Fatal police interactions spark ‘Know Your Rights’ panel in Compton

LA protests Ferguson grand jury decision | Charlie Magovern (Neon Tommy)

In response to recent alleged incidents of police brutality, panelists talked about how citizens should interact with the police.   | Charlie Magovern (Neon Tommy)

Educating residents on how to interact with law enforcement was at the top of the agenda for the “Know Your Rights” panel recently held in Compton. The event, held in the wake of the deaths of African Americans Sandra Bland and Sam DuBose, which involved police interactions that began as traffic stops that escalated in both cases. Panelists, pointing to these national headlines, stressed the importance of the black community knowing their civil rights in such situations.

A trio of African-American attorneys, Angela M. Powell, Jamon Hicks and Rodney Diggs, led the discussion on Aug. 1. They focused on highlighting the civil rights people have if they find themselves pulled over by the police.

Moderator and attorney Antonio Kizzie began the discussion by listing a variety of “medicinal” treatments for the “systematic and complicated” issue of police misconduct and violence.

“My people perish for a lack of knowledge,” Kizzie said, reciting a Bible verse to about a dozen seminar attendees gathered at the Compton Community Center. “It is better to be smart and alive than right and dead.”

Panelists focused on how to communicate with officers who may be disrespectful, abusive of civil rights, or use excessive force. Attorneys acknowledged the complication within the laws, but urged attendees to learn the basics.

When it comes to interactions with the police, the attorneys said being able to tell your side of the story is paramount.

“If you put yourself in a position where you aren’t alive, we don’t even have your word anymore,” Hicks said.

Walter Scott, an African American who was shot in the back eight times by a white police officer in South Carolina back in April, was brought up as an example. Powell acknowledged that it is impossible to predict the character of an officer or what pressures he’s experiencing at the time.

“Walter Scott ran out of his car because of child support,” Kizzie said. “I can guarantee he never thought the officer would just shoot him in the back.”Cooperation and non-resistance, panelists agreed, are key. Even when at times it seems an officer’s commands are unlawful, they added.

Remaining silent might be the best option, panelists said, when officers ask questions that go beyond requesting a driver’s license or registration — even in the face of serving jail time.

The national conversation on safety during interaction with the police intensified a year ago after the shooting death of Michael Brown. Brown was an 18-year-old African American male who was shot by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri last August after an interaction on a sidewalk. The teenager’s death led to many protests in urban centers. Kizzie said it also directed conversations on monitoring the police more, particularly increasing the use of body cameras.

Yet panelists said the body cameras work both ways.

“If you have a body cam and you’re yelling and swearing, doing all sorts of crazy things, you lose all sympathy in court,” Hicks said.

During the heavy talk, the moderator acknowledged that sometimes it feels “like nothing is happening. Like rights are violated repeatedly.”

Attendees left with pamphlets listing the names and contact information for lawyers skilled in working on police misconduct cases. Event organizers hoped the information began a shift from reactive treatments to preventative solutions.

Community solutions included talking to legislators, taking part in jury duty and passing on the knowledge from the seminar. Diggs, a panelist, encouraged residents to contact their local legislators to start changing policies and laws. He even conceded that if individuals felt contacting legislators was too passive, they should “consider peaceful protest. The operative word being peaceful.”

Changing interaction with the police can be fostered in the next generation. The black community, Powell said, must look at the children, their own or those in their neighborhoods.

“It’s that 16 year-old whose been taught he doesn’t have to respect [police]and he doesn’t,” Powell said. “Encourage them to respect the officers. They don’t want to run. They don’t want to shoot. They just want to go home.”

A second seminar is scheduled to take place in Inglewood in the fall. That conversation is set to provide more in-depth information on civil rights during parole violation and home searches. Panelists agreed that the community has to turn out for these events and want to educate themselves to start making progress on these issues.

“The only reason people get jerked around is because of the attitude ‘that ain’t gonna do nothing.’ Shut that down,” Kizzie said. “You have the duty to do what you can in your community.”

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