Knowing Your Rights--More Important Now Than Ever

Every month at CCRB Board Meetings, you have an opportunity to learn more about civilian oversight of the New York City Police Department and better understand police-community relations in your neighborhood.

Avenues for Justice (AFJ)’s Court Advocate/Activities and Volunteer Coordinator, Johnny, recalls the time police officers from the local precinct came to our Lower East Side Center with the purpose of building good community relations. “We had invited local police over to talk with our youth and have a positive exchange.  Instead our youth were terrified.  They thought they were about to be arrested, even though they hadn’t done anything wrong.”

Prior to the COVID-19, Avenues for Justice (AFJ) considered facilitating a workshop to educate our youth on understanding their rights, particularly when dealing with law enforcement. When Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists began marching throughout NYC, the need became more urgent.  Most of our youth already have pending cases – so to get arrested at a march could mean re-conviction.

AFJ provided our youth with platforms to safely and openly discuss their encounters with law enforcement during our online group sessions. We also facilitated two Know Your Rights workshops in June and July.

Workshop #1 - Your rights at a job interview - Youth learned that they do not need to share, and should not be asked, about their criminal backgrounds. They also discussed times when they felt their race, gender or other factors may have prevented them from being hired. 

Workshop #2 - Your rights if arrested - Youth learned they have the right to:

  • Obtain badge numbers and identification cards from officers if they are stopped or detained.
  • Remain silent during questioning and request a lawyer - many youth in the workshop weren’t aware of the Miranda Rights.

Avenues for Justice finds that free legal representation from non-profit organizations such as Legal Aid is highly effective - the lawyers care about their clients and often provide extra guidance and attention.  The facilitator was the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), a City Agency that mediates complaints against NYPD officers.

Johnny recalled once while walking on the street with one of his participants, a patrol car slowed down, did a U-turn and followed the two of them for no apparent reason. “See Johnny! This is what I have to go through all of the time,” the participant exclaimed and even Johnny felt uncomfortable.

With the current movement to re-arrange state and city budgets away from policing, Johnny feels greater funding is needed for prevention programs and grassroots’ planning.  ”No one is rehabilitated behind bars. But creating opportunities for people to straighten out their lives would bring down the number of crimes.”  

In 2009, African-Americans and Latinx in New York were nine times as likely to be stopped by the police compared to white residents and, just this year, African-Americans and Latinx made up 80% of the arrests made for social distancing violations.  While “Stop and Frisk” has all but ended, as more videos surface on the internet of protesters and peaceful citizens beaten, arrested, and taken into unmarked cars, AFJ believes it is critical that our participants are empowered to stand up not only from themselves, but for the rights that are afforded to them.

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