I would like to thank you for publishing such a timely piece in “Black Voices: Speak Up and Speak Out” and thank Ron Burton for writing it. I have been speaking out against the “bad apples” in law enforcement for decades. The advice in this column was timely and important. It was also incomplete.
When put in handcuffs, it is important to say the following: “I am exercising my right to remain silent and I want an attorney representing me and present at all times when I am being questioned.” Police are trained in ways to entrap. It is perfectly legal for the police to lie to you, and at the same time it is a crime for you to lie to them. Anything you do say can and will not only be used against you, but it will be twisted and convoluted to make it sound like you said things you absolutely did NOT say. Silence is your only friend. If they ask to search you or your car or anything else, deny consent. They will search anyway, but you are within your rights not to consent to a search. You must speak up and deny the consent. If you remain silent on either of these points, you tacitly imply consent to the search and to the police questioning you.
I did not make any of this up – it all comes from US Supreme Court decisions. There are videos galore on Youtube that are speeches given by actual attorneys, books written on this subject (my personal favorite is “You Have the Right To Remain Innocent:” by James Duane, a lawyer), you name it – the advice is out there. Your only protection is to say absolutely NOTHING except the two phrases above. This is the advice of dozens and hundreds of criminal defense attorneys, not me.
While Ron Burton’s column was specifically targeted to African Americans because they are the people most likely to be killed by the “bad apples” in the police Department; it is solid and good advice for everyone. Just because you are not in a group that is more LIKELY to be killed by the police doesn’t mean for one second that the cop pointing his gun at you will have any reservations about pulling the trigger. Whenever a cop comes up to me, my immediate thoughts are “I am about to die.” That is the unfortunate truth of a society that protects the bad apples instead of getting them out of the police force.
Steven Katz EA