Barry Saunders

Saunders: ‘Yes, officer’ works well for traffic stop

In my favorite Broadway musical “Guys & Dolls,” Sky Masterson was asked why he never married.

No percentages in it, he said.

That’s my philosophy when it comes to talking trash to cops: no percentages in it.

There have been days when I felt – and some of you may have, too – that I was just about the dumbest danged dude God’s ever made, running through the streets of Rockingham naked, doing everything this side of following ants as they crawl across the ground and other acts that defy explanation.

One thing I’ve never done, though – and I defy anyone to prove otherwise – is talk back to or confront cops after being pulled over in a car.

That may be why I’m alive today, B.J. Council, a retired deputy police chief with the Durham Police Department, told me last week. Council is now sharing her knowledge with groups of young people to, she said, teach them how to act when they encounter law enforcement, to keep them alive.

“The theme,” she said, “is compliance, because you want to survive the interaction.”


Council, who retired as a cop after 30 years, said her presentations “are for anybody, but my passion is for juveniles who are on the cusp” of getting sucked into the judicial system.

“Some communities have young kids who, the only thing they’ve ever seen police do is come in and take mom and dad to jail. If that’s all they know, they’re not going to trust law enforcement. That’s one of the things we’re going to talk about.”

Council said she has been stopped by cops while off duty, “and it’s stressful.” Still, she said, “you need to check your attitude, take a deep breath. You’re not going to win that situation, no matter what.”

While on duty, she said, she has had “people hanging out the car door cursing me out” as she returned to her cruiser after writing them a ticket. I confessed that I’ve cursed many cops, but only after they were miles down the road and the car windows were rolled up.

Shea Cleveland, project director for the Family Resource Center in Raleigh, said her group “in light of what’s been happening nationally, started a workshop with the Raleigh Organization Against Racism (ROAR) and the ACLU to teach youth about their Miranda rights and the proper way to interact with law enforcement.”

The “Rights and Responsibilities” workshop is 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church, 3313 Wade Ave. It will try to teach young people “what to say and, more importantly, what not to say” if they’re stopped, she said.

Council’s “You & 5-O” presentation will be at 4 p.m. Monday at Project BUILD, the gang prevention and intervention group at 721 Foster St., Durham. For you squares, “5-O” is slang for the police. Book ’em, Dan-O.

Like Council, Cleveland said her program is “specifically for black and brown” – it’ll have Spanish interpreters – “but it’s open to all youth” who want to know how to act when stopped.

I asked Council about an example of a routine cop stop going fatally wrong, the case of Sandra Bland in Texas. Bland was stopped this summer allegedly for not giving a signal prior to making a turn in her car, an argument ensued and Bland was found dead in a jail cell three days later. Her death was ruled a suicide.

What, if anything, did Bland do wrong?

“She didn’t do anything ‘wrong,’” Council said. “She did not have to do that” – put out her cigarette when the cop ordered her to – “but if you see that the officer has an attitude or is getting anxious, annoyed, I’m going to put the cigarette out so I can go ahead and get out of here.”

Bland could have then filed a complaint with the officer’s superiors later if she felt she had been mistreated, Council said.

The reality is that we ought to be able to stand up for our rights, to respectfully voice our opinions even on a bridge if we feel our rights are being abridged.

But there’s a gulf between what is and what should be, between reality and ideally.

That’s why, when I’m pulled over, I turn into just about the most acquiescent S.O.B.S. – scared of being shot – you’ll ever see.

In the immortal words of Mudbone, you don’t get to be old by being a fool or, he could’ve added, by jawing with a cop.

There’s a place to do that, and it’s never on the side of the road.