Tips for Staying Alive When Dealing With Police — and How They Miss the Point

June 24th 2017

Willie Burnley Jr.

For as long as there has been excessive force by police there have been those who’ve blamed the victims for the violence done to them. The latest version comes in the the form of a viral advice-rant.



“If you listen to the police when you get pulled over, you will not die,” Terrence Williams, who is Black, said in a self-recorded video.

In the video, Williams describes receiving three speeding tickets and one ticket for “excessive noise." He offered his experience as evidence that complying with police instructions would allow Americans safe encounters with law enforcement.

“I listen every time I’m pulled over, that’s why I’m alive,” Williams said.



On Twitter, some responded to his claims by pointing out that unarmed African-Americans who have complied with police orders have been subjected to fatal police force. Specifically, users cited Philando Castile, who was killed in 2016 by Officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop.

Castile’s death was one mourned by the Black Lives Matter movement — a movement Williams, who describes himself as a comedian, has publicly condemned.

Williams’ video was posted a day after a Minnesota jury acquitted Yanez of a second-degree murder for shooting Castile, despite the latter’s model behavior during the traffic stop. The examples listed in the video are also belied by studies that show disparate treatment between the general experiences of people of color and white people.

A recent study of over 60 million police stops in 20 states from 2011 to 2015 found that police officers were more likely to search and arrest Black and Latino drivers, based on less evidence, compared to white drivers. The study was to many confirmation that the "crime" of “driving while Black or brown” is real.



Before his death, Castile was pulled over 49 times in 13 years for offenses like driving with tinted windows or turning into a parking lot without signaling.

In 2015, more than 100 people were killed during police traffic stops, according to The Washington Post’s database; one of every three wasBlack.

An analysis of body cam footage from the year before that, involving nearly 1,000 traffic stops by the Oakland Police Department suggested that police officers treated Black drivers with less respect while pulled over than white drivers in similar predicaments.



Other commenters noted that the issue of excessive and fatal force extends far beyond instances of traffic stops to even the most benign interactions with police officers, including to children’s pool parties and in classrooms.

If Williams’ advice is to be taken seriously, it follows in a long line of efforts that seem to place the brunt of responsibility for outcomes between the police and public away from law enforcement. The latest example is a bill passed by the New Jersey state assembly that would teach students how to interact with police officers as early as kindergarten.

Perhaps there should be a greater focus on training police how to interact with the public.