Virginia Union, Johnson C. Smith Take On Police Encounters

As the latest case of an unarmed Black man dying at the hands of a White police officer continues to unfold in Charleston, S.C., at least two historically Black universities are being proactive in trying to prevent the next case.

Virginia Union University in Richmond, Va., and Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., are educating their students about interacting with police.

Local and state police officers fielded questions from students Tuesday night at a Virginia Union forum, including when an officer is allowed to use deadly force.

According to a report from WWBT-TV, Virginia State Police Major Len Terry dispelled the notion that officers are trained to fire warning shots if they feel their life, or someone else’s, is in jeopardy.

“If a police officer pulls his weapon and fires at an individual, it is to protect his or her life or the life of some innocent party out there,” said Terry, who added that shooting should be the last resort.

The students were advised on protocol during traffic stops and were assured that officers should have no issue with the incident being recorded—as long as it is evident to all that the device being held is a cell phone.

Johnson C. Smith is holding a similar session Friday led by its University Campus Police Department.

In a statement announcing the session, the university noted that “There may be times when interactions with police leave citizens with feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction. Those negative feelings are often a result of not knowing the reason(s) an officer has made certain requests or acted in a certain manner. The information presented in the class will give attendees a better understanding of police procedures and let them know what to expect from a police officer if they are stopped.”

The campus police also provided a general list of do’s and don’ts in all police encounters:

· Avoid making sudden movements (for your wallet, into your coat, toward your waistband, etc.) until you have informed the officer of your intention to do so and the officer has said it’s okay.

· Do not carry weapons (real or otherwise) or even joke about having a weapon on your person.

· Remain calm and avoid being argumentative. If you are uncooperative and refuse to answer reasonable questions, the officer is likely to become more suspicious and the encounter will probably last much longer than necessary.

· Comply first, then you may seek an explanation from the officer or the officer’s supervisor later.