Cop Gives Tips on “Driving While Black”

ZAK STONE PHOTO When NHPD officer Shafiq Abdussabur goes to make an arrest, he keeps at least two pairs of handcuffs in his squad car: one for the suspect and the other for the suspect’s mom when she starts to “act up.”

If New Haveners follow the advice of Driving While Black: A Black Man’s Guide to Law Enforcement in America– Abdussabur’s newly released advice book on how to avoid unnecessary arrests– he will be able to leave the extra pairs of cuffs in the station.

One activist present at a book event Saturday argued that changes in behavior need to come from the cops’ end as well.

Abdussabur discussed and read excerpts from his book at the event at Monterey Place’s community center.

With chapters like “How to Survive the Common Motor Vehicle Arrest” and “Using Proper Etiquette When You are Speaking to the Police,” Abdussabur’s book attempts to educate readers, young black men in particular, about their rights when they get pulled over by the police. The book provides a “fool-proof plan” for “emerging unscathed” from a routine motor vehicle violation, said the author.

Activist Barbara Fair, who offered Abdussabur feedback on the book’s manuscript before it was published, said that it concentrates on “what we [the citizens] need to do. It’s not addressing what the officers need to do” to defuse tension and avoid racial profiling.

Having experienced many of the same scenarios described in the book, Fair said, she believes that problems can escalate because the cops “come with an attitude.” At one point she told Abdussabur, “You’re talking as if the officer approaches in a graceful manner.”

When interacting with the police, “Be very, very polite,” Abdussabur insisted. He explained that when the cops pull someone over, a routine stop can quickly escalate into a serious conflict that terminates with an arrest or the use of force if the driver is uncooperative and mouths off. While racial profiling is a factor that stokes such conflicts, Abdussabur said, a driver’s good attitude can go a long way, whether or not a cop is in the right.

He said that cops already know if they’re going to give someone a ticket within the first 15 seconds of pulling that person over. Turn the music off, put the cigarette out, and don’t do anything to “give the officer a reason to develop a profile about you,” Abdussabar advises.

Reading from his book’s section “Ma! You Ain’t Helping! – When Family Comes on the Scene & Gets Locked Up Too,”  Abdussabur urged family members of a detained suspect to avoid arguing with the cops. Such negotiations are useless once a suspect is already under arrest, explains the book.

“Bottom line; your mom is too late! But with all of the yelling and cursing at the police, she is right on time for an arrest,” Abdussabur read.

Fair said in her experience, the source of the conflict is often the police, hassling he mothers of arrestees who are simply trying to find out what their sons did wrong.

Abdussabur agreed that officers receive insufficient “sensitivity training” to operate cross-culturally, whether they are pulling over a black male, an elderly person, a deaf person, or a rabbi. “As long as there is no education, we’re going to keep having these conflicts” between the police and the community, he said.

Abdussabur said that there is “still an epidemic” of police violence against unarmed black males. Memories of the excessive use of force by officers– which left Malik Jones dead at the hands of East Haven police in 1997, for example–can take a generation to fade, he said. Abdussabur said that officers ought to be more aware that anger over past cases of police brutality against black males still shapes the way that many New Haven residents respond to the police.

Fair said that many people in the Monterey neighborhood still feel “occupied by the cops,” despite the efforts of community-based policing. She said many neighbors think the police are corrupt. They still discuss the case of Billy White, the police lieutenant who received a three-year prison sentence for corruption charges in 2007. People tend to take this anger out on “all officers,” she said, which is “sad, because there are some really good officers out there,” like Abdussabur

Abdussabur has felt such resentment during his 14-year career as a cop. This Christmas Eve he was patrolling in Morris Cove and stopped to stand guard at a corner store. Although about 50 customers passed by,  “not one person said Merry Christmas,” he said. “It was like I was potato chips.”

Abdussabur is now in the process of getting his book’s information out there to those who need it most: New Haven’s teens. He recently lectured at Hillhouse, where many students reported driving without a license. He told students how to respond if they got pulled over without a license and referred them to a chapter in his book. He said that kids should never run from the cops in these scenarios, which “only makes it worse.”

His next goal is to meet with superintendents of area schools and leaders of youth probation organizations to organize workshops and incorporate the book into class curricula.

Abdussabur said the hopes to publish six more books–one every 18 months–on other urban themes, like gun violence and an analysis of community policing initiatives. He said that his next book will be “a handbook on raising urban males.” Abdussabur is the founder of the Omar Academy, an Islamic boarding school for boys, and CTRIBAT, an anti-violence youth empowerment organization.

He would love to combine his love for writing with his passion for community work by starting a community “art and literature center,” he said. He envisions a place where people could come together to discuss their writing and learn about the process of getting work published. In 1989 Abdussabur founded Bold Minds, a social enterprise that carved and sold wood medallions.

He said that he was proud to debut the book in “the same neighborhood I grew up in,” since it shows the potential of local people to achieve.

The book is published by Wheatmark Book Publishers and sells for $16.95.

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posted by: nfjanette on January 25, 2010  1:39pm

Memories of the excessive use of force by officers– which left Malik Jones dead at the hands of East Haven police in 1997, for example–can take a generation to fade, he said.
Shafiq Abdussabur has provided a great service with his book.  However, every time NHI publishes this distortion of history it must be rebuked.  Malik Jones made choices that lead to his tragic death including the operation of a motor vehicle - a potentially deadly weapon - after he was ordered to stop by police officers.  As the recent police shooting in New Haven also shows, the use of potentially deadly force in such situations is, regrettably, appropriate when required.

posted by: Insider on January 25, 2010  5:25pm

Amazing,....wow,..i thought there was a general order within the NHPD requiring permission from a supervisor and or the chief discussing police related issues/investigations with the media???? like everything else with the walls of the NHPD,..selective enforcement???

posted by: The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 26, 2010  8:03pm

This is patently ridiculous! For a New Haven Police Officer to suggest that African-American Male drivers should learn some special rules about engaging police officers is to say that the often illicit behavior of the cops should be acknowledged and accepted as immutable givens that cannot and should not be changed. 

It would be distressing for any citizen to make such a claim, but for an officer of the law to do so says something is seriously amiss in the minds of those who patrol the streets of this city.

Driving while Black should be no different than Driving while White. And officers who would buy into the notion that there is a difference should be working to change this racist behavior.  The cops certainly should not be perpetuating the inherency of such attitudes and actions, by promoting “tools” for Black drivings to use, which are, apparently, unnecessary for white drivings to use, or to even be concerned about.

But I guess the most disturbing part of this that the books author seems to think that he’s helping and not contributing to a practice that should be ended and not defended or perpetuated in any way.

posted by: Hamilton on January 28, 2010  1:55am

This would be ridiculous if it were not so necessary. If you grow up in a degenerate culture and you’re not taught to respect the law and be civil, you will learn eventually, probably the hard way. At least he’s contributing a solution.

posted by: Willie Williams Jr on January 29, 2010  1:01pm

If It’s A Book. It Should Be Included With The Constitutional Trainning ALL Get In College. Since I Have Met Sooo..Many That Claimed They Have A Masters Degree In Law. Pass It On To ALL Police Officers Nationwide. If He Want’s To Create Problems, He’s Gonna Do It Anyway. The State of Connecticut Don’t Care About No Book, The Law Is Already Codified. When People Start Carrying Cameras and Vidoe Cameras Transmitting Instantly, We Won’t Know.