Manhattan- The New York Civil Liberties Union offered training workshops to 450 students attending East Side Community High School last week to teach them how to respond when stopped by police.
According to The New York Post, the school’s principal brought the NYCLU to conduct the workshops in an effort to build trust between youth and police officers. East Side Community High School Principal said the workshop’s purpose was “about what to do when kids are put in a position where they feel powerless and uncomfortable.”
Students have expressed uneasiness in dealing with police, including senior Jason Zaragoza, who said that on one occasion he felt intimidated by police power after he was stopped heading home from a party.
Zaragoza said he was “panicking” when stopped by police and accused of lying about where he was headed after the party, “because I knew they could do anything to me and I can’t help myself.”
The workshop was centered around New York City’s stop-and-frisk procedures and encouraged students to exercise their Fourth Amendment rights. Within the training session there were instructional pamphlets titled “What To Do If You’re Stopped By Police” that outlined what police and civilians are legally allowed to do during a stop.
The pamphlet stated that police may “stop and briefly detain” upon reasonable suspicion of a crime, but pointed out that carrying identification is not required in New York and people are allowed to ask if they are free to leave. The pamphlet encouraged students to remain calm during interactions, avoid resisting officers, and refrain from insulting or touching police.
“You may have to cooperate with an officer if you feel they’re harassing you, but you can file a complaint later on,” said NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman.
Former police officer and John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Eugene O’Donnell criticized the program. “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,” said O’Donnell.
Pat Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, told PIX11 that the pamphlets should include information about the “hundreds of police officers who have sacrificed their lives to get guns and drugs off our streets.”
“It’s about helping kids understand what they can and cannot do legally and as a matter of reality,” said Lieberman. “So we’re looking to help young people walk away from an encounter with police which my be unpleasant, but without exacerbating the situation.”