There are four levels of police encounter, the trainer, standing at the front of the room, told the 10 people gathered around the table. It was an evening in late June, in a meeting room on the fourth floor of a community center in Crown Heights, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. A spacious mural of a community scene decorated the wall, with the image of a young man holding a sign that read “Fair & Just.”
The first, most basic level is an approach, said Djibril Toure, who was conducting a Know Your Rights training session for the Brooklyn Movement Center. Toure explained: Imagine a police officer comes up to you and asks, “Hey, how are you doing today? Do you live in this building?” Or, “Hey, can I see some ID?” Even if you feel you have not done anything wrong, anything illegal, Toure told the class, you must remain calm. He repeatedly reminded his students that they have the power of consent, and after a police encounter, the right to file a complaint. Over the nearly 90-minute workshop, he then walked the class through escalating levels of police encounters, including if a police officer asks to search your property or your person, and possible arrest.
The conversation in the meeting room that evening is part of an ongoing national discourse propelled by reports of stifling over-policing in black neighborhoods, and deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement. Days after the training session, the nation lamented the officer-involved shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Then came the killings of five police officers in a shooting in Dallas, Texas, and three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.