When interacting with the police, don't be a R.A.T., advised Judge LaDoris Cordell, speaking before about 200 children, teens and adults at the Menlo Park clubhouse of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula.
R.A.T., she said, is an acronym for the three things you should never do when you're approached by a police officer: run, argue with, or touch.
In her May 13 talk, she explained how simple it is for young people to become part of the criminal justice system, simply by not knowing what to do when approached by a police officer.
Even if lights and sirens or a police uniform trigger in those being approached a fight-or-flight response, flight is not a good option. Running from a police officer is an automatic misdemeanor, she said. It is considered an act of evasion from a police officer.
Don't argue with a police officer, she said. That too can lead to a misdemeanor in the form of obstruction of justice.
Never touch a police officer was her third piece of advice. Any touch, or attempt to touch, of a police officer is a crime, she said. Those can become the crimes of battery and assault. Battery she said, by definition just means an unlawful touch, and assault legally means an attempt to commit a battery.
Her remarks took place during the 18th annual "Vision Quest," a workshop hosted by Crime Prevention Narcotics Drugs Education Center to instruct local youth on a range of topics. This is the third consecutive year the workshop has focused on safe interactions with the police.
The center was founded by Pastor Hattie L. Bostic, who also founded the Mt. Olive Apostolic Original Holy Church of God. After she died, her son, Teman Bostic took the reins of both the church and the crime prevention center until he died in February 2016. Even though he is gone, event planner Wanda Haynes said: "We're still working. The crime prevention center is thriving. We want the community to know."
Judge Cordell has had an extensive career in local legal work and advocacy: she was the first lawyer to start a practice in East Palo Alto after attending Stanford Law School and has worked as dean of the law school to improve minority enrollment. She also served on the Palo Alto City Council, worked as a Superior Court judge, and as an independent police auditor in San Jose.
Know the rules
Judge Cordell recommended that people become familiar with the Menlo Park Police Department's policy manual. Each police department has its own policy manual, she said, and rules can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Learning the nuances of one's city's police department can provide protection.
Read the Menlo Park police manual online.
Police have a right to detain you if they have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, she said. People should ask if they are being detained by politely asking "Am I free to go?"
People should know they can ask the police officer who approaches them for their name and badge number, she said. People have a right to file a complaint against police officers they think have mistreated them. People also have a right to record police actions, she said. Menlo Park Police Commander William Dixon, who attended the event, added that every officer is supposed to wear a body camera when interacting with the public.
Judge Cordell tied her remarks to the Black and Brown Lives Matter movement.
She gave a brief history of what African American life has been like in the U.S. With a history of 246 years of slavery, 100 years of Jim Crow law, and 51 years of "mounting oppression," Ms. Cordell said, black lives have been under a "constant battle to survive."
"Brown lives" – she used the phrase to primarily refer to Latino people in this context – should be included in the movement, she said, because they, too, have a pedigree of oppression by the U.S. government. Between 1929 and 1936, she said, an estimated 1.2 million Mexican-American citizens were deported to Mexico in a process called "repatriation."
Myra Grant, who lives in the East Bay but comes to Menlo Park to attend Mt. Olive AOH church, listened to the talk with her toddler-aged daughter on her lap. She says she'll remember the R.A.T. acronym, but added that the "not arguing" part may be a challenge for her.
Jesse Rattler Jr., who grew up in the area but now lives in the East Bay, said he liked how Ms. Cordell described the movement.
"Of course all lives matter," he said. "But it's the black lives that are dying."