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Know Your Rights…And Exercise Them CALMLY!

Written by Darrell on . Posted in Empowerment

In light of growing reported incidents of police encounters ending in unnecessary violence, one of my fraternity Brothers forwarded some valuable tips on the rights we have as United States citizens.  I had those tips by Brother Jack Thomas summarized in this image for easy sharing and recall. Brother Thomas’ full memo follows.  Here is an example of calmly exercising your rights. These tips will not guarantee a positive outcome in all situations, but they can certainly increase the probability of safer results and more law enforcement accountability.

Please share this information as a courtesy to your loved ones that may find themselves unexpectedly on either side of a conflict.




Know Your Rights

I’ve been extremely disturbed by recent publicized events involving regular interactions African Americans have had with the police. Thus, mindful of the number of young brothers in our Bond, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to explain your rights when interacting with the police. They are your rights! They are personal! Blood has been shed, here and abroad, to protect them. Don’t just give them away in a street encounter with the police.

In each of these situations, you need witnesses and evidence more than you need friends. If you are in the company of other, before the police reach you, tell them to remain calm, to pay particular attention to what is said and done, and to call to alert outsiders to where you are and what is happening. Turn the recorder on your smartphone on. You should also tell your companions to record what is happening. One has a right to make a video recording of a public official, though the police might try to convince you differently. Often, they erroneously assert some fabricated privacy right. They have none while performing an official function. If your friend is too afraid to make a video, as the police are approaching you, tell your friend to make an audio recording. Evidence is what will ultimately rule the day.

You should know that, as a matter of Constitutional law, there are three levels of police encounter. First, there is a consensual encounter. The police need no particular reason to approach and talk with you. You, however, are in control of the encounter. It lasts only so long as you consent to a restriction of your ability to walk away or to remain silent. Remember, no matter the nature of the encounter, you have an absolute right to remain silent, which, with three exceptions, is probably your best bet. In consensual encounters, you are under no obligation to stop, talk with the police, or provide the police with any identification or explanation. Thus, you should respond to any police encounter and request for your identification by asking, “Am I being detained or am I free to go?” That is the first exception to the general rule that your best bet is to remain silent. There is never a time when a police officer is doing anything other than his job. Even when being friendly, the police are always trying to learn as much about you as they can. You have a right to your privacy, as long as you protect it. If you are free to go, exercise that right and leave.

If the police inform you that you are being detained, that necessarily means that they believe they have “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that you are involved in a crime. This is what the law considers a legitimate “stop,” which means you are not free to leave. In these situations, the police can legitimately demand identification, and you must provide it: particularly, if you are operating a motor vehicle. The police have the right to determine who you are and whether you enjoy the privilege of driving. If the police have an additional reason to believe that you are armed, they may pat down the outer surfaces of your clothing for their own safety. Typically, the police will ask whether you consent to such an intrusion. This is the second exception to the rule of silence. You should always tell the police, “I do not consent to searches.” No matter what the police do, say nothing else.

If you are in an automobile, and are asked to step out, you should open the door, roll up the windows, exit the vehicle, and lock the car. The police have a right to look into any area which you make available to public view and, when concerned about their safety, to reach into any area into which you might reach for a weapon.

This rule of come out and lock the door also applies to your home. Never invite the police into your home: no matter how friendly they are! The police cannot enter your home without having a search warrant with them. When they have a search warrant, they should give you a copy of it before executing a search. Don’t just let the police waive some papers around and tell you they have a warrant. Demand a copy of the warrant! If the police come to your house wanting to talk with you, get your keys, step outside, lock the door behind you, and see what they have to say. Remember, it is your Constitutional right to remain silent. Ask whether you are being detained or are free to go. If free to go, listen to them as long as you’d like, say nothing, thank them for coming, and tell them that you’re sorry but you’re busy and now need to go.

Thirdly, unless you consent, the police may only conduct a full blown search of your property or person — e.g., enter your home, reach into your pockets, search your car or home — and arrest when they have probable cause that you are concealing evidence or have committed a crime. In either situation, the police should have a warrant! In which case, you should begin the encounter by telling the police, “I want a lawyer present and will not talk until a lawyer is present.” The police may not accommodate you, but, by saying that, you have laid down an important barrier. As difficult as it may be, REMAIN SILENT! Believe me, you cannot talk your way out of anything at this point. YOU NEED A LAWYER! Once you have asked for one, the police cannot question you, unless you start talking to them. If they do, what you said cannot be introduced against you in court. You must, however, be patient and prepared to wait quietly. The police must take you to court on the next business day.

Remaining silent means shut up! A cellblock is no place to vent. Save it until you talk to your lawyer. The guy with whom you share that cell often has more substantial problems than you. He is just waiting to sell everything you tell him in exchange for a reduced sentence. Only talk to your lawyer: not your friends, not your parents, just your lawyer! I once compelled a mother to testify against her son in a murder case. The defendant pled guilty. Remember that!

Finally, the reason you don’t see a lot of lawyers practicing law on street corners is because the street is not a courtroom. So, whether they are acting properly or not, don’t argue with the police in the street. Say one or more of the three things you should say and calmly repeat them in front of as many witnesses as possible. Say nothing more! Don’t be deterred by a police effort to secure your unspoken consent. They may try to convince you, trick you, or intimidate you. You must know your rights and be prepared to stand on them. If, after asking about your ability to leave, the police ignore your question and/or press you for identification, simply do what they are doing: repeat your question, “Am I being detained or am I free to go?”. If an officer has your license, registration, or insurance card promptly ask him to return them as soon as he comes back to your car. Don’t let the police detain you by holding onto your identification. Once the police are convinced that you’ll not consent, they will often begrudgingly tell you that you can go. If they exceed their authority, which police often do because they are poorly trained or bullies, stand your ground. But do so by calmly only saying one of the three things you have to say. You can sue the police for violating your Constitutional rights, but you can’t do that in the street. Try not to get hurt along the way. So, be disciplined and talk calmly; don’t get angry or belligerent. The police have a threat matrix which determines the amount of force they are entitled to use in any of these encounters. Their violence begins to escalate when you raise your voice. Once the confusion and violence start, the police have control. Your witnesses are, for instance, distracted. Remain calm!

The police are trained to get their way, when they can. You have to train yourself to remain calm in these situations and to assert your Constitutional rights. The question has nothing to do with having something to hide. The issue has to do with protecting your individual freedoms. Once they are gone, very often they are simply gone, and you have put yourself in a difficult, often impossible, situation.

Now, look at this example of an absolute abuse of authority: View it to understand the abuse you can be subjected to for exercising your rights as an American. Nonetheless, you must assert your rights or suffer the consequence. The police department’s and police union’s responses in the accompanying article are pure erroneous jibber jabber. Whether white America realizes it or not, there is no subordinate class of Black Americans.

Know your rights! More importantly, exercise them!

– Jack Thomas

From Progress to “Justless”

Written by Darrell on . Posted in Diversity/Inclusion

As I walked down 1st Street in Sanford, FL I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of “EV Parking” spots.  These are parking locations reserved for electric vehicles with plug-in chargers.  I haven’t seen much EV parking in Florida, so to see them in this small town was a surprise.  As someone seriously considering an electric vehicle as my next car purchase, I thought this really showed progress for the city of Sanford.  Then, in that same moment of thought I remembered why I was in Sanford on this day: to help rally the collective energy of a nation asking for justice in the killing of a young man on his return home “walking while Black”.  I immediately wondered how could a small town showing such progress with green technology turn back the clock during Black history month in 2012 in a situation that feels too close to the Emmitt Till tragedy of 1955?


Enough has been written on the events surrounding the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012 that I won’t recite the details in this post.  Instead, my focus in this article identifies three areas to return to progress.


1. Justice.  The estimated 30,000 people rallying for justice at Fort Mellon Park in Sanford, FL along with the 1.5 million who have signed a petition on are asking for one simple request: the arrest of young Trayvon’s shooter, George Zimmerman.  As more data from 9-1-1 calls and eye witness accounts have surfaced its clear to millions that Zimmerman should at the least be arrested.  It also seems that his self-defense argument has become weak as he’s heard in the 9-1-1 recordings pursuing Mr. Martin.  So at this point, we’ve seen much less than justice from the Sanford police department response.


2. Trust. When we coach clients in transforming from conflict to collaboration we include trust as a core competency.  In absence of trust, Trayvon Martin saw the stares of a stranger from a truck as a threat and chose to remove himself from potential danger.  Is this not what any parent would teach their own child?  In the absence of trust, George Zimmerman saw an unknown person, labeled him as suspicious (according to the 9-1-1 call), and pursued him despite a request from law enforcement to not do so.  And now the calls for justice echo the mistrust of the Sanford Police in their treatment of Trayvon Martin as the perpetrator instead of the victim.  Even as Michael Baisden points to the lack of trust towards Sanford’s City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. when, in his interview with Reverend Al Sharpton on Politics Nation, he explains why he didn’t shake the hand of Mr. Bonaparte.


Prior to Mr. Baisden going on the air for the interview, I had the opportunity to witness the moment when Mr. Bonaparte extended his hand out to Mr. Baisden. Even I felt the sting expressed in Mr. Bonaparte’s face as a fellow (and prominent) African-American explained why he wasn’t reciprocating the normal gesture of a return hand shake.  This moment was another reminder of the conversation I’d just had minutes before with Sanford Mayor Jeffrey Triplett of the need to establish trust throughout the community.  Unfortunately, Mr. Bonaparte’s limited showing of empathy over the last few days of media presence had apparently not endured a sense of trust in the eyes of Mr. Baisden.


What does trust look like even in the height of emotions around injustice?  It’s the embrace of a grieving Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin by Joyce Hamilton Henry, ACLU Mid-Florida Regional Director.  As Sybrina looked into the misting eyes of Joyce she said, “don’t you cry, because you’re going to make me cry”. They may not have known each other, but they understood each other.  Similarly, as Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s dad, walked past me with the look of exhaustion in his eyes we connected with a father-to-father embrace and the mutually expressed simple words “thank you”. Again, I had not previously met Tracy, but that moment of understanding lead him to trust the embrace of a stranger’s support.


Minutes before these interactions, I was extended the hand of a tall, white gentleman who simply introduced himself as Jeff.  I’d known from all the media coverage that “Jeff” was, in fact, the mayor of Sanford.  After a few minutes of sharing thoughts on healing the community once justice is served, Mayor Jeff extended another gesture of trust by providing his private contact information to my colleague Tanya Humphries and me.  Our interaction was a mutual exchange of humility in listening with a willingness to be influenced by the conversation.  There were other elements of trust exhibited that included transparent, empathetic sharing as parents understanding this tragedy and the need for doing what’s right.  Never did either of us seem concerned about posturing sides, scoring political points or other elements of suspicion that could have built a wall of counterproductive beliefs.


These few observed moments of trust compared to the examples of mistrust show the more important difference in outcomes.   Trust garners respect, understanding, and collaboration.  After the objective of justice is obtained we will need to start healing a community and nation through the confidence built in trusting one another.


3. Relations.  The ultimate result of the healing process will be shown in improved relationships, especially in moments of conflict or tension.  I know this has been an ongoing process for as long as we’ve had people interacting with each other.  So, what makes me think this is a solvable problem?  It’s not so much that we strive towards a cleansing of all stereotypes, counterproductive beliefs, or tensions.  Instead, we need to focus on responding more effectively to this sometimes-inevitable tension around differences.


As we coach teams and individuals on “making workplace tension productive”, meeting people where they are and understanding how you show up in the conflict are key components towards getting better outcomes.  Either party humbling themselves to value the other person’s perspective can often diffuse conflicts.  Understanding one’s beliefs and assumptions, and challenging the ones that can result in a counterproductive outcome is critical to simply knowing self.  And ultimately, if we’re able to get to a point of conversation, let’s hear each other with that willingness to be influenced by the “other side”.


Imagine if George Zimmerman challenged his past perspectives and simply asked Trayvon Martin if he could be of assistance.  I would hope any of my neighbors behind our Florida resident gates would afford my children or me the same level cultural humility.  Unfortunately, we cannot turn back the clock and resurrect Trayvon with a school recess “do over”.  We can, however, avoid turning back the clock on our relations across differences.  We can choose, even in the midst of tension, to “show up as a grown up” (thanks Dr. Robin for that phrase).  If our small towns are now progressive enough to charge the electric cars of the future, let’s work productively to build that future with compassion and trust.




Darrell Butler is President of Butler Consulting Group — BC Innovations, specializing in productive work environments through diversity/inclusion, work-life balance, and personal empowerment. Please send inquiries to

Diversity Get’s a Bad Name…and WE made it happen

Written by Darrell on . Posted in Diversity/Inclusion

After almost 15 years in the diversity & inclusion business I’ve noticed something pretty consistent: the word “diversity” is defined one way, but used a different way.  I’m sure there are many other similar “dilemmas”, but this one has unique implications because of the fire behind the word.  Let me explain.

A common explanation of workforce diversity has become “a mix of differences and similarities” (or something similar).  This broad definition allows the inclusion of multiple differences that someone might bring to the team, from the usual suspects of race/gender/age/sexual orientation, to the not so obvious family status/workstyle/religion/hobbies/etc, and even the organizational influences like management level/department/work location/etc.  Those of us known as diversity practitioners expanded the dimensions of diversity beyond the affirmative action components in an attempt to show that EVERYONE is included and thus should have a vested interest in leveraging these differences & similarities to produce better workplace and marketplace results.  Essentially, we’ve made “diversity” synonymous with “people”.  Make sense, right? So what’s the problem?


When talking to someone in the business world, any given week I’ll hear something like “we don’t have any diversity on the team” or “are companies still looking for diversity?”.  With our expanded definition, however, this translates to “we don’t have any people on the team” and “are companies still looking for people”.  Now that sounds CRAZY! So our dilemma has become staying with the expanded, more inclusive definition, while struggling to use a word that describes the specific dimensions of diversity that are desired in a given situation.


For example, if I’m a white male and I hear “we need some diversity on the team”, I’m thinking “don’t we already have people on the team?  What’s the problem?”  On the other hand, I can recall many discussions within the African-American community (especially back in the 90s) centered on the expanded definition of diversity was watering down the still needed expanded talent search push of Affirmative Action.


A Solution: Build your business case and get specific on the why and what dimensions are desired.  For example, say “we’re expanding our talent search for racial/ethnic or gender diversity because we lack mixed representation in those areas and understand the benefits of having multiple perspectives based on differing cultural backgrounds”.  I know that seems like a mouthful, but it starts to more effectively communicate that 1) while we understand there are many dimensions to diversity we’re only talking about a few in this specific discussion and 2) we are identifying why we even need/want a more representative mix on the team.


Of course, we’re only touching the surface of diversity with this topic on representation.  In later discussions, we’ll address actually doing something with differences to produce better results…and working through the inevitable tension in the process.


Darrell Butler