Reading Rainbow Host Levar Burton Explains What He Does to Avoid Getting Shot by Cops

The reality of being black in America.


Even an African American famous for promoting child literacy fears mistreatment by the cops because he is black. In a discussion on CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront on use of the “N Word” in America, former Reading Rainbow host Levar Burton explains his protocol for handling a police stop to avoid violence:

Listen, I’m gonna be honest with you, and this is a practice I engage in every time I’m stopped by law enforcement. And I taught this to my son who is now 33 as part of my duty as a father to ensure that he knows the kind of world in which he is growing up. So when I get stopped by the police, I take my hat off and my sunglasses off, I put them on the passenger’s side, I roll down my window, I take my hands, I stick them outside the window and on the door of the driver’s side because I want that officer to be relaxed as possible when he approaches my vehicle. And I do that because I live in America.

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CNN’s Don Lemon recounts similar experiences, with people often stopping him on the street in Louisiana to ask, “Where’d you get that car, nigga? Whose car is this?” He recounted one experience driving with a white friend who said after a police stop that he’s never had the police deal with him like that. “I’m like hello, welcome to my life,” Lemon said.

Author Tim Wise, who is white, describes an entirely different reality. He recounts a day living in Louisiana when he locked himself out of his car and the police offered to help him break in:

One day I locked myself out of my car on Roberts Street and so I’m trying to break into my car with a coat hanger and a cop comes up. And he sees me doing it. He does not even ask me for ID or proof that that’s my car. Literally, the NOPD was like, hey you’re breaking into the car the wrong way. Let me help you. The cop was trying to help me break in. Now there is not a black man in this country 23 [years old] for whom that would’ve been the reaction.

Watch it:




These anecdotes are reflected in national statistics. A 2007 study by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were about three times as likely to be searched during a traffic stop. Blacks are also twice as likely to be arrested and nearly four times as likely to experience the threat or use of force during interactions with the police.

In 2011, the New York Police department made more stops of young black men than the entire population of young black men in New York City. And while police stops continue overwhelmingly against blacks and Hispanics, stops of these minorities arehalf as likely to garner guns or contraband, compared to stops of whites. Just last week, the Department of Justice released a two-year investigation of the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department that reveals egregious and disproportionate police targeting of blacks and Hispanics. This racially disproportionate policing starts early with high rates of suspension and disciplinary infraction arrests among school children, and ends with 1 in 15 black men in prison – many of whom have disproportionately longer sentences.

[HT: Raw Story]

Nicole Flatow is the Deputy Editor of ThinkProgress Justice. Previously, she was Associate Director of Communications for the American Constitution Society. Nicole has also worked for several legal and general circulation newspapers, including The Daily Record and The New York Law Journal, and was a legal fellow at Bread for the City, where she represented low-income D.C. residents in housing and public benefits matters. She received her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law, and her B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Law from Binghamton University, where she was editor in chief of her campus newspaper.