Being A Minority Teenager In New York: A High School Offered A Class Just On Dealing With The Police

A New York City high school last week invited the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) in to talk to their students about how to properly, and safely, assert their rights while dealing with the police, the New York Post is reporting.

For minority youths living in New York City, particularly boys and young men, it’s practically guaranteed that at some point they’ll have to interact with the New York Police Department (NYPD). For teens who haven’t committed any crimes, being targeted for random stop-and-frisks and questioning can be frustrating and humiliating, to say the least. And depending on how the detained person acts, those stops can, and often do, end in arrest.

Mark Federman, the principal of East Side Community High School, invited the NYCLU to offer two-day training sessions to his students in what to do, and what not to do, if they are stopped by the police.

“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. It’s not about the police being bad,” he added. “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.”

For the most part, the classes dealt with how the students can exercise their rights based on the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, according to Time Warner Cable News. At the end of the classes, the students receive a printed pamphlet telling them how to exercise their rights.

The advice is simple and common-sense. Be polite, but stay silent, and don’t consent to any searches.

Justin Zaragoza is an 18-year-old Latino living in New York, who says that he’s been stopped for no reason for a stop-and-frisk as recently as a few months ago.

“We said we were going home. [The police officers] 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.”

Now that he’s been properly trained on how to handle police stops, he says he feels empowered in case it happens again.

“[The class] helped show me I can have my own defense against policemen who abuse their power.”

Former police officer Eugene O’Donnell told the Post that he believes such classes are designed to teach the high school students that police are the enemy.

“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.”

As of this post, it is unclear if the NYCLU will be expanding these police-interaction seminars to other high schools in New York.

[Image courtesy of: Front Page]