After the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, there were some corners of commentary that either believed or simply wished to promote the notion that the BLM reaction was overwrought.
But as evidence has mounted that Ferguson is not an isolated incident, but instead part of a longstanding trend of overly zealous and sometimes violent policing of black individuals, dismissing the problem has become impossible.
So if racial injustice occurs in policing, if young black people really have reason to fear a routine traffic stop could become a deadly encounter, then what are some options to start rectifying that?
It was on just such a mission that Dwayne Bryant wrote The STOP, a relatively brief and engaging curriculum for students, parents, and police.
Bryant’s aim is to improve police and community relations, and he goes about this by sharing seven encounters he’s had with police officers. Each corresponding chapter highlights a different lesson about how to maximize respect and minimize the chance of brutality, with examples drawn from Bryant’s own life.
“STOP” is an acronym for “Support Teaching Of Principles,” and Bryant makes clear that he is holding all parties accountable for the role they play in guaranteeing safe and constructive interactions between police and black people of all ages.
Each chapter begins with Bryant recounting a memory of a police encounter: being reprimanded for stealing a bicycle in elementary school, fighting a wrongful ticket in court as a high school student, and even a wrong U-turn that quickly escalated into a genuine threat from the officers who pulled Bryant over.
One of the most fascinating chapters involves Bryant’s father, who worked as a community police officer. It is while living with him that Bryant sees the way the police uniform can change a person – and not necessarily always for the better. His father humanized what it meant to be a police force member, in ways both good and bad.
At the end of each chapter, Bryant includes questions for young people, law enforcement, and parents to reflect on. He does not encourage anyone to accept mistreatment, but Bryant insists that the risk to black people is real, and they should therefore be extremely cautious about their words and actions when interacting with police. His goal is first and foremost their safety – their survival – and he advises anyone who feels they’ve been treated unjustly to wait and handle it through legal means, after the fact.
What follows is a phone interview with Bryant, edited for clarity and brevity.
- While reading The STOP, one thing I found myself wondering often: How has ‘The STOP’ been received by police departments? Do you have any evidence that it is changing the atmosphere and dynamic of policing, or at least an indication that police (generally) are open to criticism?
The book’s forwards — written by Lee P. Brown, who served as New York City Police Commissioner as well as Police Chief and Mayor of Houston and Captain David R. Bursten — both highly endorsed and highly recommend that police departments read it and get an understanding of a completely different point of view. I’ve presented to several different departments in Virginia and Chicago. They’re used to doing things the same old way, and changing their culture is not going to be as easy as people might think it is.
I look at police as part of the community and a necessary part of the community. But sometimes they can be sensitive. Hyper-sensitive. But if they are abusing their power and authority, for you [police department] to protect them is not just. And then for you to get upset when someone complains about it is more injustice.
Police are a part of the community. They’re not separate.
Individual police officers who have read the book love the book. One officer told me that when he read the chapter on my father, it made him “really reflect upon” when he comes home, how does his family see him? So individually, police officers love it.
- You are a firm believer in the power of clear communication. Why do you think it is that so many parents don’t seem to be having these conversations with their kids, about how to be respectful, stay calm, handle conflict, etc.? How can they be encouraged to do so?
You can’t teach what you don’t know. You can’t really produce what you’re not.
Many parents have never been taught conflict-resolution. Responsibility. Respect for authority.
Also, they don’t necessarily live lives that are respectful of authority. Many children hear their parents saying negative things about police officers. That all creates fear. I have also heard parents using the police to threaten their kids, aka “If you keep doing what you’re doing, I’m gonna tell this officer to take you to jail.” That creates more fear.
Schools can encourage parents. Schools and faith-based communities. Most parents, or some, go to some church. So schools should be having and churches should be having these conversations where they’re helping parents to have these conversations. My book outlines strategies for parents to help kids – in fact, I developed a workbook for parents to help their kids work through with parents.
There’s a difference for white parents and black parents, too. White parents are not thinking “I need to have this conversation because my child might be killed by this police officer.”
Black parents think they have to have this conversation because their kids might be killed, mistreated, arrested.
Grown people are also afraid when they are pulled over.
For instance, in Dallas — that police officer was fired from the force, but he should be criminally charged, even civilly charged. Because this officer dehumanized these young people. He took a life, and he needs to pay for it.
From 2004 – 2016, Chicago has paid over 660 million dollars over wrongful death lawsuits. Are you really willing to keep paying out to protect and keep these people on staff?
Part of the problem is on both sides, too. We have criminals running in our neighborhood. And when the police come, they don’t turn them over. There’s a culture — in the police departments and in many black communities — that you “don’t snitch.” And that’s exacerbating the problem.
- It was interesting to discover that your mom was highly apprehensive of the police, even back in the ‘80s. That might be new information to many people, maybe particularly white people. Does that surprise a lot of readers — her fear that you would be profiled, mistreated, and maybe even shot by police?
The people who are reading it in 2016, it’s very understood her fear. Even in the ‘80s, maybe a couple of people would have said, “Wow, your mom had insight.” I don’t remember in the ‘80s the level of police shootings like they are now. The only reason why might be we didn’t have cell phones, we didn’t have social media.
Nobody was talking about community policing, or community responsibility.
Now, I think everyone who reads it understood her. She had to remind me of some of that.
I was shocked when she said, “I don’t want you to shoot my boys in the back.” She knew a whole lot more than we did.
- Your personal moments with a flawed father — who happened to be a proud police officer — are a reminder that police are human too. And that means they may be carrying ulterior motives into their job approach, maybe ones they’re not even aware of. I found myself wondering again how open police would be to considering this, and what it could mean for a different kind of policing in the future…
If it’s done right, all quality relationships start with a foundation of respect. So too if it’s a relation of police and community.
If the very foundation in a police officer doesn’t have a level of respect and relationship with the community, then they definitely should not be serving in the community, period.
I spoke a police captain about why there weren’t more blacks, more Hispanics, on the force. And when I asked the question, he said the blacks aren’t showing up for the test, they’re not passing the test, and so they’re not in the force. There’s no way they’re gonna have 80% of the force be black, which would reflect the community makeup. There needs to be a change of community approach
And so, we have to ask ourselves: If we want better relationships, we also have a responsibility. Why do we think as a black community we have time to watch 7 ½ hours of TV a day? Some of the problems are ours. Some of the problems are part of the system.
- I really enjoyed, as I imagine most readers do, all the times you incorporated your “voice” throughout the book. Your unedited reactions to seeing a police car, or being mistreated or profiled, are both humorous and relatable. Do you find students also respond to this? It seems like a great opening for them to then listen to the advice of how to handle themselves with dignity, even if a police officer isn’t doing the same for them.
I believe transparency is so important. There were a few chapters that I had friends read and they said, “I think you’re holding back.”
Particularly on the second chapter about living with my dad. There were two things — being a police officer and being a good dad — that didn’t necessarily go hand in hand. But I didn’t want to tell all of that story.
My friend said: You have to give the audience everything. They have to have all of the truth.
The shortest distance between two people is a story. I believe people connect over stories. They all have stories. The heart of the matter will connect to another heart.
These are my stories, and this is how I navigated, and this is what I did.
I want everyone to take responsibility, accountability for developing mutual respect.
I want to be pure, authentic, and transparent.
I also want to be able to develop a technology aspect. A simulation. I want to be able to create serious technology where young people — who aren’t wired to think of long-term consequences — can “act out” what happens with different scenarios.
- You incorporate your faith, from listening to Christian music to sharing Bible verses. Have any schools rejected that aspect of your curriculum? And do you think your belief in a higher spiritual level of being better allows you to carry out The STOP?
My spiritual belief absolutely navigates and helps me guide life daily, on a daily basis. And the spirit who works within me is an everyday part of my life.
Now, I have no desire to be a preacher. But I do believe that a spiritual walk is a part of the very fabric of who I am. I am not ashamed of it. Therefore, I offer it as a part of me.
To date, I’ve not had a school say “We’re not bringing it in because you mentioned this or that about God.”
But for instance, in the chapter on getting pulled over on the highway: Here I am listening to praise music, but when I turned on Biggie, it changed the very nature of my behavior.
I tried to be very wise and very gentle with that conversation, so that a believer would understand, OK, this person is a believer.
A non-believer would understand, OK, he’s just sharing his views, but he’s not forcing anything on me.
People respect that.
I’m comfortable with the level of spiritual interaction.
I am a person who prefers to engage in the challenge of solutions. I’m not a person who wants to rehash and rehearse the problem. I don’t want to keep wallowing in the pain when a solution is possible.
This solution is an opportunity for parents, for their children, for law enforcement, for the community: Hey, we all can be a part of the solution.
We can create the society that we desire. I believe this world is a beautiful place, if we choose to make it that way.
I just want to be able to live in a beautiful world, or help to create a beautiful world, where there’s mutual respect, shared responsibility, and accountability between human beings. Regardless of profession, regardless of religion, regardless of belief, or race, or gender.