There is a show on Netflix, “House of Cards”. It follows a congressman and his wife on their rise to power and the Presidency.
One of the characters, Remy Danton, is African American and the Presidents Chief of Staff. There is a scene where he gets pulled over by the DC police for speeding, and he doesn’t have his wallet, which is where his license, registration and insurance card are. At this point, the police officer is OBLIGATED to investigate further and search the subject for weapons.
No identification, no proof the car is his– he could claim he was the Pope and it wouldn’t matter. This is standard procedure and within the confines of the law.
Operating a motor vehicle without a license is illegal, and it’s perfectly reasonable for the officer to follow established procedure to investigate further.
As much as I hate to say it, this is one of those times when, if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t be worried or react with undue emotionalism.
It is ALWAYS desirable from a legal view to cooperate with police during a traffic stop, but in the scene, Danton overreacts and in the process, elevates the nature of the encounter, which in turn escalates the police response.
“I have a right to know why you pulled me over!” he shouts while disobeying the order to keep his hands on the car in plain sight.
This type of adversarial behavior constitutes a legitimate safety concern for the police.
In this instance, the responding officer is also African American, so when Danton makes a snide remark about impressing his fellow white officers, it just adds fuel to the fire.
Danton ends up in cuffs in the back of a patrol car, until a Lieutenant shows up and having ascertained Danton’s identity, apologizes for the inconvenience and takes off the cuffs.
There is an implication in the way the scene is presented that since Danton is a well known political figure, the policeman’s response must be because he is African American, but this is simply not the case when applied to real life. The fact is, Danton overplayed his hand. He could claim to be anyone, but the police don’t know that.
Under these circumstances, anyone without a license, registration, etc., regardless of race or status, would be subject to standard police procedure if pulled over. The police had probable cause and followed the rules.
Which brings us to Pittsburgh Steelers Linebacker Coach, Joey Porter.
Porter was arrested Sunday night at a nightclub, and although we don’t know all the details, we do know that the police were called after Porter’s behavior towards the officer working security at the club became threatening. It’s been reported that Porter may have put his hands on the officer– a major no no. NEVER initiate any kind of physical contact with the police, especially when you’re a physically imposing presence like, say, a former NFL linebacker.
Don’t say things like, “I know my rights” or “Don’t you know who I am?”
If you are pulled over or otherwise have a police encounter, remain calm and speak in even, measured tones. Keep your hands in plain sight and make no sudden movements.
If you have to reach into your jacket for your wallet, or the glove compartment for paperwork, ask the officer first. “Officer, my wallet is in my jacket, is it okay for me to get it?”
Don’t tell them how to do their job. No one likes that. Cooperate with their instructions. YOU know you don’t have a gun in your jacket, but they don’t.
If they ask you to get out of the car, move slowly and deliberately. When they say, “Place your hands on the car and spread your legs” so they can search you, cooperate. Even if the search turns out to be something that can later be suppressed in court, this is not a courtroom.
Police have a very dangerous job where any encounter can, in the blink of an eye, go from routine traffic stop to life threatening situation. Of course they are going to be hyper-sensitive to anything suspicious, or worse, aggressive behavior.
Conversely, someone who is being stopped by the police– even if they have nothing to hide– is going to be nervous and anxious. This can be a volatile mix that often results in misunderstanding that can escalate the situation far beyond the original offense.
The worst thing anyone can do in a police encounter is to become combative and or verbally abusive when addressing the police.
Even if they’re a Pittsburgh Steeler.