Jabari Asim is executive editor of the Crisis magazine, published by the NAACP. He was a Washington Post Book World editor from 1996 to 2007.
It’s more than time we had that talk
about what to say and where to walk,
how to act and how to strive,
how to be upright and stay alive.
How to live and how to learn,
how to dig and be dug in return.
When to concede and when to risk,
how to handle stop and frisk:
Keep your hands where they can see
and don’t reach for your ID
until they request it quite clearly.
Speak politely and answer sincerely.
The law varies according to where you are,
whether you’re traveling by foot or driving a car.
It won’t help to be black and proud,
nor will you be safer in a crowd.
Keeping your speech calm and restrained,
ask if, in fact, you’re being detained.
If the answer is no, you’re free to go.
If the answer is yes, remained unfazed
to avoid being choked, shot or tased.
Give every cop your ear, but none your wit;
don’t tempt him to fold, spindle, mutilate, hit
or otherwise cause pain
to tendons, bones, muscles, brain.
These are things you need to know
if you want to safely come and go.
But still there is no guarantee
that you will make it home to me.
Despite all our care and labor,
you might frighten a cop or a neighbor
whose gun sends you to eternal sleep,
proving life’s unfair and talk is cheap.