Episode 82: Using Persuasion to Prevent Police From Beating Your Ass


  • Whiteboard discussion
  • Sterling Brown incident
  • Multiple persuasion techniques discussed
  • “How can we stay safe today Officer?”


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When Persuasion Turns Deadly

    Some of you watched with amusement as I endorsed Hillary Clinton for my personal safety. What you might not know is that I was completely serious. I was getting a lot of direct and indirect death threats for writing about Trump’s powers of persuasion, and I made all of that go away by endorsing Clinton. People don’t care why I am on their side. They only care that I am. 

    You might have found it funny that I endorsed Clinton for my personal safety. But it was only funny by coincidence. I did it for personal safety, and apparently it is working. Where I live, in California, it is not safe to be seen as supportive of anything Trump says or does. So I fixed that.

    Again, I’m completely serious about the safety issue. Writing about Trump ended my speaking career, and has already reduced my income by about 40%, as far as I can tell. But I’m in less physical danger than I was. 

    If you didn’t believe me that I endorsed Clinton for my safety, perhaps the recent shooting of police officers changed your mind. That’s the sort of tragedy you expect to happen when Team Clinton frames the national debate as a race war. 

    Let me give you an example of how Clinton and her supporters in the media have pushed us to the brink of a race war. This article in the Washington Post tells us that although cops kill more whites than African-Americans, we still have a police racism problem because blacks are killed in greater proportion to their relative population. That’s all true, as far as I can tell.

    But what got left out?

    Well, for one thing, it doesn’t address the fact that most police shootings happen in high-crime areas (I assume). And high crime areas in the United States often have high concentrations of African-American citizens. If the police accidentally shoot someone in my neighborhood, the victim will almost certainly be white, Asian, or Indian, because that’s who lives here. But if police accidentally shoot someone in a predominantly African-American neighborhood with a high crime rate, the odds are high that it will be an African-American victim. Does that tell us anything about racism?

    To be clear, racism exists. What we don’t know is how it plays out in every scenario. Cherry-picked data doesn’t tell us anything useful. But it probably does get cops killed. 

    You also have to ask yourself how the environment influences the amount of resistance one shows to a police officer. If you grow up in a tough neighborhood, where you’ve learned to use aggression to resist all forms of bullying and abuse, you might not surrender to police as passively as people raised in a less violent world. Statistics don’t capture that sort of difference, if there is any.

    The backdrop to all of this racial tension is that Trump was winning the persuasion war by making citizens afraid of external threats from illegal immigrants and terrorists. That was a strong formula because people respond to fear.

    But Clinton’s team – including social media and the liberal-leaning mainstream media – responded by defining Trump as a literal Hitler. A Hitler-like leader in your own country is even scarier than external threats. Persuasion-wise, it is a winning formula for Team Clinton, even though the case is built on confirmation bias, not fact. (Trump has never mentioned race in a negative way.)

    So now we have a situation in which Team Clinton has scared citizens into thinking the threat to their lives is mostly domestic, coming from Trump, Trump supporters, and anyone who looks like them. People who are scared will act. And we see those actions now in terms of violence against police, violence against Trump supporters, and death threats to bloggers such as me. And we already have one attempted Trump assassination.

    So far, Trump has showed a willingness to annihilate any professional politician that gets in the way. And he’s annihilated professional reporters and news organizations that got in his way. And he’s tough on non-citizens. But Trump hasn’t tried to turn American citizens against each other. Clinton has, and successfully so. 

    You can blame Trump for Trump University, and for his uncivil language. You can blame Trump for lots of stuff. But the police shootings and the recent uptick in domestic racial violence are mostly Clinton’s doings to win the election. And it is working. Unless Trump finds a way to counter Clinton’s racial persuasion, he will lose in November.

    I expect Trump to go full-attack after the conventions. It would take the world’s greatest persuader to redefine Trump in a way that he can win the election. But as it turns out, Trump is probably the world’s greatest persuader. That’s why I predict he will win in a landslide. Unless someone kills him first.

    Speaking of landslides, my book has never been in one.

Better Surrender Technique

    Everyone is talking about police violence against African-Americans, but I haven’t seen much discussion about practical solutions. In the short term, the most productive approach probably involves teaching citizens how to surrender better.

    You’ve probably seen tutorials on the correct way to handle a traffic stop by police. You should put both hands on the top of the steering wheel, fingers open and outstretched, and wait for the police officer to give you permission to reach for your wallet. If you have time before the officer gets out his car, your wallet should already be out and on the dashboard so you don’t have to reach for it in a suspicious-looking way. That’s good surrender technique, and I think it would work for many situations.

    But I think we can simplify it even more. And simplification is important. People aren’t thinking clearly during police encounters, so simplicity is the key. Here’s how I would use the science of persuasion to simplify the surrender process even further.

    1. Roll down your window upon stopping and stick both hands out the window, palms up, waiting for the police officer. That’s as clear a surrender as you can get. And importantly, it is easier to remember this move than the steering wheel hand-placement mentioned above. You have a different visual memory for sticking both hands out the window (which is unusual) compared to putting both hands on the steering wheel, which is closer to normal behavior.

    2. Your first utterances to the police officer should include the words “officer” and “safety.” Example: Good morning, Officer. Let’s be safe today. Tell me what you need me to do.

    If you have a legal firearm in the car, you might want to try this: “Good morning, Officer. I have a legal firearm in the glove compartment. What is the safest way for you to disarm me?

    When you call the police officer “officer,” it signals your acceptance of the authority of the badge and conveys respect. That persuasion move probably reduces risk by half.

    When you put “safety” in your message up front, it sends a message that your top priority is safety, for all concerned. And it shows an understanding for the officer’s risk. Persuasion-wise, that eliminates nearly all of your remaining risk as long as you cooperate from that point on.

    Communication experts will tell you that a message is only as credible as the sender. Your first interaction with a police officer will tell him – accurately or not – who you are. So if the first impression looks like rebellion, the officer will interpret everything that follows according to that model. If the first impression is obvious concern for mutual safety, you put the officer on your side from the start. Once you have established yourself as a respectful citizen who is primarily interested in safety, any ambiguous communication on your part will be seen through that filter.


    1. Stick hands out the window, palms up.

    2. Say Officer and Safety right away.

    The best way to test a new surrender technique is one city at a time, so you can see if it makes a difference. Perhaps other cities could try modified approaches to see what works best. In each case you would do a general publicity push to teach people how to surrender, much the way our laws about seat belts were publicized with the successful “Click it or ticket” campaign. 

    My best guess is that my surrender technique – or something like it – would nearly eliminate the risk of violence for anyone who used it. The hard part is persuading people to use this method. That’s where simplicity, A-B testing for best methods, and a good PR campaign come in.

    Obviously this method doesn’t get at the root causes of the problem, but it might keep some folks alive until we figure out better solutions.

    Speaking of surrendering, my book has no hands.