Sweating with a cop on the roadside is no fun for anyone, even 32-year-old Spark Bookhart, a former Kansas City police officer.
"Even though I was a cop, I knew about being on the other side of a cop car," Bookhart says. "I knew about being pulled over for no reason. I knew about being snatched out of the car for no reason. I knew about getting searched for really no reason at all."
All of which made him highly qualified to write the new book Shut Your Black Ass Up.
Despite its smack-talkin' title, Shut Your Black Ass Up is a useful little manual on a driver's civil rights, subtitled The Thinking Man's Solution to Dealing With the Police.
Bookhart's first point is on personal responsibility you know, driving with a valid license, registration and insurance, not driving drunk, and not with warrants. The book takes a reader through a typical traffic stop, step by step. It explains the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments.
And Bookhart stresses that a driver should "NEVER" consent to a search of a vehicle. Usually, an officer is allowed to search a vehicle only if he has a warrant or the driver is under arrest. And if a traffic stop does lead to arrest, Bookhart advises drivers to use their Miranda rights and "shut their black ass[es] up" to avoid incriminating themselves.
Good advice for black asses, white asses, Latino and Asian asses even barbecued asses.
Bookhart grew up in Los Angeles, California, under what he calls the "brutal reign" of Daryl Gates the chief of police during the Rodney King riots, whose "Operation Hammer" tactics inspired NWA to write "Fuck tha Police." Nonetheless, Bookhart, a graduate of Tuskegee University in Atlanta, grew up wanting to fly the ghetto bird.
He heard there was an opening with the helicopter unit at the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, so he relocated and joined Kansas City's finest, with whom he served from 1996 to 2005. While he never flew the bird, he rode in it, worked as a beat cop and an undercover narcotics agent.
"Often, a bad encounter escalated when it didn't need to," Bookhart tells the Strip. "Historically, black men have had an adversarial relationship with the police and so they may view police with a preconceived contempt.... But we suffer the most from not knowing our rights, and the police aren't changing, so we have to change our approach."
Shut Your Black Ass Up is a companion book for a workshop Bookhart gives. He's visited with high school football teams and has been hired to address the Black Male Development Symposium in Philadelphia and the National Black United Front. "For my audiences, the question isn't whether racial profiling exists but how to deal with it when it happens."
This careful cutlet imagines Shut Your Black Ass Up will be especially helpful in Missouri, which pays close attention to how much cops pull folks over for "driving while black." Back in 2000, the state started requiring officers to report the race of the driver in each vehicle they stopped. The attorney general's office adds up the stats with help from egghead academics like Richard Rosenfeld, a criminology prof at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Rosenfeld makes sense of the numbers by using a "disparity index."
Rosenfeld figures that since black drivers account for 27.5 percent of the driving population, they oughta be pulled over 27.5 percent of the time. If that happened, their disparity index would equal 1. Instead, statewide, in 2005, blacks were pulled over at about a 1.4 disparity, meaning 40 percent more than one would expect, given their percentage of the driving population. Kansas City blacks' disparity index was 1.20, meaning they were pulled over 20 percent more than their share.
Independence police pulled over 300 percent more blacks than they should have, for a disparity index of 3.27. Damn, dudes. (Independence top cop Fred Mills says his town has a small black population, with a much bigger black population driving through it on Interstate 70 and highways 24 and 40, which could account for the inflated numbers.)
"We also find considerably higher search rates for blacks and Hispanics than for white drivers," Rosenfeld notes, "and yet whites are more likely to have contraband found on them than blacks and Hispanics are."
So Bookhart's NEVER tip about consenting to a search is pretty good advice, Rosenfeld says.
But Bookhart's refusal to shut his own black ass up may have cost him his last job.
While Bookhart enjoyed his time on the police force, he also took some urban affairs classes at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and grew intrigued with the idea of "improving the urban landscape." He got an internship with the city's Economic Development Corporation and eventually landed a job at the EDC's Loan Corporation (a source of financing for small businesses).
Bookhart got a good review, a raise and a bonus in April. His boss sent him to Orlando for more training. The day he came back, he got canned. The reason? He was "unresponsive to bankers."
But he talked to bankers every day. Surely if his performance had been sub-par, that would have come up during his annual review. Bookhart was crushed. He loved his job.
The only other reason he could think of was that he'd just created his publishing house and put out 1,000 copies of Shut Your Black Ass Up. That was on May 9. He was fired May 16.
When the Strip asked Gloria Morris in the EDC's human resources office why Bookhart had been fired, she shut her own ass up. "We do not give that information out," she said.
Bookhart hadn't given much thought to promoting his book. Now it's his career. He wants everyone to know they can contact him and order copies at www.shut yourblackassup.com. Trust the meat patty: $19.95 is a small price to pay.