Dealing with police can involve a delicate balance between knowing your rights and being respectful to officers.
Both are crucial, seven lawyers told a church full of Baltimore's black youths and their parents. But when in doubt, attorney Douglas B. Evans said, "you have the right to shut up."
The panel of black attorneys answered questions about police brutality and racial profiling, amid other concerns during the seminar, Conscious Operations during Police Stops, or "C.O.P.S.," at the Empowerment Temple Church on Tuesday night.
The seminar, hosted by the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, the church's pastor, was designed to equip parents and young people with do's and don'ts for police interactions. The discussion followed recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo., where police killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, and in Baltimore, where an investigation by The Sun found more than 100 people have won court settlements stemming from allegations of police brutality and civil rights violations in the past four years.
The lawyers — Evans, Heather Pinkney, Jay Wyndell Gordon, Regina Scott, Ivan Bates, Derrick Hamlin and Brian McDaniel — offered tips.
Some were as common-sense as acting respectfully toward police. Others spoke to the seriousness of the trust deficit that exists between some officers and citizens.
Keeping your license and registration in your overhead visor instead of the glove compartment means you won't have to rummage for them — an act that could be misconstrued as reaching for a weapon, Pinkney advised. Then, even when the officer has requested them, say where they are and ask permission to get them, she said.
If an officer asks to search your car, she added, "the answer is always 'no.'"
Several of the lawyers repeated that civil rights battles are generally won in court — not by arguing with officers.
Teenagers Deshaun Clark, Antwan Hawkins and Kevin Bullock all said they found the advice informative and practical.
"It definitely is relevant and necessary," Bullock said. "There wasn't a better time for it to happen."
Tiffany Domneys, 42, said she constantly reminds her 24-year-old daughter to respect police and know her rights.
Baltimore, and other cities struggling with community-police relations, "need to have a dialogue" between the two, Domneys said.
Evans, who moderated the panel, called it an "excellent start," and said he is planning a follow-up in November that will bring officers and the community together to address the distrust that exists and how to bridge the gap.
An earlier version of this story misstated Michael Brown's age. The Sun regrets the error.