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The National Bar Association’s D.C chapter convened a recent forum urging African Americans to not only discuss recent police violence in Ferguson, Mo., New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere, but also to encourage residents to step up and make a change in their own neighborhoods.

The National Bar Association, in partnership with the Social Justice and Community Outreach Ministry of Shiloh Baptist Church, held a panel discussion entitled, “Know Your Rights (When Dealing with the Police)—Facilitating Awareness, Action, & Advocacy for Justice,” at Shiloh in Northwest D.C. on Aug. 23.

The panel consisted of professionals that have dealt with situations such as the Michael Brown incident, and those who have experienced incidents such as these personally.

The panelists included retired U.S. District Court for the District of Md. Judge Alexander Williams, Trial Attorney for the D.C. Office of the Attorney General Joel Braithwaite, Advancement Project Director Thena Robinson Mock, West Virginia University Law School Assoc. Prof. Arthur Rizer, and Assistant General Counsel for the NAACP Khyla Craine. Dionna Lewis, judicial law clerk for the D.C. Superior Court, moderated the event.

The panelists began by giving their thoughts on the recent incidents of police-involved violence.

“I think there is such a strong reaction to the Michael Brown incident because this is not the first time this has happened,” Craine told the crowd, referring to the shootings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.


Protester in Ferguson, Missouri. (AP Photo)

The shooting death of Michael Brown upset many people on the panel and in the crowd.

“We need to get involved in our local communities to find solutions,” Craine said.  “Voting is a big way to get involved and make a difference.

Rizer, the only White representative on the panel, said he knows that he “can’t relate to a lot of the feelings and emotions that African Americans are going through.”

“I think it’s a matter of trust,” Rizer told the audience.  “People don’t trust the police anymore.”

Braithwaite said, “While we’re talking about Ferguson, this is a national issue.”

“Racial profiling is a real problem in this country and always has been,” Williams added.

The panelists also gave advice on how to deal with the police.

“I think the way we hire police officers today is insane,” Williams said.  “I had a friend that tried to be a police officer but was denied because his I.Q. was too high. I had another that was rejected, because he took a personality test that said he wasn’t aggressive enough.”

Williams said he believes many of the young Black males who were killed by police were profiled.

“Tinted cars, playing loud music that may be offensive to officers, sagging pants all attract officers,” Williams said, with a disgusted look on his face.

The panelists dispensed advice about what to do when stopped by law enforcement, either in your car or while walking.  That advice included asking for a lawyer immediately, staying calm, carrying your I.D. at all times, keeping your hands where officers can see them, taking photos if you are injured and remembering the officer’s name and badge number. They also told the crowd what not to do, including not running, not touching the officer, and remaining silent if necessary.

Courtney Jacobs

AFRO Staff Writer