You See the Blue Lights: What Next? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

You See the Blue Lights: What Next?

To some, the question of police harassment is simple: If you're doing something wrong, the police should be able to stop you, no matter what. And if you're not drunk, why not just take the Breathalyzer test rather than "act guilty" by refusing?

Well, the American way is that you're innocent until proven guilty—and that police should not be able to harass you and violate your privacy—even if you would be proved ultimately guilty—unless they have clear evidence or, in the case of police stops, probable cause. It is also true that people tend to care more about probable cause after they've been the one in the hot seat.

When he was pulled over in Madison County, for no apparent reason, he says, David L. Archie was guilty of at least one thing: the deputy found that he had a suspended license. But, Archie believes, his rights were violated in the first place because there was no reason to pull him over. The deputy, he believes, took a gamble that he would be guilty of something. (The deputy did not return phone calls.)

"It's intimidating, and it's a violation of privacy rights to be pulled over for no reason," Mississippi ACLU Executive Director Nsombi Lambright said. "Law enforcement's job is to protect and to serve."

At the Aug. 10 town hall meeting called by Archie to charge racial profiling, JPD officer Kevin Lavine spoke to the audience—which was overwhelmingly black and young—about their rights and how to deal with being stopped. "If you're ever stopped by the police department, pull over when it's convenient and safe. Put on your signal and let the officer know you see him." He added: "Ladies, if you're afraid, drive to a well-lighted area and then pull over."

Always turn on your overhead light immediately and place your hands on the steering wheel, he said. If the police car has cameras, the light will illuminate the proceedings for the camera. And leave your seatbelt on until the officer approaches. You have a right to inquire why you were stopped, but, Lavine warned, "do not try to fight the case right on the side of the road. ... You want to have your day in court." He added, "On the side of the road, you will not win. … Put the burden of proof on that officer."

Lavine gave props to the Ridgeland police and Chief Jimmy Houston, in particular. "I guarantee he'll get it straight," he said. But, as a black man, he also respected the fears of the audience—many young men who say they are routinely stopped because they are young and black. "I know you feel angry when you get stopped and nothing is wrong," Lavine said. But he encouraged them to think clearly and not to do something stupid out of fear.

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