It was just a skit, but the message was meant to prevent what could be deadly consequences in real life.
Using some chairs to represent two vehicles, a Baton Rouge police officer and a young man acted out a mock traffic stop before about 80 people who gathered at Gloryland Baptist Church Saturday morning for an event aimed at promoting greater understanding between local law enforcement and those they serve.
The skit depicted a driver being pulled over, then hopping out of his vehicle and loudly demanding to know from the officer why he'd been stopped.
"Sir, I didn't ask you to get out of the car," the officer says as the man walks toward her, his hands hidden in his pockets. "Can you get back in the car? Sir!"
The lesson? That a little respect goes a long way in avoiding tense — and potentially dangerous — encounters with police, and that if there is a problem, arguments should be saved for the courtroom or a complaint to the police department.
"The side of the road is not the place to argue with a police officer," Cpl. T.J. Morse, an instructor in the Baton Rouge Police Department's training academy, told the crowd at the church in north Baton Rouge.
Morse and about a dozen other police officers were at the event, which was billed as a kickoff to a new effort called Collective Healing. Funded by a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Victims of Crime, the yearlong program strives to aid the city's recovery from a chain of events in 2016: the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling followed by protests, a deadly ambush on law enforcement and a historic flood.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police helped get the grant. Collective Healing funds also were awarded to police departments in Houston; Minneapolis; Oakland, California; and Rapid City, South Dakota.
In Baton Rouge, the initiative involves police as well as Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's office, the local NAACP chapter, 100 Black Men of Metro Baton Rouge, Capital Area Human Services, LSU and Southern University. Organizers say they plan to hold more events like Saturday's with hopes of giving cops and civilians a forum to get to know one another.
"Everyone is playing their part and has a specialization," said Jazzika Matthews, manager of the Baton Rouge project. "The goal of Collective Healing is around healing trauma and also healing community relationships."
On Saturday, middle and high school boys in 100 Black Men's Project Excel mentorship program and their parents made up much of the audience. After a presentation from Morse on the basics of why and how police conduct traffic stops, the attendees watched two skits: one in which a stop-sign-running driver behaved inappropriately, plus another that showed an officer in the wrong.
In the latter skit, a polite driver obeyed every command, even as the officer pressed the man to tell him "where's the weed at" — there was none — and yelled for him to "shut up" when he asked a question. The driver eventually was let go, and he promptly dialed the police department on his cellphone and asked to file a complaint against the officer.
After the skits, the crowd broke up into smaller groups to talk.
In one room, about 20 parents and a handful of policemen pondered the importance of teaching children to respect authority figures and how to handle things diplomatically — and safely — when they feel they've been treated unfairly. In another, teenagers peppered officers with questions about their rights during encounters with the police as well as why cops do certain things.
Several minutes later, Police Chief Murphy Paul emerged from the room with a smile, saying he was glad to see young people interested in having those types of conversations.
Earlier, Paul addressed the gathering, saying the Collective Healing initiative will give his officers an opportunity to meet people and get a better understanding of their concerns.
He wants average Baton Rougeans to try to do the same.
"This is so important for you to understand, young men," Paul said, directing his comments to the Project Excel participants sitting in the front rows. "It is young black men ... that we deal with every day when it comes to violent crime in the city of Baton Rouge."
Paul asked the contingent of officers at the meeting to stand up.
"Young men, look at these police officers," he told the teenagers. "They are here because they love you. They are here because they care about you."
Organizers hope to train about 400 young people at schools, churches and elsewhere on how to interact with the police by the end of the Collective Healing grant, said Adell Brown, a member of 100 Black Men who is overseeing that organization's part of the project.
They also want to host panel discussions where adults — both police officers and members of the public — can talk about overcoming divides, with a social worker or other professional moderating, Brown said.
The goal, he said, is to promote empathy.
"When you know people, you do better," he said. "It's hard to hate when you're close and know somebody."