Despite growing debate over police tactics, students must stay cautious

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Recent events surrounding fatal encounters with unarmed citizens have sparked a nationwide debate over the accountability of police forces.  

For instance, take the indictment of South Carolina police officer Michael T. Slager after a video of him killing a man during a traffic stop surfaced or, even closer to home, the indictment of former APD Detective Charles Kleinhart after the accidental shooting death of a robbery suspect.

These instances and others have pitted two diametrically opposed groups against each other. While some claim no harm would have come to the victims if they had just cooperated with the police, others believe discrimination and excessive force came into play.  

The two arguments will inevitably continue, but no one disagrees that we should find a way to reduce the number of violent encounters between police and citizens. 

I think the reform should start with the police. Police departments should reform the way they’re trained to handle seemingly dangerous situations. If they feel a citizen is getting violent, they should analyze whether to go for a baton or taser first and aim for a less harmful spot if a gun is completely necessary.  

Another element of strife is the distrust communities feel toward largely white police forces. Edwin Dorn, race relations expert and UT professor of public affairs, said that officers, while certainly needing better training to de-escalate situations, also need to reflect the communities they serve — a vital factor in keeping encounters as fair as possible.  

In cities like Ferguson, Missouri, where citizens claimed police were biased against the black population, just three out of 53 officers were black while 67 percent of the population is black.  

Across the nation, local police officers in any given community are about 75 percent white, regardless of racial makeup of the city. This is not to say that white officers are inherently racist, but rather that a diverse city deserves a diverse force, to ensure discrimination does not prevent justice from being served.  

Although black Americans are thought to be disproportionately targeted by police, as reported by sites like NAACP.org, Dorn believes resisting arrest is not the way to fight back. 

“It saddens me to say this, but in the short term, the best advice is the advice that all black parents give to their sons: If a policeman stops you, don’t argue, don’t resist and don’t run,” Dorn said. 

If racism or bias comes into play, little can be done by a citizen to protect his or her life at the hands of a corrupt cop. However, respecting the commands of an officer can prevent further trouble.  

Whether an officer has probable cause or not, if someone is stopped, they should fully cooperate. While many, however innocent, may wish to withhold identification, it’s not worth the risk of escalating a potentially simple situation. For example, former Texan columnist and associate editor Eric Nikolaides refused to comply with police demands when he refused to let the cops enter without a warrant after receiving a noise complaint, resulting in an arrest on his formerly clean criminal record.  

I myself have been in a similar situation, as a loud party I attended in College Station was interrupted by a noise complaint. The police showed up to find several inebriated students, some of whom were underage, and simply asked that we comply and answer questions truthfully.  

Several anxiety-inducing moments later, we were free to continue — at a lower volume, of course. While I understand not every police encounter goes this smoothly, I also recognize that my compliance protected my clean criminal record.   

As students with our entire lives ahead of us, no one wants to be the smart mouth who intensifies a situation or the unfortunate victim of police brutality. While we all should push for police to re-examine their methods, we should also take necessary precautions. Police exist to protect and serve, so citizens and cops alike must do their part to ensure innocent individuals are released and criminals see their day in court. 

Griffin is a journalism freshman from Houston. Follow Griffin on Twitter @JazmynAlynn.