Jawad Pullin, a sophomore at Georgetown University, says that “If you go with white friends, there is a far lower chance of bad things happening,” adding that “it’s like it defuses everything.” (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Jawad Pullin picked through a pile of clothes in his dorm room at Georgetown University earlier this year. He pulled out a pair of faded jeans, then decided against them. He tried on a red Phillies cap, then tossed it across the room. He picked up a hoodie, then threw it back in the pile.

“I should be able to wear faded jeans and a hoodie if I wanted,” said Pullin, a 20-year-old sophomore, “but that would make me stand out too much.”

Like millions of other young men of color, he must navigate a world where in 2015, according to statistics compiled by The Washington Post, an unarmed black man was fatally shot by police about once every nine days.

Pullin can never be certain whether he, too, might become a statistic, just like some of the awful videos he has seen on social media.

“R.I.P. Tamir Rice” is written on a block of wood near a memorial outside the Cudell Recreation Center in Cleveland, where the 12-year-old who was playing with a pellet gun was shot by a white officer last year. (Tony Dejak/AP)

“The fact that it happens at all, I have to associate it with every daily maneuver,” says Pullin, who grew up in North Philadelphia, aced his SATs, got A’s in high school and won a Gates Scholarship. “I’m making those decisions, whether it’s the friends I walk with or the clothes I wear.”

Pullin started college when the country was reeling from a series of police use-of-force cases. Every other week, it seemed, someone was tweeting another video showing a young black man being shot or a black woman being slammed against a car. The incident that bothered Pullin the most, he says, involved a 15-year-old girl in Texas lying on the ground in a bathing suit and being pinned by a police officer as she cried for her mother. “They were just teenagers living a normal life,” he says.

Last year, after he arrived at Georgetown, he decided that when he left campus, he would do so only with a white friend.

“If you go with white friends, there is a far lower chance of bad things happening,” he explains. “It’s like it defuses everything.”

His cellphone rang. It was one of his white friends. They were heading to a party together.

“I’m on my way,” Pullin told him. “I still have to pick up the Sprite and the party lights.”

Pullin decided to wear a white button-down shirt, a black tie and a navy coat. He checked himself in the dorm mirror.

“A pea coat,” he said. “You can’t associate a pea coat with criminal activity.”

Changes in clothes, habits

Many young black men say the high-profile cases of police violence have altered how they live their lives. Some are reluctant to drive alone. Some are reluctant to drive at all. Some are cautious walking alone. Some are cautious about going out at night.

Chinedu Nwokeafor, a 23-year-old communications major at Morgan State University in Baltimore, said he started using Uber instead of taking the bus because it felt safer.

“I don’t want to be ‘guilty while black,’ ” Nwokeafor said. “Some of my friends do their best not to drive at night. Everybody is more on edge.”

After watching a video of a police officer fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in the middle of a Chicago street, Calvin Alston, 22, who graduated from Morgan State in December, stopped wearing hoodies.

Young black women have been affected by the videos, too. As Michelle Johnson was driving past a police officer a while back, the 20-year-old thought about Sandra Bland, the Texas woman who was found dead in her jail cell last year after being confronted by a state trooper during a traffic stop.

“I slowed down,” said Johnson, who is studying sociology at Morgan State. She realized that she felt afraid.

Lawrence Brown, an assistant professor with Morgan State’s School of Community Health and Policy, said the impact of so many high-profile deaths at the hands of police — 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.; 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland; 24-year-old Jamar Clark in Minneapolis — has been harrowing for many young black people.

Repeated exposure to videos and photos of dead bodies on Vine, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media can cause long-standing, race-based trauma, Brown said.

“There is not a chance to heal because there is another video coming out. We were still grieving from Charleston when there is the incident with Sandra Bland.”

The psychological and physical impact can be profound, he said. “Maybe they are waking up in the middle of the night and having recurring dreams,” Brown said. “Maybe they are scared to go to a place like where the incident happened. There is a lot of anxiety around safety and feeling safe.”

Tech apps at their side

Nwokeafor said many of his friends are not only changing their behavior but also using technology when they go out at night or on weekends.

“They feel that is the only way,” he said. “Everyone is camera-ready. Everybody is downloading apps.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have created apps designed to allow people to quickly and secretly record police while minimizing the risks that their phones will be taken. One of the apps, “Police Tape,” allows users to capture video or audio inconspicuously. The app vanishes from a smartphone’s screen as soon as the recording begins and can be used to send a copy of the recording to the ACLU for backup. Another app, “Stop and Frisk Watch,” notifies other app users that someone is recording police.

But low-tech measures can also be effective.

Alston, who had come to Baltimore from Jersey City, said his parents were so concerned about him driving that they placed his license, registration and insurance card in a clear, plastic sleeve.

“They told me, ‘We want you to have it all together’ so it doesn’t appear I’m reaching for something.”

He used it in January 2015 when a police car pulled up behind him while he was waiting for a friend at an apartment complex in Baltimore.

“My heart is beating fast,” Alston said. “But then something came over me that said: ‘Calm down. You have no reason to be afraid. You are doing nothing wrong. There is nothing illegally going on right now. You are sitting in your car by yourself, you are waiting for your friend to come out so you can take her to the next destination.’ ”

The officer walked to his window, he said, and asked whether Alston lived there and whether there were any illegal substances in the car.

“I say ‘No,’ and he says, ‘Is there any weed in the car?’ I said ‘No.’ ”

Alston said he showed the officer his college ID. “He says, ‘I just want to let you know there have been a lot of stabbings around here lately, and I want to make sure you are safe.’ How do we get from you asking me about drugs to there are stabbings and now you are worried about my safety?”

He felt targeted and infuriated. But he and his Morgan State classmates try to avoid confrontations with the police because they know how they can end.

One night, Nwokeafor and Alston replayed the video of McDonald running, then skipping down a Chicago street. Several police cars approach. An officer jumps out of his vehicle, pulls a gun and, several seconds later, begins firing. The graphic video shows McDonald spinning and then falling. The video captures a puff of smoke ricocheting off McDonald. The officer continues to shoot repeatedly into the teen’s prone body as it lies in the street. A total of 16 shots were fired — all the ammunition in the officer’s clip.

Silently, Nwokeafor pressed pause on his phone.