Ask any police officer and they’ll tell you that traffic stops are one of the most dangerous parts of their job.
The many stories about drivers, particularly black drivers, getting hurt or even killed during traffic stops shows it might not be very safe for them, either.
That’s why Lansing Police teamed up to make sure Michigan’s youngest drivers are prepared.
The movie “Queen and Slim” shows what happened at a fictional traffic stop gone wrong. After talking about Walter Scott, Philando Castile and other black men who were shot and killed during otherwise routine traffic stops, young black drivers know that scenario is all too real.
“It is no secret that in the black community that black men,” Turning Point of Lansing Chairman Wayne Lynn says, “and specifically and particularly black boys sometimes have the toughest and most egregious interaction…with police.”
That’s why the mentors at Turning Point, a mentoring program for young black men in Lansing, wanted to help their boys feel prepared when they see lights flashing in their rearview mirrors.
“The boys are nervous,” Lynn says. “They are concerned about what happens, as they talked about today, what happens when a police comes up behind them, and what should they do to make sure that they do the right thing.”
Talking through the steps wouldn’t be enough.The boys had to practice.
All the boys that had their drivers permits got a few basic tips before getting behind the wheel in a simulation that took place just before Thanksgiving.
The first driver did it blind–no step by step guide, no practice, just as if he were really out on the road.
“I was just thinking like, what am I supposed to say,” says mentee Darrell Dillard. “I ain’t never been in that situation before.”
As the rest of the boys and their families watched, things got smoother.
Drivers started using their lights in and out of the car and felt more comfortable talking to the police.
They had it down in less than an hour.
Community Services Officer Kasha Osborn says it was all by design.
“When you’re prepared for it, you better, you know what they expect a little bit more,” she says. “You’re a little bit more relaxed in that circumstance and you’re able to get through it a little bit easier.”
“It’s a lot of people that don’t know what to do in that type of situation,” Dillard says. “People getting hurt, sometimes for no reason, just for not knowing what to do in that type of situation.”
Lansing Police Chief Daryl Green says it’s easy to see why a session like this was needed.
Once a young, black, first time driver himself, he knows how it feels to sit in a cop’s spotlight.
As an officer and now chief, he says teaching the boys what to do will help him keep the peace in his city.
“We want young men to go home, and to be safe,” Green says. “And we wanted to increase their knowledge base, to lessen negative interactions with the police department”
If the boys do have a bad interaction, they have a better chance of making it home.
“You’re gonna get people that have attitudes, you’re gonna get people that are very direct,” Osborn says. “You’re gonna have people that maybe don’t have the greatest facial expressions, so they’re not smiling, maybe they’re stone-faced, stone cold look on their face. Don’t take any of those things necessarily into consideration when you’re dealing with that officer. Just listen to whatever it is that the officer is asking of you, provide them with that information, provide them with whatever the question, answer the question to the best of your ability and leave it at that.”
We’ve included more resources on traffic stops in the Seen on 6 section of WLNS.com.