Know Your Rights When Confronted by the Police

TR: In August, Ferguson, Mo., police Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in a confrontation that began when the officer reportedly asked him and a friend to walk on the sidewalk instead of in the street. The incident ended in the shooting that ignited a firestorm of controversy, including weeks of fiery protests over excessive force and police brutality. Given this scenario, can citizens refuse to heed an officer’s command when they haven’t committed a crime and, well, walk away alive?

RS: My advice is to heed the officer’s command, even if someone has not committed a crime. It’s just not worth the risk. It is always best to remain polite and calm, and certainly never to physically resist a police officer.

Always ask the police officer if you can go. If the officer says yes, you have the right to remain silent or leave. If the officer says no, it means you are being detained for questioning. In this instance, you should say, “I am going to remain silent,” and request a lawyer.

Just because you have rights in your interactions with the police and choose to exercise them does not mean that the agents or police will follow the law and respect those rights. That’s why it’s advisable to remain calm, polite and cooperative, even when you know they are wrong. Challenging police misconduct should not be done on the street. It is better to do it in court afterwards. If you believe the police have violated your rights, call your local ACLU affiliate as soon as you can.