“Here is a video that helps diffuse tension at traffic stop, it gives solid steps into ways of staying safe, and getting home,” Coffey Anderson wrote in a Facebook post along with the video.
The day after a black school-cafeteria manager, Philando Castile, was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop, Coffey Anderson decided he needed to do something to prevent more deaths.
The only problem, the country musician and inspirational speaker told The Washington Post, was figuring out where to begin.
“So many feelings, so many words were flowing from everybody at the same time,” Anderson said. “In the age that we live in, you can do a status update every day or send a tweet at any moment, but we still have problems communicating with each other.”
He decided to split the difference by making a social-media video, “Stop the Violence Safety Video for When You Get Pulled Over by the Police.” The video has gone viral and sparked a heated debate about police interactions and compliance.
Getting people talking is something Anderson has always been good at, he said, mostly because he’s spent his own life straddling disparate worlds with unusual grace. He grew up in a multiracial family in the tiny town of Bangs, Tex., with a black mother and a white father who worked as a corrections officer.
In high school, Anderson said, he was the guy who would break up fistfights and force adversaries to shake hands.
These days, he wears a cowboy hat, drops Bible verses and belts out soulful ballads about wounded warriors. But he doesn’t shy away from discussing topics that aren’t typically associated with the country music world: race, policing and discrimination.
In Anderson, it seems, almost anyone can see a bit of themselves reflected.
“I just love all people,” he said. “And I never liked people not getting along.”
It was that same distaste for discord that inspired Anderson’s idea for reducing violent interactions during traffic stops. His solution: posting a video that walks viewers through a series of steps designed to defuse tension between police and African American drivers.
The video has been viewed more than 30 million times on Facebook. But it has also provoked strong reactions that range from fervent praise to furious criticism.
Supporters see the 3½-minute clip as a no-nonsense guide to staying safe by using old-fashioned common sense and politeness. Critics, however, maintain that the video encourages black drivers to passively endure whatever treatment potentially aggressive law enforcement officers mete out to them.
At the heart of Anderson’s message is a larger debate about compliance — a debate that has been intensified by Castile’s death after he was pulled over in Falcon Heights, Minn., for driving with a broken taillight.
The 32-year-old Montessori school-cafeteria supervisor had a valid permit to carry a gun, his family said, when he was shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, on Wednesday night. Relatives also claim that Castile was killed despite following an officer’s orders.
“I always told him, ‘Whatever you do, when you get stopped by the police, comply, comply, comply, comply,’ ” his mother, Valerie Castile, told CNN on Thursday, the morning after the fatal encounter. “Comply — that’s the key thing in order to try to survive being stopped by the police.”
She added: “My son was a law-abiding citizen and he did nothing wrong. I think he was just black in the wrong place.”
Still, New York Police Det. Yuseff Hamm, who serves as president of a fraternal organization of black officers in the city, underscored the importance of her main point when he told the Daily News that “we need to teach our children how to interact with police. I tell my 22-year-old son: Be compliant.”
During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton echoed the message about strictly following orders.
“Whether white or black, when a police officer confronts you, compliance is the best way to deal with that situation,” Bratton said. “The shared responsibility, the officer enforcing the law, the citizen responding to the officer in appropriate fashion.”
Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, said during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “if I were a black father, and I was concerned with the safety of my child, really concerned about it and not in a politically activist sense, I would say, ‘Be very respectful of the police. Most of them are good. Some can be very bad. And just be very careful.’ ”
Anderson’s traffic-stop safety video began circulating as demonstrators across the country were calling for an end to police brutality and for sweeping police reform. During a protest on Thursday night in Dallas, a black gunman opened fire on police, killing five officers and injuring seven others.
Some of the largest protests over the weekend took place in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, Minn., where tensions remain raw after the deaths of Alton Sterling in the Louisiana city and Castile in Falcon Heights, a St. Paul suburb.
At the same time as protesters were confronting police, Anderson’s viral video was urging African Americans to do the opposite when encountering law enforcement.
As he explains on camera, his approach to compliance involves four steps for minimizing misunderstandings. Anderson said they are the same rules his father taught him growing up, and they’re the ones he intends to teach his own children.
To be sure his video would be endorsed by police, he said, he checked with a Texas sheriff before posting it.
“A sheriff that I know said, ‘This is absolutely correct,’ ” Anderson told The Post. “I wanted to give out the right information.”