When encountering a law enforcement officer, “it’s not your action, it’s your reaction” that can put people in unnecessary danger.
Former police officer Curtis Dugger, who spent 22 years in the military, illustrated that point Thursday morning for nearly three dozen Bibb County teens in the Mentors Project
“We have a lot of teenage kids that really just don’t know how to deal with law enforcement,” Dugger said.
Dugger did some role playing that could help teens avoid long prison sentences and prevent officer-involved shootings.
Pretending to be a speeder doing 80 mph in a 25 mph zone, Dugger first responded courteously and called the make-believe officer “sir.”
The “officer” was so impressed, he issued a warning.
In the next demonstration, Dugger was belligerent, and the scenario ended with the suspect being tased and later shot dead. The suspect’s arm accidentally shook from the jolt of the Taser and ventured too close to the officer’s gun.
Dugger acted out the crowd response: “Ooo woo, he done shot my homeboy. My homeboy wasn’t doing nothing. Hey man, these police ain’t no good, shot him for nothing.”
Furthering the demonstration in the courtroom, the officer was found to be justified.
“That’s wrong!” he shouted, again playing the crowd before resuming his normal tone.
“Let’s back up,” Dugger said. “It never should have got to that point if you would have just had some common sense -- ‘Yes, sir. No, sir.’ But now we’ve got a dead person. We’ve got 5,000 people out there protesting. Was it right? No, but guess what? An officer has the right to defend himself if he feels his life is in jeopardy.”
Dugger urged the teens to be smart.
“You ain’t badder than the police. You ain’t going to win,” he said. Just use common sense. If he point to you and say, ‘Get out of the road,’ just get out of the road and walk to the sidewalk and say, ‘Yes, sir,’ and smile.”
Dugger said there are many young people currently in the juvenile justice system who overreacted during an encounter with police.
Communications expert Josh Peltier encouraged the teens to be conscious of their body language and to envision their success.
Eric Chaplin spoke of bad decisions he made that led to spending more than 30 of his 49 years in prison.
“I’m thankful that God watched over me when I was in there, and I didn’t get stabbed,” said the reformed Chaplin.
“It’s better to be by yourself than to be with somebody else who will get you into crime.”
Mentors Project Director June O’Neal cautioned the protégés about local mandatory gang sentencing that tacks on extra time.
“You’ll never see the light of day again, so you be listening, OK?” she said. “So these five- and 10-year sentences that Eric is talking about, I’m laughing about because they are not playing in Macon, Georgia.”