Dwayne Bryant won't guarantee his book will keep you alive, but he does guarantee it will keep you safer.
The author, educator and motivational speaker recently published The STOP, an instructive guide on how to handle interactions with police. Bryant, an African-American living in Chicago — a city often associated with violence and poor relations between police and community — is taking a novel approach to repairing police interactions.
"We all learn from encounters and daily experiences, so when I have an opportunity to engage with law enforcement, this is my opportunity to teach that officer who I am, what I am, what I am about," Bryant told A Plus. "What I try to tell the young people that I work with is that it doesn't matter whether the officer is racist or is unprofessional, you also have power in that encounter, and you can help dictate the outcome."
While Bryant says it's frustrating to see Chicago so often associated with crime, he also understands the sheer statistics of violent crime in the city gives people reason for concern. To him, it seems like communities are unwilling to discuss their responsibility and instead pin everything on the officers.
And that's not to say police aren't largely responsible when something goes wrong. Chicago PD recently underwent a Justice Department investigation that exposed the frequent use of unnecessary force and a disturbing pattern of racism amongst its officers. For Bryant, it's a reminder that police still bear the majority of that responsibility in any interaction.
"They are trained, they've been sworn in, they should have the duty to protect and serve," Bryant said. "But we also have a responsibility as well."
Bryant's message is rather simple: regardless of what kind of cop you run into, your own actions are going to help dictate how the scenario plays out. Many of Bryant's students say, "I can do everything right but a racist cop will still kill me." Which, in certain, tragic situations, may be true. It's a reality that demands to be addressed immediately.
But that doesn't mean it's impossible to reduce the risks involved in interacting with police.
"If you meet this racist officer then you need to be mindful of compliance, you need to mindful of checking your attitude, you need to mindful of your words, your body language," Bryant said. "What I tell them is calm your tone, calm your body language, don't run, don't reach for anything, be calm, be pleasant, even if you have to talk yourself into it. Don't give them a reason to escalate the situation. Sometimes those kinds of officers are looking to escalate the situation, they are looking to provoke you."
The idea for his book came when Bryant was doing a workshop on bullying for 4th, 5th and 6th graders at Drake Elementary school on the south side of Chicago. Out of curiosity, he proposed a hypothetical scenario for the students: what would you do if you were playing on the playground, not doing anything wrong, and you saw a police car drive by or a cop approaching?
Students, he said, answered in unison: "run!"
Bryant, thinking that he was being misunderstood, explained the scenario again — this time emphasizing that the kids were doing nothing wrong at all when the cop approached. Their answer didn't change. They reasoned that if they didn't have to interact with the cop, they probably wouldn't get shot, or wouldn't have trouble getting home, or wouldn't be bothered.
One student, an older boy, suggested that he wouldn't run, but that if the cop disrespected him, he'd disrespect the officer right back.
"I'm thinking, 'oh my God, these kids natural responses is what's going to make them look like criminals, it's what's going to make the police more aggressive,'" Bryant said.
A few months later, Bryant was involved in a police encounter that went viral on Facebook after he was pulled over for a speeding ticket. The officer told him he could have been fined more than $400 or gone to jail for reckless driving (he was doing 20 miles per hour over the speed limit and changed lanes without a turn signal), but instead gave him $150 ticket.
Bryant, sensing a teaching moment, asked the officer for a picture so he could show his students. He explained that he wanted them to know being respectful and honest, even when you're wrong, could improve an interaction with a cop and help make the situation better for yourself. In response, the officer — after being on the force for 8 years and writing close to 7,000 tickets without ever handing out a warning — ripped up Bryant's ticket and issued him a warning.
"You want to be strategic," Bryant said. "You want to have a strategy. And you want to have a plan. Answer the question that's being asked. Understand what your rights are. Empower yourself to know that... I teach my students to be powerful, not powerless."
In many ways, though, Bryant's book goes beyond just interacting with police. STOP is actually an acronym, not just an allusion to police interactions. Support the Teaching of Principals.
"I want us to be able to start having conversations again," Bryant said. "Right now, everyone is so divided. No one is talking anymore. Why don't we come together as a community so we can make this world, this country a better place?"
Cover photo: Dwayne Bryant
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