By July 2, 2013 70 Comments Read More →

Actor LeVar Burton explains his ritual to prevent being shot by police

LeVar Burton screenshot

Actor and director LeVar Burton explained Monday on CNN that he follows a particular procedure every time he is stopped by police to avoid a potentially deadly confrontation. He removes his hat and sunglasses, rolls down his window, and puts out his hands to show he is not armed.

“I do that because I live in America,” Burton added.

He’s not exactly known for bad behavior, but even the former host of the children’s show Reading Rainbow, and Star Trek the Next Generation actor, fears he will be mistreated by police because of his skin color.

Author Tim Wise, on the other hand, recalled that as a 23-year-old he once locked himself outside of his car. While he was trying to break into his car with a coat-hangar, he was approached by a police officer. Rather than question why Wise was attempting to break into a vehicle, the officer casually informed him he was “breaking into the car the wrong way” and offered to help him.

“The cop was trying to help me break in,” Wise remarked. While the officer was undoubtedly not actually trying to help him break into someone else’s car, the cop did not hesitate to assume Wise’s innocence. “Now, there is not a black man in this country, 23 years of age, for whom that would have been the reaction… Basically, what my mom told me was, ‘Be nice to cops.’ She didn’t say, ‘Don’t move your hands because you’re going to get shot.’”

Such anecdotes are hardly isolated incidences. All in all, the majority of Caucasians do not live in fear of the police, while even the most law-abiding African Americans realize that a traffic stop is a wild card that could result in a night in prison, or worse.

Watch CNN interview below:

70 Comments on "Actor LeVar Burton explains his ritual to prevent being shot by police"

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    • Kzm says:

      There’s a valid message in that video, but I have a few issues with what the TV show’s producers did. They wanted to ensure it was a successful bit, and that’s noticeable in a couple of areas:

      They had the Caucasian man in a blue shirt and tighter fitting, non-sagging blue jeans. While the African-American man was wearing a very contrasting colors a bright red shirt with white jeans that were overly baggy and sagging down. Also his hat was turned much more sharply to the back and the side than the other guy’s was.

      Human beings are susceptible to their perception being altered by colors and I don’t mean just skin color. While this has been proven to not have a long-lasting affect, it does subconsciously happen. Red colors give off a sense of power, stimulation, or even excitement. Whereas blue is more subdued, calming, etc.

      I want to point out as well this isn’t like a control group where they knew the same people walk every Saturday and split the incidents up by a few weeks. It remains to be seen if there was more control over this whole scenario, and less variables such as their clothing being so different how it would play out.

      • OmiSade says:

        What are talking about. Just because my ppl dress in bright clothes and lose clothing we should be harassed.

        • ClintJCL says:

          If you’re red, you are seen more. That’s why red cars get pulled over more.

          It’s like those before-after diet pics where the girl’s hair is done all nice in the after pic, so it looks better.

          It’s dishonest.

          To make a true comparison, you do it like the scientific method: Make both situations identical, with only one variable (skin color) as a difference.

          • Joshua Taylor says:

            It’s colour association, crops up all the time in literature and then gets transferred to our subconscious. People identify colours with feelings, emotions, and the world around them. Yellow, orange, red, fire, power, energy, destruction. Blue, brown, green, water and the trees. No we don’t sit around and think “my sir, that blue shirt really brings out the peaceful tranquility of the ocean in your personality” but it does stimulate our brains and different colours stimulate our eyes and brains differently.

    • Dyana says:

      I have seen this several times and it is very sobering for those who don’t think that it really happens

    • tom says:

      so the moral I got from the story is have titts and people will help you steal stuff.

  1. rv branham says:

    however, caucasians who are at the very least bilingual & fluent in spanish & who look mediterranean are as likely as not to be harassed or stopped by cops in the s.w united states, esp. in arizona, southern california & tejas. (as someone who has almost been arrested twice because a cop overheard me speak to a gas station attendent in spanish, or speak to anyone in spanish, i know exactly how people of color feel. when i speak spanish i become a fair target in bigoted cops’ eyes.

    • MBD says:

      Yes, and this gets into the issue of just how problematic political constructions of “race” are in the first place.

    • Tyler says:

      What are tejas?

    • Bill Clay says:

      I have an Hispanic coworker who is constantly harassed when he flies, the TSA assumes he’s Arabic because of his dark skin and bushy beard. He now only speaks Spanish in airports, and pretends to not understand English, to make it perfectly clear to screeners that he’s Hispanic. At that point the profiling and harassment stops.

      • John Peloquin says:

        There must be something wrong with me because I find this hilariously funny- though I maintain it is not at the expense of the poor person who has to put on such a ridiculous charade.

    • Tam Joseph says:

      You shoulda offered heem a peeca chikin’man!
      If you are familiar with Asian philosophy
      and 1970’s Chinese kung fu movies,that’s the famous “path of least resistance” ( Dlunken mastah) in other words recognise that Cops are vicious, racist & stoopid the world over.

  2. Eric Bagai says:

    This is why I my DARE classes for black and Hispanic kids said that a drug bust would ruin their lives if it didn’t outright kill them. White kids, just be polite and you’ll probably walk.

  3. Strangely, while I am a middle-aged white guy from Ohio, my last 8 ‘professional encounters’ (every cop I’ve encountered during off-time has been a great guy, and I’m always glad to have met them…) with officers (now living in Indiana) have involved, screaming, profanity, argumentative gamesmanship, threats, and unreasonable expectations. No, not *me* — the ‘professional’ who’s job it is to set the standard for what our young people learn is the arm of authority. It’s no wonder that some kids grow up hating or fearing authority — and many will grow up to be raging, dangerous authority figures themselves. I know the whole LEOs-must-always-think-first-of-their-own-safety… but when an officer repeatedly asks a question, interrupts my answer, then asks another question, and claims I am interrupting him — then asks for my papers, while holding my license asks my name, and when I start to speak yells at me, “Don’t you think I can READ?” … I hardly think that our culture has figured out yet how to politely manage the divide between the Rule of Law, the Ruled, and the Hand of Law.

  4. IonOtter says:

    The name of that particular program was: “The ‘N Word’ or Cracker: Which is Worse?”

    The very fact they’re saying “N Word” instead of nigger pretty much answered the debate before it even started.

  5. Common Sense says:

    I’m caucasian, and I too take off my hat and sunglasses. I turn off the radio, stop the engine, roll down the window, and place my hands in clear sight. Police have a dangerous job, and doing these simple tasks during a traffic stop is just common sense. Showing some basic respect is the right way to begin the encounter.

    • Diarmuid says:

      The fact that you have to do that says it all about American police. You live in a country where the police are feared and not seen as part of the community. Having spoken to American cops when I have been on holiday and seen how they treat even tourists it is very obvious why people treat them as the “enemy”. I just don’t get their aggressive, dont come near us attitude. UK cops are vastly superior with dealing with almost every situation.

      They need to stop lowlife scum being cops in the US.

      • Different Circumstance says:

        I think it has more to do with the different circumstances between the US and the UK. In the US, guns are everywhere, allowed to be carried by any US citizen without a felony conviction. In the UK, guns are outlawed for citizens, making the job for police in the UK MUCH less stressful and nerve wracking.

        • MBD says:

          i think it probably has a lot more to do with the fact that nearly all African Americans bear the history of this nation being built on the backs of their ancestors. i assure you, police officers are VERY polite to non-African American people who carry concealed firearms legally. It has everything to do with how Africans came to these shores, and how those historical inequalities have never been truly addressed. Abolishing slavery was only one step. Thereafter sharecropping continued, and evolved into the economic stratification of African American communities that continues today.

          • Leslie-Ann says:

            It is absolutely a lie of who we are that has been handed down, to the white community as well as to our own black youth. Black parents have to tell and convince their kids that success is meant for them, no matter how successful they see their parents living. Because everything else, everywhere else tells them “play your position – you’re black after all” as if it is synonymous with maid, factory worker, thief, and worse. “Slavery by Another Name” is an excellent portrayal of the perpetuation of slave master propaganda.

          • white grandmother says:

            Whenever I’ve gotten stopped by a police officer, I am super polite, provide all information as requested, and don’t put up any fight or back talk, even if I didn’t agree with the officer about the justification for my being pulled over. I’ve had to fight it out in traffic court and I’ve won on a few occasions on the merits. But on the roadside I know that the only way to behave is to be conciliatory and respectful. They are there to watch out for problems on the highways and streets, keep things safe, and make a few extra bucks when they can, on traffic stops (which when they’re unwarranted I do my best to overturn). Stay positive!

  6. Major Cornwallace says:

    No matter how many years goes by… and I’m no young man now… this stuff never ceases to amaze me. And even moreso the extent that it is just brushed-off by those lucky enough to be in the right in-group.

    Authority should never be trusted, should always be held to a high standard of conduct and should be mercilessly held accountable for abuses. One needn’t be a government conpiracist “tea partier” full crazytalk to rationally demand to not be disabused.

  7. Reggie says:

    Profiling works. Cops are warier of blacks in order to preserve their own lives. It may seem sad, but it is a necessary fact.

    The only reason this seems like an outrage to us, the public, is because nobody talks about how the overwhelming majority of crimes, especially violent crimes are committed by blacks. To talk about it may not be politically correct, but it is nonetheless the truth.

    Look up FBI and DOJ stats, if you want to be thoroughly shocked at how over-represented blacks are in crime statistics, especially for violent crimes.

    • Reggie says:

      Quite a few painful facts are summarized and available here:

      • Reggie says:

        And a relevant quote:

        “African-Americans commit 90% of the approximately 1,700,000 interracial crimes
        of violence that occur in the United States every year, and are more than 50 times more likely
        to commit violent crime against whites than vice versa.
        Blacks are so much more likely than Americans of other races to commit crimes that
        police may be justified in stopping and questioning them more frequently–just as they stop
        men more often than women and young people more often than old people.”

        • likechoklit4choklit says:

          The “Color of crime” which you quoted there is a publication put out by a white supremacist group. The statistics have been cherrypicked to demonstrate the notions of its author. This is called “selection bias” and it undermines the validity of its claims.

          • Reggie says:

            Good grief, the NCF is NOT a white supremacist group, they are a libertarian group. Wikipedia is wrong on that. Their report does not contain either selection bias or confirmation bias.

            If you prefer, check out the more recent US Department of Justice Beaueau of Justice Statistics report. It tells the very same story, straight from the federal government.


            Or look up the FBI or other DOJ stats yourself. I quoted the Color of Crime simply to save you some time.

          • MBD says:

            My own comments (apart from those who commented on that video), still stand, on the socio-economic parallel between communities and crime states regardless of imagined “race.”

          • Tracee LC says:

            You are correct. I really hate it when racists try and outfox us, claiming we are simply WRONG, and they are NOT WHITE SUPREMACISTS!
            Well, they ARE!

        • Just Some Goy says:

          The numbers are even more overwhelming when you consider the government breaks out whites as victims but lumps them in with hispanics as perpetrators. Read the fine print on the DOJ and FBI studies.

          What you find is that in the US as well as other host countries, that the criminality and IQ closely match the countries of origin, even generations later.

          That is not to say everyone who’s ancestors came from Germany will be of above average IQ or that everyone whose ancestors came from Nigeria will be a criminal but that if you took 10M of each, the difference in distribution of traits would be obvious for the groups.

          • mike says:

            Stop. No sensible person in this country wants to hear your racist psychobabble about race and IQ. Scientists have already proven that regardless of race all humans are essentially genetically similar, and that as a white man you may have more genetically in common with a black man than another white man. So just stop.

    • patricia howell says:

      That is so not true. White people commit just as many crimes as Non-whites. It is just not publicized as much by the media, not punished as much by the courts and not acknowledged as crimes as much.

      White people have preconceived notions about non-whites because of racial stereotypes that have been perpetrated and passed along for centuries!

    • MEGAN says:

      But we have seen how one-sided the courts are when it comes to handing out punishment. white kid with marijuana going into drug rehab black kid goes to jail. Hispanic pretending to be white kills unarmed black youth goes home to his son. Just PRETENDING to be white made it right.

    • Tam Joseph says:

      Now lookie here buddy let’s check out some facts Dragnet style:
      1. High incidence of Alcohol related crime,murder, poverty? Native Americans ( can we blame them noop!)
      2. High incidences of crime, prostitution, child porn, drug crimes,poverty… Brazil ( Yes! Abolished slavery 100 years AFTER the USA ( Ey Man! Es da Negroes man)
      3. High incidences of crime, drug related violence,prostitution, poverty. murder
      South Africa ( can we blame them noop!)
      Empirical analysis of the facts:
      White man comes to your homeland, forces Christian values and civlilisation on your ass.whether you want it or not, enslaves you, prevents you from getting an education, forces you into menial jobs, then finally, if you get too “uppity” and have the temerity to demand your rights, he will kill you ass just like dim Zim ( Ey! dis NEGRO whom attacked is whuppin my ass!)
      Zim is no fool, had he shot a Blond blue eyed Justine Bieber type his Latino ass would had been grass. ( Ey man I ‘m white toooo!) He knew that the chances of getting convicted for killing a young Black man is minimal
      ‘ Ey amigo. wass all da fuss ’bout killin’ a NEGRO? Sheeeet dey be killin” each other every day!

      Friday: You’ve got the facts, now ignore it and live in the cinematic fantasy called America. You are white and ALWAYS right.
      Can you dig it all baby?

  8. niki says:

    I get so sick of hearing about this being racism. Black people have a clear history of acting violent, speaking aggressively and generally being a dick. If I pull over black males and get this attitude more than white people, I sure as hell will treat blacks different because it is quantifiable that they indeed do act different.

    In my university we ALWAYS have problems with black students. Nearly 100% of all the on campus robberies and thefts are from blacks. The Chinese students are robbed….by blacks. This is in a university that is not ghetto, but in fact one of the top 100 in the US.

    • MBD says:

      Compare socio-economic status to socio-economic status and you will find that it does not matter what so-called “race” someone belongs to, the rate of robbery, burglary, theft, etc. etc. are all the same. The thing is that in the United States, most Caucasian people have not been subjected to the historical disenfranchisement which has ripped apart communities (and families), and THAT is why most Caucasian people are not in those socio-economic groups which are more prone to crime. Go to poor white neighborhoods and the crime rate, welfare, food stamp – ANYTHING – rates are actually HIGHER than that of socio-economically parallel African American neighborhoods. As for your anecdote about your university, people robbing on University campuses go to those campuses because they know that there is money there, they are NOT students doing the robberies.

      • Clay says:

        So it’s whitey’s fault? How long do the effects of disenfranchisement last? Forever? Why are excuses made for them to the point of absurdity instead of holding them accountable?

        • Mac says:

          This assumed that the disenfranchisement HAS stopped. Get back to me when predatory lending and discriminatory mortgage practices stop and the Voting Rights act is no longer in danger and we’ll discuss it.

    • Diarmuid says:

      That’s because the poor people in the US happen to be black. The perpetrators of crime here in Ireland almost all come from council estates and social housing just like in the US. The main difference being that the perpatrators are white.

    • patricia howell says:

      I wonder why. Use some of your time at the university to learn works history and how things got to be the way they are. This concept of “race” is not going to go away until white people stop using it as an excuse to discriminate against others!

    • Tam Joseph says:

      Blacks in University?

      Eyyyy! We gotta stop this right now bro !
      Dey gonna turn da whole place into a Sheebeen with drugs,crime ‘n loose wimmen etc.
      Where are all the Christian values that Wiped out 6 million Jews in Europe almost the entire Native American population and forced slavery onto Africans for 400 years? We need to reassert them NOW!

  9. blu7e says:

    This is so true and I already practice this type security measure. This also why I live in Savannah the history is pretty good about cops and people not getting shot on traffic stops..

  10. Dude says:

    The tears won’t stop. Wait. What other country could this ‘poor mistreated black man’ make so much money and enjoy so much fame? None, you say. You lie! That makes you a liar. Liar, liar, pants on fire. Go have sex with a white woman and get over it.

    • MBD says:

      There are plenty of countries where African-descended people can make money and yet are still subjected to unfair treatment by the police. The fact that Hollywood might be more egalitarian does not mean that the police are.

      • Clarissa says:

        Actually, Hollywood is far from egalitarian. Note the percentage of roles available for actors of color as opposed to white actors. It’s very, very small and almost never a starring role.
        The “fame” Dude is self-righteously pointing to is nothing to exalt as a sign of equality—black people have a long history performing for white people.

  11. Pfffttt says:

    Most cops are just doing what they are told. A few of them have a hard-on for certain races and the rest are just pricks in general.

  12. Bob Mullins says:

    All I have to say on that is it just depends where you are. I am an average looking white guy and I always put my hands out or up, I have been placed in handcuffs more than once for no other reason than for every ones safety. Last time I was asked if I had bombs or weapons in my cap over camper, I was stopped because my brake lights were out.
    I guess the cops stereo type me too, just not as bad as a black man, but I have been thrown down with a knee on my neck for being in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

    • Clarissa says:

      Cool story but this does not actually negate that racism thrives in law enforcement nor does it mitigate the awfulness of how black people in particular are treated by law enforcement, just because cops also happen to be assholes in general.

  13. justin says:

    i hate when i see the lights in my rear view,im white still sh*t my pants lol.good record and whatnot,but alot of cops like to make something out of nothing.not all but ALOT.

  14. Gillian Boardman says:

    I am a white woman who taught at a historically black university for seven years. My students, mostly young people from PA, NJ, Baltimore and the DC area, would tell me stories of being stopped for “driving while black,” having their car searched for drugs with no provocation, being thrown out of stores after just walking in, having done nothing, and I have to admit that my liberal, suburban jaw did drop. I had no idea. Those of us who are privileged just don’t realize it because we are so used to it. It would never occur to me to be afraid of being stopped by the police; I would assume the worst thing that could happen is a ticket. I worry a bit about my sons who are in their late teens, but the fact that they are white probably protects them. John Scalzi wrote a great essay about white male privilege.

  15. Packard says:


    Let me add as a middle aged white guy and (former military provost marshal), I ALWAYS try to already have my wallet out and clearly visible on the dashboard in front of me before the nice police officer arrives at my (window down) car door. Also, my hands are clearly seen by my holding the steering wheel at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions. Lastly, if it is night, I always turn on the dome lights to the inside of my vehicle.

    Funny thing I have learned over the years, cops seem to like to go home alive to their families after their shifts end. Honoring this wish, I never do anything to discourage or in anyway impede them in the performance of their duty.

    If you are wronged by the cop, take it up later with your lawyer. Do not, however, try to be too cute by half at the time of the stop.

    • Clarissa says:

      The point Levar is making, that it sounds like you missed, isn’t that cops don’t have a dangerous job. It’s that, because of his skin color, if something goes even a little amiss when he is pulled over, it could very easily result in his death. That probably is not something you worry about too much.

  16. dex says:

    I am white and do exactly the same thing when I am stopped by a Police Officer. If it is at night I also turn on the interior lights so they can see inside the vehicle. I have even gotten out of tickets for this common sense behavior.

  17. Clay says:

    The police are nothing but militarized, lazy revenue gathering thugs who imagine themselves above the law and look at citizens as the enemy. They deserve no respect and I give them the least amount I can when I’m stopped.

  18. Barbara Renick says:

    That’s the reality. Like Blacks trying to hail down a cab and being bypassed, and like American Indian men on the Plains in recent years trying to buy gas had to hide their braids under their hat.

  19. Nancy McCradie says:

    I noticed that no one mentioned how the homeless are treated by many cops who think that they can get away with more because the homeless are in a weakened state. But this is nature’s way. Prey upon the weakest of humanity. It is much easier than catching hard core criminals.

  20. William says:

    which is worse “the N word vs Cracker”
    that is easy!
    You won’t even SAY the word n[edited] but you have no problem with cracker. That seems like a dead giveaway to me.

    • MBD says:

      The term “cracker” is not always used racially. In states like Georgia and Florida it often has a non-racial meaning. As well, there are many slurs like “gringo” which “white” Americans assume are purely racial, whereas in many parts of Central and South America, the term is applied to (US)Americans in general. But so many people with “white” privilege are so used to being privileged that whenever someone says something that does not praise and adore the socio-political “white” class, there are instant cries of oppression.

      “Cracker” does not have a legacy of being used to oppress or subjugate Caucasians. In fact, the term is Scottish in origin and refers to those who “aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.” Thus, the Georgian and Floridian non-racial uses of the term are the most historically correct.

  21. Malik says:

    That’s kinda funny, as a half Dutch, half Arab person living in the Netherlands I faced similar problems.

    That was until I realized that pretending to be Jewish works a lot better. Once they hear the words “anti-semitism” their racists little brains just stops working.

  22. Bill says:

    Um……I do the same thing. I’m a white guy, middle aged with short hair, and I often wear a suit. When I get stopped, I roll down my windows, turn on my dome light and put my hands on the steering wheel. That way the nervous cop relaxes. Why do you have to turn everything into a racial debate?

  23. Kristine Maitland says:

    While perhaps more apparent in the USA, Black men are harassed by policemen the world over in a way that non-blacks are not. It is not all roses in Canada (my home), nor is it in the UK or France. In Russia, a Black man (usually African) is as good as dead be it by cops or citizens.

    I dated a white guy who had been a cop at one point before MDistrophy took him out – he told me point blank to avoid the police like the plague. And I do. Oh, I will report a crime but my expectations are not high, and I am not going to the cops without a lawyer present.

  24. Francine Plant says:

    I agree that racial profiling and inequities exist. The only problem I have is being abused by people because I am NOT a person of color and could NEVER understand. Well, folks, I am a woman and can definitely understand being disenfranchised. I have also been quite poor and was treated like dirt for that. I’ve been disabled and get treated like trash for that–so I guess I couldn’t possibly sympathize with your problems. I also object to the idea that because someone is a person of color, one cannot be a racist. That is BULL. I work my butt off to get rid of preconceived notions about people based on race, creed, color, orientation, age, ability, etc. You? Looks like a lot of people have a ton of work to do from what I’m reading. Walkin a mile in another man’s shoes IS possible, folks. It’s called Imagination. It’s called communicating. It’s called a shared burden is a lessened burden. It’s called we’re all in this together, aren’t we?

  25. TJ Jandersit says:

    I’ve been fucked around by numerous officers and I am white, and my “white” spanish friends, from black and spanish cops, scrutinizing us because of the way we dress, necklaces we wear, shoes we wear, or even the damn hair on our heads. been called asshole, loudmouth, jackass, and numerous other names, all from officers I lent nothing but absolute respect to in my words actions and gestures. I’ve seen them search illegally, make absurd claims with no evidence and act upon their claims, abuse and detain innocent teenagers and call them bitches, etc the list goes on. I’m always in the wrong place at the wrong time to deal with disrespecting and frankly unneeded officers. Regardless of skin color, cops and people of authority walk over civilians. Case closed.

    • Barbara Renick says:

      The reason given for why there were no Black jurors in the Zimmerman trial is that Blacks can’t pass the background check required to get on the jury selection list. They are treated inequitably by the criminal justice system.

      Many more Blacks and Browns are incarcerated in America, along with poor Whites, and relatively no wealthy persons of any color. This is our home-sweet-home.

      From the 1960’s: “If you’re White you’re all right, if you’re Brown stick around, and if you’re Black stay back.”

  26. Jim Stairs says:

    I live in Minnesota about 50 miles from Minneapolis.
    I am white and 50 years old and a law abiding citizen
    I also am careful to roll my window down, put my hands on the top of my steering wheel in plain sight and not make any fast moves when an officer approaches my car during a traffic stop, especially at night.
    I believe this is a courtesy. Police officers risk their lives every time perform a traffic stop. In Minnesota an officer holds his firearm ready to draw as he approaches a car during a stop and it doesn’t matter what color you are.

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