NORWALK, Conn. — M. Quentin Williams was an A student, won a football scholarship to Boston College and is an author, attorney and former FBI agent and federal prosecutor.
So it was with more than a little confusion and anger that he found himself handcuffed in a Newport, R.I., cruiser, held as a crime suspect in the summer of 1994.
Seething inside, Williams told a group of Norwalk High School students that he kept his cool and a smile on his face and the officers eventually let him go.
“If you do it right, it’s over quickly,” he said. “If you do it wrong, it could last a lifetime.”
Williams, author of the book “How Not to Get Killed By the Police,” was the special guest for “Choose2Live,” a program to teach juniors and seniors how to respectfully and safely interact with police officers.
Sponsored by the Norwalk Police Activities League and the Board of Education, the program drew about 800 students Thursday morning. Williams did a second presentation at Brien McMahor High School later in the day.
“It’s a necessary topic because students need to think this through ahead of time, otherwise the consequences can be dire,” said Brenda Williams, chief communications officer for the school system.
Williams, who was born on the island of St. Thomas but grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., remembers well the first time he was pulled over as a teen for a simple traffic violation. Embarrassed at making a wrong turn, he ran back to the apologize to the officer.
Had the officer misread his remorse, things could have gone badly, Williams said.
He gave students — many of whom are new drivers — several tips on how to behave if they see flashing lights in their rear view mirrors. He suggests immediately putting on the car’s hazard lights to show the officer you have seen the lights and are looking for a safe place to pull over.
Once parked, turn the ignition off, put the keys on the dashboard and put the windows down, so the officers can clearly see who is in the car, he said.
He told the students to use the word “officer” or “sir” when addressing the officer and, if they feel like they’re being treated unfairly, to save any arguments for later.
Williams, who has been a law enforcer himself, said he is not blaming the police for tragic incidents that have happened across the country. However, he believes young people need to be reminded how to act when interacting with an authority figure.
“When I was 16, I wish I had any one of these bullet points on my checklist,” he said. “One bullet point might save their lives.”
Students seemed to respond to Williams’ message.
“I thought this was really good,” said junior Emeka Toney. “It had a different perspective to it. I was surprised with it, too.”