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What to Do If You Get Pulled Over by a Cop and You’re Legally Armed

Justice for Philando!
Justice for Philando!
Jason D. Williamson,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project
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July 11, 2016

This piece originally appeared at TIME.

Last summer, in the wake of the arrest and tragic death of Sandra Bland, following what should have been a routine traffic stop in Prairie View, Texas, I encouraged readers to understand their legal rights, but cautioned them not to “give the police an excuse to mistreat [them] or pile on additional charges.”

Among my suggestions were the reminders that you have the right to remain silent, you don’t have to consent to have your car searched, you have the right to ask the police whether you’re free to go if you haven’t been arrested, and if you are arrested, you have the right to ask for an attorney — which you should do immediately. I also stressed the importance of staying calm.

While I stand by that advice, the killing of Philando Castile outside of St. Paul, Minn., last week — again in the context of a routine traffic stop — serves as a gut-wrenching and infuriating reminder that, particularly for Black men in this country, playing by the rules is often not enough.

The sad irony of Mr. Castile’s death is that, if asked how motorists should conduct themselves if they are legally armed when the police pull them over for a suspected traffic violation, my answer would be to do essentially what Mr. Castile reportedly did.

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