parents, an attorney, your principal, a teacher, a close friend, a role model, a mentor, a bail bondsman and others on speed dial in your cell phone.
– Get to know at least one officer by name in the police department.
– This may be difficult to swallow, but find a way to see the police as your protector, not your natural enemy. Your relationship with the police will change for the better. I promise.
– Stay away from peers who hate the police. These trash-talking friends are nothing but trouble waiting to happen.
– Don’t listen to adults who paint the police as your mortal enemy. Such adults are irresponsible. They don’t have your best interests at heart. They have wrong-headed personal agendas that will get them attention or money.
Obviously, this list could go on and on. But I think the main points have been made: You have personal and civil rights, but you can’t exercise those rights if you’re dead. Only living persons can exercise their rights.
When you leave your house and step into the public sphere, you have responsibilities for yourself and for others. Before you act, think about the undeserved pain and hurt and destruction you will leave behind because of your machismo, your stupidity, your selfishness and your desire to fit in.
When all is said and done, you can take control of much of your fate. In large measure, your survival is in your hands.