Columnists Lekan Oguntoyinbo Opinion

Reacting with dignity and respect may help curb abuses by police

Like many people, I was horrified by video footage of a beefy, white police officer seizing a slight, bikini-clad black female teenager, slamming her to the ground and pinning her down with his knee in a subdivision in McKinney, Texas.

Kudos to the city’s police chief for swiftly opening an investigation into this incident and for placing the officer on administrative leave.

But like many of the other high-profile conflicts between people of color and police, there are some things about the aggrieved parties that concern me.

The facts of the case are still trickling in, but this is what has been reported so far: residents called the cops after seeing a party at the neighborhood pool get out of hand. Apparently, the use of the pool is restricted to the subdivision’s residents, who are only allowed to have two guests at a time. After the party began, there were reports of dozens of other kids of color jumping the fence to join the party, followed by disturbances that ultimately led to the cops being called.

I’m starting to sense a pattern:

• Eric Garner, a middle-aged father, was killed by a team of NYPD cops during a scuffle last year. The cops apparently had tried to arrest Garner on charges of selling individual cigarettes on the streets. He resisted and the officers subdued him with a chokehold that led to his death.

• Michael Brown, the Ferguson, Missouri, teenager who may have punched a police officer before being shot dead, reportedly had robbed a convenience store before the confrontation with the police officer.

• Walter Scott, the South Carolina man who was shot in the back earlier this year while fleeing a police officer, also had scuffled with the cop before taking off.

• Freddie Gray, a Baltimore man who died in the custody of Baltimore police, also fled officers after spotting them, even though he apparently wasn’t doing anything wrong the night he was arrested.

See the point?

For the last half-century, much has been made much about police brutality and about teaching cops how to work with minority communities. And that is as it should be. After all, we live in a nation built on hate.

But if we are to improve relations between cops and communities of color, if we are determined to save more lives, we, too, must learn how to work with officers of the law and navigate this legacy of hate that is all too alive and well.

When teaching members of our community how to work with law enforcement personnel some talking points must be standard. Points like: Don’t put your hands on a cop, don’t resist arrest, don’t run, don’t mouth off, live a life beyond reproach.

Of course, heeding these suggestions alone won’t guarantee immunity from harassment, beatings or shootings by cops who bring their own biases to the job. Nearly every person of color has a story about being treated unfairly by a police officer even when they were doing the right thing.

A few months ago, a friend of mine was taking a leisurely pre-dinner walk in his affluent subdivision in suburban Atlanta when several patrol cars suddenly surrounded him. The officers jumped out with guns pointed at him. They claimed they’d gotten a report about a black male walking through the neighborhood and acting in a menacing manner.

In 2004, a day after giving an electrifying keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, a young Chicago politician with a promising future was pulled out of the boarding line at the airport and searched extensively in what was clearly a case of racial profiling. His furious white aides started to make a stink, but State Sen. Barack Obama gently directed them to leave it alone.

No, doing the right thing consistently won’t end our community’s problems with cops. But it will give us the moral high ground.

And in these kinds of battles, those with the moral high ground always win.

Lekan Oguntoyinbo, an independent journalist and communications consultant, is a featured columnist for the Los Angeles Wave. Contact him at