I am anxious about the next time I get stopped by a police officer because I don't know what compliance means when you're Black in Minnesota.
Do I keep my hands on the steering wheel? Do I FaceTime loved ones so they can see everything as it unfolds? Am I allowed to reach into my pocket and grab my license? Should I?
"People of color, especially Black people, are already viewed by law enforcement as out of compliance," said Karen S. Glover, a sociology professor at California State University-San Marcos and the author of "Racial Profiling: Research, Racism, and Resistance." "That's where racial profiling comes from."
If I had recently moved to Minnesota, I would assume defiance toward police is allowed when you're white and compliance during encounters with law enforcement is only strictly required when you're Black. Derek Chauvin is in prison for murdering George Floyd and Daunte Wright was shot and killed by Kimberly Potter, who yelled, "Taser!" but instead fired her weapon.
Those who recite Wright's resistance — he was not violent toward the officers — to an arrest that stemmed from an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, per his conversation with his mother, and expired tabs, per Brooklyn Center police, refuse to acknowledge the white folks who also do not comply stay alive.
Luke Alvin Oeltjenbruns, according to a video of the incident in Hutchinson, Minn., drove off with a police officer hanging from his window during an attempted stop days after Wright was killed. And Paul Gorder, a Stillwater corrections officer, was placed on leave after the release of a video that showed his wife yelling racial slurs at a group of Black Lives Matter protesters outside the home of Washington County prosecutor Pete Orput. As a Stillwater police officer urged the couple to go home, Gorder stood in front of him and yelled, "Shut up!"
I know I would not have been allowed to go back into my house if I had acted with that same aggression toward law enforcement.
"This is just the standard we're concerned about when the person is not white," Brandie Burris, a second-year law student and the first African American editor-in-chief of the Minnesota Law Review, said about compliance during police encounters in Minnesota.
The documented discrepancies highlight a reality in policing: Officers can de-escalate a multitude of situations while also distinguishing, in real time, the difference between a life-threatening encounter and one that does not demand lethal force.
Wright, a young Black man, had already been marked once he fell into the legal system at an early age. On the last day of his life, the visibly frightened 20-year-old father had to determine why he was stopped and make a decision that should not have cost him his life. If, before stopping him, the officers had decided a Black man with an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror was a problem, then Wright had just seconds to counter their narrative.
It's those split-second, life-or-death choices that have prompted Burris and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota to take up careers that could help make the legal system safer for Black people.
"If the offense is a noncustodial offense, should the police really be able to arrest you if the worst you can get is a ticket and a fine?" Burris said during our recent conversation. "I don't think so, personally. If you miss a court date, should you automatically have a bench warrant out that puts you at risk? Can we find better ways to conduct and facilitate the processes of the criminal legal system? I don't think it can be just how compliance is viewed in a legal proceeding. I want to think about, 'How do we change the interaction in the first place?' "
That's where reform, in the future, will be tested in a place now known for police killings, with a police department under investigation by the Department of Justice, and multiple officers still set to face trials for killing unarmed Black people.
Glover, who is white, said real reform will demand a new outlook on the sanctity of policing. This is a generation that was raised on "Cops" and "Law & Order," shows that said the officer was always right. But this is now a place where former officers are in prison and the federal government is hovering. That means compliance during police encounters cannot be viewed as an absolute, especially for people of color.
"It's this belief system that says whites will be more compliant, less threatening," she said about the differences in police encounters for white people and Black people. "That's the ground all of this rests in."
I do not know how I will react the next time I get pulled over by an officer in Minnesota. But I will, for my safety, comply. That's what my father taught me.
But first, I'll grab my phone and I'll press record.