Erica Gunderson | November 16, 2017 4:50 pm
In 2015, Dwayne Bryant, a Chicago motivational speaker, experienced a traffic stop that was such a positive encounter, he says it was a revelation in how civilians should interact with the police.
He has since written a book called “The STOP: Driver’s Education Police Instruction Manual” that he believes can help all citizens, and law enforcement, get home safely.
Below, a Q&A with the author.
Why did you create this manual?
There’s another book and workbook that has all the chapters in the driver’s education manual, plus more that’s aimed at fourth grade to ninth grade. The book came about because my first encounter with the police was in elementary school. I was doing a workshop at Drake Elementary School, and was talking about cyberbullying. The conversation turned and I asked them, if you were out on the playground doing nothing wrong and a police car drove over – what would you do? Most of them said they’d run – they said we don’t want to get shot or for the police to stop us from going home. Some of them said if they disrespect me I’m gonna disrespect them. I was standing there just blinking, thinking these babies are going to do something that will get them hurt or killed or create suspicion in such a way that things may not go well for them. I didn’t know what to tell them, so I just listened.
A couple months later – I had the interaction I describe in the book with Indiana trooper Aron Weller. So I just prayed and asked God, how can I create a lesson and instruction for young people in a time where you can do everything right and still get killed? I wanted to be a voice of reason. I’m not on Blue or Black Lives Matter, I’m on all intelligent people matter, and what I realized in talking to these kids, most of the voices that they hear are either “police are no good, don’t snitch.” I wanted to be able to say listen, you have power over your words, your tone, your body language.
The book is called “The STOP,” but it’s not just about the police stop. The STOP is actually an acronym. It means: Support the Teaching Of Principles. My company (offers) a 30-week curriculum where we teach goal setting, time management, power of words, study skills, hope – those are the principles I’m trying to get across to these kids.
How did you develop the curriculum?
In 1999 I had started my company – I have a background in sales at Johnson and Johnson and I traveled a lot. Every city I lived in, I was a public school role model – talking about college, studying to kids. One day I asked the Lord to reveal my purpose. And the Holy Spirit said I want you in the classes. I could not be a teacher – no way could I teach children every day! – so I convinced the board to let me pilot a mentoring program at Corliss High School.
Corliss had a 10-year high graduation rate that year, and coincidentally, my program was the only one working with the kids that year. So Gery Chico called me in and asked what I was doing, and I explained to him that most of these kids have two options: They have their mother and grandma telling them go to school, get an education, love Jesus and he will provide. And then they have their cousins and big uncles talking about, you know, “f” education, here’s how to make money, and they’re driving Lexuses and BMWs. At 11 and 12, if you’re talking education and Jesus … well, these other guys, at least they look like they’re having fun, right?
What they don’t have is a third option – people like me and my friends, who’ve never been shot, in gangs, never been in trouble, it’s not that we’re saints but we did the right thing a little at a time. And we don’t come to your disorganized chaotic schools so they never see us. So I told him, I need a bigger budget to duplicate the program elsewhere.
We went into Prosser in 2000 with a goal of 50 percent graduation, which seemed really low to me. In the first year with our program the rate was 73 percent, second year 80 percent. So, all the lessons we were creating, we’d figure out at my house over a few hours on the weekend what we wanted to teach the kids that weekend, and we finally said, let’s create a formal curriculum.
The book I wrote, that whole book in 40 days; 13-17 hours a day nonstop every day to the point I wasn’t eating regularly. The book was writing me at some point. I’d wake up the next day, read what I wrote and say, that’s not me writing! I’m not that smart! So let’s just say I had some assistance.
How much input from police did you get?
I got a decent amount. Probably the most was the Indiana State Police officer after that police stop. I posted it, and it went viral. I invited (Indiana State Police Chief Public Information Officer Captain David Bursten) to my home and we talked about the interaction, and I asked him, honestly, did you stop me because I was black? They said, do a ride-along with us. So I did a ride-along. And I’m in the car, and I’m seeing that the faster the speed, the more I could not see the color of the driver, so it began to dispel my assumptions. And I thought, if we could have a better understanding of what they go through and maybe modify some of the things we say. Or I asked Captain Bursten, why do you guys have to shoot so many times, can’t you just shoot in the hand or kneecap? And he tells me, well, no, police officers are trained to shoot center mass, and I thought, I have to have this in the book, because so many people say police don’t have to shoot so many times.
I did talk to (Chicago Police Department Superintendent) Eddie Johnson at a town hall meeting. I commented that I think 90 percent of police officers are good people. He said he thought it was at least 95 percent. I asked him how many police officers are in Chicago, and he said 15,000. I said so 5 percent of them, that’s 750, officers are rogue officers? He said no, no, that’s not right. More like 97 percent. Well, 97 percent is still 300 rogue officers. If it’s less than 100 percent you have real issues. We can’t afford to protect unethical, unprofessional officers.
In Racine, Wisconsin, Chief Howell said he liked the work we’re doing, but asked if we could add more about the positive stuff we’re doing. He shared things they were doing in Racine – for instance, if your son gets pulled over, instead of asking if you know why they pulled you over, they have to introduce themselves by name.
How do you respond to people who say it’s the police officer’s responsibility to ensure interactions with citizens are respectful and nonviolent?
I believe everyone has a responsibility in the encounter to ensure mutual respect but I do believe the officer has more responsibility. They’re trained. They can take my life and liberty, which means there’s more responsibility on them, but that doesn’t take away my responsibility. And they’re human beings as well. We have teachers, parents who have difficult jobs, and there’s times when every human being gets tired or frustrated.
In D.C. I had a meeting with a Black Lives Matter group, and one man I talked to said I was an Uncle Tom. I said, if your child was stopped by a dehumanizing officer, would you rather they listen to what I say and come home or maybe not? He said, well, I didn’t think about it that way. What I want is, I want our young people to get home. I want the police officers to get home as well. Therefore we have to have mutual respect. We don’t have to pop off, it’s not smart. Trust me, I popped off and it wasn’t necessary. So I think everyone is responsible, but I do believe the police have a bigger responsibility.
Do you think police departments are working on their end to improve community relations?
I would love to say yes, but I think it’s as individual as leadership in the department. You have 18,000 law enforcement administrations, so there are 18,000 different answers to your question. There are some that are doing a wonderful job. Other places are doing a terrible job. Leadership determines the pace. I think the Fraternal Order of Police bears some responsibility too. There are organizations who protect officers even when they do bad things. And some communities need to step up. I’m not trying to coddle anyone – we have criminals in the community and criminals in law enforcement – why don’t hold all of them accountable?
What do you think is the single most important thing to take away from the curriculum?
What I want my students to be able to say is this: I will not allow a temporary encounter with any obstacle to ruin or derail my destiny. Whether that obstacle is a police officer, a bully on the school ground, a teacher I don’t like, a menace in the community, I will not allow any obstacle to derail my future. The STOP is so much bigger than a police officer. It’s about do you have the will to reach your destiny.
Is the book mainly directed at communities of color?
I think it’s really for all sides. My goal is to get it in the schools. Racine is the first school district to embrace the curriculum. (Chicago Public Schools) approved the book but has made no monetary investment. But CPS just approved the Jon Burge curriculum for eighth and 10th grade. So we’re teaching kids that this guy threatened, intimidated, coerced, tortured people. When kids read this do you think they’re going to have more respect or less for law enforcement? More afraid of law enforcement or less? Why would we teach and reinforce all the ugly they already know? Can we teach improving police and community relations before they get the Burge curriculum – fourth and fifth graders – and for the 11th and 12th grade teach the driver’s curriculum?