Erie Community College's city campus played host Wednesday to a forum known as "Pulled Over," during which participants discussed how to educated one's self on their rights in relation to police encounters. They were also advised on what to do, and what not to do, in the event an officer initiates a traffic stop for some other business.
The eight-member panel included representatives of the Erie County District Attorney's Office, as well as legislative and religious sectors, the latter of which included Christian and Muslim leaders.
Everyone on the panel admitted to being pulled over by a police officer, for one reason or another, at one or more times in their lives. Rev. Kinzer Pointer, in his remarks, urged those in attendance that when pulled over or stopped by an officer, do not attempt to fight back, even if the officer does not appear to have justification to initiate the stop. As Pointer put it, one can pursue legal options after the incident but cannot do so from the grave.
"There are a number of things that can be done," he told the audience. "What does it hurt to raise your hands? In that moment, you've got to de-escalate by being cooperative. Once you get home, then you've got some options."
Pointer pulled two small books out of his pocket, items he stated that he carries with him everywhere he travels. One is a copy of Holy Scripture. The other, he explained, is a copy of both the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
"Every American ought to be intimately familiar with both documents," Rev. Pointer said. "It's very difficult for you to know your rights without reading this document."
One of the questions from the audience concerned the use of body cameras by police officers. Speakers weighed the pros and cons of the equipment.
The Buffalo Police Department, which was not represented at the table but did have a captain in the audience to answer questions, is in discussions with city leaders about a pilot project to test body cameras on a limited number of officers.
One of the questions regarding the equipment is at what time, and for how long, would officers be required to activate and record.
Police Captain Steve Nichols also pointed out that representatives from his department regularly participate in block club and community group meetings and are available to discuss concerns with those entities.
Others in the audience expressed concern, in regards to race and religious relations, about their own safety not with police but with the general public. Malika, a U.S.-born African American of Muslim faith, shared brief stories of being called out by passing motorists, or by individuals as she was driving a car, offering menacing comments or getting suspicious looks.
Aknowledging how Muslims are often portrayed in media, she said that Muslims are indeed peace-loving people who also reject the fundamentalists and do not approve of the violence conducted by extremists.
"I have to make it a point in public when I catch eye contact with somebody, I have to make myself overly available just so that intimidation of my 'image' is not pronounced before I'm even in the room," Malika told WBFO.
When asked if she continued to have faith in police, Malika told WBFO she has never had a negative encounter with law enforcement and wants to continue believing that they are still able to protect her.
One of the Christian leaders on the panel, Reverend Josue Rosario-Caliz, told the audience that it's inappropriate to stereotype and urged them to stand with their fellow Americans, Christian and non-Christian.
"Many have murdered and many have oppressed in the name of Jesus," Rev. Rosario-Caliz said. "For us to say all Muslims this and all Muslims that is absolutely wrong."