November 24, 2014
(TheAntiMedia) NEW YORK, NY- A school in New York City introduced a new program last week that helps high school students deal with police. East Side Community High School invited representatives from the New York American Civil Liberties Union to conduct hour long workshops over two days.
Candis Tolliver, the NYACLU’s associate director for advocacy, said she visits classrooms upon teacher requests, but this is the first time she has addressed an entire school.
She was welcomed by the East Side Community’s principal, Mark Federman. Mr. Federman told the New York Post:
“We’re not going to candy-coat things — we have a problem in our city that’s affecting young men of color and all of our students.”
In fact, Federman commenced the program because students had complained about police harassment. Jason Zaragoza, 18, told the Post that he was recently stopped by police:
“We said we were going home…They said, ‘You’re lying to us — just tell us the truth.’ I was panicking, because I knew they could do anything to me and I can’t help myself.”
Still, Federman maintains he is not against law enforcement:
“It’s not about the police being bad…This isn’t anti-police as much as it’s pro-young people… It’s about what to do when kids are put in a position where they feel powerless and uncomfortable.”
The program advises students to be polite but aware of their rights. It provides pamphlets called “What to Do if You’re Stopped by the Police.” The ACLU teaches that citizens are not required to show identification or consent to a search but not to resist the latter if it is forced. It also shared that it is wise to remain silent when dealing with police. The hour-long workshops emphasized the fourth amendment and how to deal with stop-and-frisk incidents.
Of the program, Zaragoza said:
“[It] helped show me I can have my own defense against policemen who abuse their power.”
It is clear the problem of police brutality is at grotesque proportions when a public school
—often a proponent of “law,” “order,” and “obedience” —is educating its students on how to stand up to these very things. Naturally, however, police advocates objected to the program, saying the ACLU is “dolling out criminal defense advice.”
Eugene O’Donnell, former cop and current professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice complained that
“It’s unlikely that a high school student would come away with any other conclusion than the police are a fearful group to be avoided at all costs.”
He said cops were being portrayed as public enemy number one, but given the overwhelming stories of police abuse and murder across the country, many Americans might approve of that portrayal.
Nevertheless, Candis Tolliver said
“This is not about teaching kids how to get away with a crime or being disrespectful…This is about making sure both sides are walking away from the situation safe and in control.”
It is unclear whether or not the NYACLU will expand its educational workshops to other schools. Should they proliferate, they will prove to be a valuable and educational tool that will foster informed and confident citizens.
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