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It takes police officers just 7 seconds to form an opinion about you.
According to Greg Winston, who interviewed 127 police officers whose feedback formed the thesis for his new book, “The First Seven Seconds,” from the moment an officer first interacts with a person, he or she is watching closely and determining how they will handle that person.
If you are Black, like in the case of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, or Sandra Bland, those 7 seconds could mean the difference between life or death, Winston said in an interview with EURweb’s Lee Bailey. Winston said he wrote the book to give young people strategies to help improve their chances of a successful encounter with police and to eliminate their fears of interacting with officers.
“The goal of the book is to get people to understand how to avoid a police stop and/or the escalation of a police stop. So by interviewing the police officers, I feel that we can reduce our fear because we now know how they think,” Winston said. “Without that knowledge we’re fearful and we may react the wrong way.”
Winston said he wants to “fortify the talk” that Black parents already have with their children.
“I want parents to be able to take what I’m talking about and transfer that to kids over the dinner table, in the car, when they’re at church, so kids get it little by little and all of a sudden these (incidents) go down,” Winston said.
Winston has also been having talks with young people, dating back to when he was a student at the University of Arkansas on a basketball scholarship. When he speaks to youth groups, he shares stories of growing up in Gary, Indiana, hanging with the wrong crowd and venturing down the wrong path, which landed him in trouble and a stint behind bars in juvenile detention. When he got out, Winston said he was sent to live with his grandfather in Arkansas, who owned a lot of land, and “that showed me what I could be and what I could have – I actually felt like I could do something because he was related to me and I started to mimic him and it changed my life.”
Even after graduating college, when Winston worked for companies like Xerox, CBS and Warner Brothers, he continued to share his story with at-risk youth to try and get them to learn his lessons and head in another direction.
Now Winston is the father of an 18-year-old daughter. Watching the video of Bland really struck home that this issue impacts girls as well as guys.
“Sandra (Bland) did something we don’t like to say – it shouldn’t have caused her death but it could have saved her life. She was adversarial. She talked back to them right away and she’s in the South where she has two knocks against her: One she’s Black, and the other is she’s a woman,” Winston said. “That’s what I see in the South – men are very chauvinistic and they felt disrespected when she talked to them that way. In her case, knowing what not to say could have saved her life.”
Winston said he wrote the book as another avenue to get the word across – and this time, it comes from advice combed directly from police officers. The impetus for the book came after Winston interviewed one police officer about the best way for people to avoid a negative interaction with police. That initial interview morphed into interviews with dozens of other officers and Winston took notes. Officers told him things that citizens can do to help inform them of their intent and help them learn quickly that a person will be law-abiding and not a threat to law enforcement.
Most cops are good, Winston believes. He says bad cops represent about one percent of the police force, and that more often than not, situations could have been diffused if citizens had an effective strategy to do so. He’s hoping his book provides it.
“The title (of the book) comes from what officers told me. They told me that they typically start deciding how a stop’s going to go within the first seven seconds of their interaction with you. By the time they get out of their car to them approaching your car, they start making decisions on how they’re going to handle you,” Winston said.
The best way to make this interaction positive is to pull over immediately once the cop hits that siren. “The longer you drive after that, the more suspicious and more anxious they become,” he said.
Also, don’t look back at the officer. Instead, wait for him or her to approach your car, Winston said the officers told him.
“As he approaches the car, make sure all the windows are down, not just the front but all of them. The reason you want to do that is so he can see there’s no threat,” he said.
And when the officer approaches you, don’t speak first.
“Wait for him to say something,” Winston said. “Don’t you start talking let him talk. As he asks questions, don’t volunteer information, answer specifically but have an up-tempo in your voice, nothing adversarial, nothing putting him down just a regular conversation like you’re asking somebody for a cup of coffee after dinner.”
Additionally, your hands should still be on the steering wheel, he said, in the 10 and 2 position as if the wheel was a clock.
Winston said another helpful piece of advice is when the officer asks for your registration and insurance, it’s best to keep this information behind the visor because reaching up is less concerning to police than reaching in a glove compartment.
“One thing I found out from cops – they like it when you reach up, they don’t like it when you reach down,” Winston said. “Put your license and registration in the visor.”
Where Black people have an encounter with police, things can go awry because of the general distrust Black people have of police officers’ intentions due to the racist history of police officers using fire hoses, dogs, and other tactics to police Black communities in the past, as well as the disproportionate number of violent incidents that continue in the Black community at the hands of cops.
This is all the more reason why Black people need to be equipped with the best strategies to survive a police encounter, Winston said.
“And that’s where I think the rubber meets the road. We can’t wait for legislation. We can’t wait on our politicians. At that moment of impact, we have to know what to do in order to go home safely and that’s what this book is about,” he said. “We have to take more responsibility because our job is to get home safely. We’ve been depending on them to get us home safely and we can’t do that anymore.”
“We need to out-think them in order to survive,” he added.
“The First 7 Seconds: Save Your Child from Police Violence Right Now!” can be purchased on Amazon here. Greg Winston can also be followed on Twitter @1GregWinston and you can learn more about him by going to his website at www.GregWinston.com
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