‘Know Your Legal Rights’
Beacon Hill NAACP chapter hosts workshop for teens
August 27, 2017
Teens, lawyers and Decatur High School staff members crowd the room. The space buzzes with hip hop music and the anticipation of discussion as a police officer stands nearby, watching. Seats are filled, the music fades and the meeting begins.
“The purpose of this workshop is to empower young people with information about what their rights are during police encounters and suggest ways of how they should conduct themselves as they assert their rights,” chapter President and Attorney Mawuli Davis said.
At the beginning of the workshop, seniors Khari Davis and Kaya Davis (no relation) introduced Decatur High School’s Black Student Union (BSU), a sponsor of the workshop. The BSU serves to empower black students in Decatur with knowledge and help their voices be heard in the community.
Afterward, all eyes faced forward as criminal defense attorneys Durante Partridge and William Boddie, a state representative, led the group through a presentation on the legal rights of everyone, specifically minors.
According to Attorney Davis, teens who are informed of their rights can be much safer when they assert their rights.
“They need to know what they can and cannot do both in the school setting and what is permissible when they are out in the community,” Attorney Davis said.
The police officer, as it turns out, was Sgt. Richard Phillips of the Decatur Police Department, and was there to contribute to the discussion.
After the workshop, a panel composed of lawyers, a sergeant, a community member and a student discussed ways to improve police encounters with teens. This panel was used to create a safe space for teens and community members to voice their concerns.
“The objective is to have an honest, community building conversation that leads to additional efforts to build together,” Attorney Davis said. “We want this to be a way of facilitating continued communication in the community and we want to address the undeniable issues that happen all around the country. Whether it’s mass incarceration or the difference of the policing of communities of color, we have to address it and be honest about it.”
Along with that, Attorney Davis wanted each teen to feel like they had a community member to go to after the discussion.
“We want our young people to feel how much we care about them and their safety and that we care about the things they care about,” Attorney Davis said.
They certainly did.
Junior Kenya Oliver, a member of the BSU, was pleased with the workshop and the number of students they helped recruit to participate in the event.
“We’re actually really proud of the student turnout,” Oliver said. “I’m really looking forward to the future events that we hold on our own because I think it’s really important that we [talk about police brutality] because although cases aren’t reported often, it’s still important for kids and students to be knowledgeable and aware about things that happen in the community around them.”
With more conversations like these, Oliver hopes that police encounters with teens will improve.
“I hope that there can be more respectful encounters, where teens know their rights and can use that knowledge in their conversations with police,” she said. “I hope [the encounters] can be more respectable and that police officers don’t take their authority too far.”
Oliver urges students who missed the workshop to look out for future conversations and participate.
“Please come to the next one if you can,” she said. “It’s just a good way to see who really cares about you. Your friends care about you, your parents care about you and the community cares about you. You should care about yourself if you’re black and even students who aren’t black, we encourage you to be aware of what goes [on] in the community,” she said. “It’s not just about one race, or one person, it’s about the whole community and the whole world.”
What are your legal rights?
Criminal defense attorneys Durante Partridge and William Boddie, one of your state representatives, answer your questions.
Q: Can the police stop you when you are walking down the street?
Q: Can you walk away if the police ask to speak with you?
A: Yes. You are able to walk away if you are not under arrest. Communicate with the officer so they know what your intentions are and you know what their intentions are. Ask the officer if you are under arrest. If they say no, you may leave.
Q: Can the police pat you down without a search warrant?
A: Yes. Police can pat you down in what’s called a Terry Search or Terry Frisk. Even without probable cause to arrest you, the police can pat you down if they suspect you may be armed.
Q: If an officer asks you to step out of your car, do you have to comply?
A: Yes, you must comply if they ask you to step out of your car. However, you may get back in your car and leave if you are not under arrest (after clear discussion with the officer has occurred).
Q: If the officer asks to search your car, can you refuse?
A: Yes. An officer cannot search your car without a search warrant. If an officer searches your car and finds incriminating evidence but does not have a search warrant, the evidence is not valid. (Rare case involves an officer seeing incriminating evidence in your car and then being able to search your car without a warrant.) On school property, lockers, cars and personal belongings can be subjected to searches without warrants if they suspect you have something that can harm others or if they smell marijuana or alcohol.
Q: Can the police enter your house without a warrant?
A: No. The police cannot enter your house without a warrant unless you give your consent. (Rare case involves being able to enter without a warrant when they feel that someone’s life is in danger).
Q: Do you have to open the door for police if they do not have a warrant?
A: No. You do not have to open the door for police if they do not have a warrant. You can speak to them through the door (this is not recommended, keep conversation limited). If they have a warrant, you must open the door and let them in.
Q: When do the police have to read you your rights?
A: If you are ever in a situation where you cannot leave, you must be read your Miranda rights. Whether you are in handcuffs, in the back of a police car, or about to undergo a custodial interrogation, you must be read your rights. If you ever reach the point of being interrogated, ask for your lawyer and never be questioned without the knowledge and consent of your parents (if you are a minor).
Q: What should you do if an officer asks to bring you downtown for a statement but you are not under arrest?
A: Tell them to call your parents and speak to them before any further action.
Q: Should parents be present when students are questioned by administrators or police in school?
A: Yes. Ask for your parents if you are about to be questioned.
Q: At what age can you be tried as an adult?
A: You can tried as an adult at 17 in the state of Georgia. For those 16 and under, you can be charged as an adult for serious offenses like armed robberies and homicide.
Q: If you are a witness to something, are you forced to come forward?
A: You do not have to come forward unless the police have a subpoena. Never lie to the police.
Statements to Remember
Answer questions with questions. An officer may ask, “Do you know why I stopped you today?” Remain calm and answer, “What can I help you with today officer?”
Do not physically resist. Never touch an officer.
Do not consent to any search without a warrant or in special cases (like the Terry Search or if it is on school property). You have the right to privacy of your body, car, house and possessions.
Keep personal and private items out of plain view of the police.
Be non-confrontational. Determine if you can leave, and ask this question, “Excuse me officer, am I free to go?”
Officers are not your advocates. Don’t believe what they say. Ask for your lawyer.
Write everything down as soon as possible. If you feel as if you have been mistreated, write down the officer’s name, badge number, any witnesses and their contacts. Do this immediately after an encounter.
All photos by Isis Amusa.
Contact the writer, Isis Amusa, at firstname.lastname@example.org