All Deliberate Speed: Traveling in Missouri

Note: This was originally a standalone facebook post addressing driving while black in Missouri in 2017.


As you may know, the Missouri NAACP chapter, with the full support of the national NAACP board, issued a travel advisory for the state of Missouri.

Due to long standing, systemic patterns of discrimination (you are 75% more likely to be stopped by police if you are black) and recent developments making it harder to prove and get restitution for being discriminated against, the venerable civil rights organization says “beware” when traveling here.

If you have a choice of visiting Missouri or not, you can choose to go elsewhere. If you live here avoiding reality is not an option.

Therefore i would like to share some principles which have proven effective for me and may be helpful to you. Feel free to share other tips and tricks in the comments below.

(If you don’t agree with the NAACP travel advisory or if you believe these discussions are unnecessary, this is not the thread to have that debate.)

These suggestions will not make you invulnerable to harm, invisible to detection or able to prove your innocence beyond unreasonable doubt.

Indeed, these suggestions are more about being organized and prepared for the worse case scenario, where you are confronted by an agent of the state who is determined not to follow the law.

And while preparing, you can hope and pray for the best.

Somethings to keep in mind:

a.) Law enforcement officers are the most powerful governmental officials you will encounter. They possess a broad swath of discretionary power as they go about their duties; from not stopping you at all to letting you off with a warning, to issuing you a certain ticket to killing you if they are afraid. That discretion can work against you or in your favor.

b.) Its important to know your rights and be able to verbally defend yourself in the context of those rights. Its also important to remember that you are encountering another human being and so there are ways to avoid a confrontation and a bad interaction if the officer is not deadset on harassing you.

c.) You are innocent until proven guilty. Therefore you are innocent until proven guilty. Which means you are innocent until proven guilty. This can not be emphasized enough.

d.) In this society you do not enjoy the “benefit of the doubt”. You should possess this benefit just like members of the majority but the fact is you don’t. Operate wisely within this reality while not accepting the inequality as just, right or routine.

e.) You have the right to remain innocent. Which means you should not volunteer information. A traffic stop is not a social occasion, no matter how friendly the officer is. When a police officer detains you it means you are subject to their authority. Anything you say, even if its misunderstood, can and will be used against you in the best of circumstances. Now imagine the worse possible scenario and the wisdom of saying only what is necessary becomes clear.

f.) Pick your battles. Don’t be provoked into a protest or confrontation. Decide on your terms before you are stopped or detained how you will choose to respond. But try never to be pushed into a reactive stance.

g.) Never lie. Never confess to something you did not do, no matter how “small”. It will not help you and will harm you in the medium and long term.

Ok. Here are some practical suggestions.

1.) Some cars today resemble the cockpit of an aircraft or spaceship. So treat it like “your ship”. Make sure you know how well your car is functioning before you leave. Have a checklist. Are your turn signals working? Is your tail light intact or busted? Can your license plate be clearly seen? Knowing what’s right and what’s wrong when you are stopped for a non-moving violation gives you an advantage. You’re less likely to be unnerved or surprised if you already know that your lights are functioning and things are in order.

2.) Know your neighborhood, your city and your region. You have the right to go anywhere. That does not mean you should go everywhere or be caught “there” after a certain time. If you really “know” your area and the general characteristics of your local law enforcement, you can avoid problems or understand what you’re dealing with when something does happen.

3.) Get a lawyer before you need one. You don’t need to have them on retainer but have one or two attorneys that you’ve vetted and researched and are reasonably confident they are skillful and honorable. If the worse case happens you don’t want to make a crucial decision, like selecting counsel, under duress.

4.) Have family contingency plans for various emergencies which allow you to avoid interacting with police as much as possible. Do you have roadside assistance? If you can, get it. Who can you call to bail you out of jail? Do you have a spare tire? A gas can? Emergency contact? Babysitter for the kids? A trusted person with a spare key and their own car? A printed map? When you have a plan, you have a path.

5.) Get a dashcam camera or a cradle for your smartphone to record your interactions with law enforcement. Have more than one recording source and make sure at least one of them sends the media to “the cloud” or online storage. Dashcam cameras are becoming more common in documenting accidents. But they can also be useful for recording traffic stops.

6) Have all your paperwork (insurance, registration, etc.) all in one place, organized and easily accessible. There are inexpensive document pouches where you can place your papers and store in your glove compartment.

7.) Its important to be vigilant, prepared and concerned. Don’t let your thoughts and feelings devolve into fear or unthinking anger. Pray for protection, wisdom and guidance. Don’t ignore impressions which direct you away from certain situations or places or people, no matter how comfortable you may feel.

8.) Understand police culture and let your actions and words be informed by that knowledge. Police are trained to be afraid of traffic stops, for practical and for political reasons. You can maintain your dignity and self-respect while at the same time taking reasonable measures to indicate to the officer you mean no harm. Also understand that police officers view your response to their authority as an indication of whether you are benign or a danger. And they are trained in a typical interaction with you that in order to maintain their own safety and (to a lesser degree) your safety, they must maintain control of the interaction. Not all officers allow these considerations to be the overarching concern but its important to understand this mindset.

9.) Also, many police officers *hate* stopping people on the road and are looking for any good reason not to stop you. And if they have to stop you they don’t want to be there all day.

10.) Check if there are any outstanding traffic tickets or warrants for arrest under your name. Again, even if you have never done anything wrong in your life, this check arms you with information. Take care of outstanding issues as soon as possible.

11.) Know your rights and the responsibilities of law enforcement. For example, police officers are not required to tell the truth in their interactions with you. In Missouri you must give consent to be searched unless for some reason you have no standing to contest the search or they have “probable cause”. They can claim probable cause due to “furtive movements” (it appears you are trying to hide contraband) or “admissions by the defendant” based on something you said. (Which is why you should only speak when absolutely necessary and answer questions simply and without embellishments and extra details.)

12.) If you are going to be arrested or detained

turn off your phone immediately

. (Its better and more secure to use a password or a six digit pin to lock your phone. Police can compel you to unlock your phone if protected by the fingerprint scanner. They can not force you to surrender your passcode.)

13.) Actively teach your family how to deal with law enforcement and how to handle being pulled over or “stop and frisk” episodes. Roll playing is not a bad idea. And having family members take on different roles during a stop (spokesperson, notetaker/active observer, media recorder, etc.) may be a good idea as well.

14.) Pray for your safety, the safety of your friends and family and the safety of first responders. Also pray for wisdom to know how best to work to make things better in your community.

It is not fair that black families and others have to take these precautions just to travel. Its better to be safe than sorry though.

i deliberately did not go into how to talk with a police officer during a traffic stop or the best way to rest your hands. The items on these lists are simply some principles which you can adapt to your circumstances and personality.

Anything to add? Please leave some wisdom in the comments.


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