By Stacy Hawkins Adams
I took my teen son to an empty school parking lot on Sunday afternoon to practice driving and a police officer pulled him over.
I was in the passenger seat, and the officer asked my permission to chat with Mini-Me #2.
Sgt. Hugate (who gave me permission to use his name) had watched my son practice signaling and turning and parking for about half an hour before motioning for him to stop, with a smile and a welcoming gesture.
With my consent, he spent about 10 minutes sharing his perspective as a member of law enforcement about how Mini-Me #2, as a teen driver, could stay safe if/when pulled over.
Before he launched into the advice, he led with his heart, telling Mini-Me #2:
– He spent the day before driving around a similar school parking lot teaching his own son how to drive, so he knew how meaningful and memorable the task at hand was.
– Everyday when he goes to work, he wants to be sure to make it home to his family; so the advice he was prepared to share was designed to keep both my son and him safe.
Then he walked through how an officer typically approaches a vehicle and explained that an alert officer is always on guard because he never knows who or what he may encounter when making a routine traffic stop – regardless of race, gender, age, etc.
Next, he told Mini-me #2 a few things that most parents of color often share already with their adolescent sons and daughters, during what we call “The Talk:”
– Keep your hands visible at all times. (He demonstrated where to position them on the steering wheel and suggested that placing them on driver’s side windowsill would be another option.)
– Over-communicate about every single move you make, from shifting to reach for your license to reaching to open your door.
– Stay calm and respectful and respond to all questions when asked. (Most people actually talk themselves INTO getting tickets, he said, because they can’t manage to stay calm.)
– If the situation permits, before placing your hands on the steering wheel or outside the window, call a parent and put him/her on speakerphone, so that there is a “third party witness to keep both of us safe.”
My son appreciated the feedback, which reinforced messages he has already heard from me and his dad and others in our “village.”
Sgt. Hugate, who is Caucasian, looked Mini-Me squarely in the eyes while informing him that yes – there are indeed some cops who shouldn’t be wearing badges or in the law enforcement field, because they don’t do what is right or good; but he is not one of them.
We didn’t discuss Charlottesville, Trayvon Martin, or any of the senseless violence that has occurred in many instances in between. In those few minutes in that high school parking lot, the olive branch he extended was an aha moment that even some officers are willing to be real and honest about the realities of what it takes to stay safe in this day and time.
Everyone wants to make it home alive.