Tonight I attended a forum at my school about racial profiling. I heard various opinions about what people think it is, how to confront it, and what should be done if it happens. The theme of the night was sustaining the energy and outrage—when profiling does occur—so that change can be brought to the situation. The idea of using situations of profiling (or other situations of that bring shock to the multitudes) to create opportunities of mobilization makes sense to me. It also seems to be a pattern that once a couple weeks pass by, people tend to forget about a situation and the occasion to bring positive transformation gets lost. I saw this happen a week after the earthquake in Haiti hit. Or when I think back to Jena 6, how no one really cared about it after it became “old news.”

Overall, the lesson from the night, at least when it came to racial profiling when dealing with the police was knowing your rights. When I worked with the ACLU last Summer we would explain to people what their rights were when dealing with the police. Here are some tips to take into account is you are ever stopped by the police.

What to do if you’re stopped by the police

Think carefully about your words, movement, body language, and emotions. Don’t get into an argument with the police. Remember, anything you say or do can be used against you. Keep your hands where the police can see them. Don’t run. Don’t touch any police officer. Don’t resist even if you believe you are innocent. Don’t complain on the scene or tell the police they’re wrong or that you’re going to file a complaint. Do not make any statements regarding the incident . You also should not lie to a police officer.

Ask for a lawyer immediately upon your arrest. Remember officers’ badge & patrol car numbers. Write down everything you remember ASAP. Try to find witnesses & their names & phone numbers. If you are injured, take photographs of the injuries as soon as possible, but make sure you seek medical attention first. If you feel your rights have been violated, file a written complaint with the police department’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board, or call the ACLU.

What you say to the police is always important. What you say can be used against you, and it can give the police an excuse to arrest you, especially if you badmouth a police officer. You don’t have to answer any questions, with one important exception: the police may ask for your name, address, and date of birth if you have been properly detained, and you can be arrested for refusing to give this information.

You should never consent to any search of yourself, your car or your house. If you DO consent to a search, it can affect your rights later in court. If the police say they have a search warrant, ASK TO SEE IT. Do not interfere with or obstruct the police – you can be arrested for it.


1. You are required to provide your name, address, and date of birth if a law enforcement officer asks. You may refuse to answer any additional questions.

2. Police may “pat-down” your clothing if they suspect you are carrying a concealed weapon. You may not physically resist, but you should clearly state that you do not consent to any search.

3. Ask if you are under arrest. If you are, you have a right to know why.

4. Don’t badmouth a police officer or run away, even if you believe what is happening is unreasonable. This could lead to your arrest.