‘As prepared as possible’: Red Hook Initiative teens navigate rights, police interactions in new ‘Know Your Rights’ trainings

Twice every week, as college students settle in for after-school applications and examine classes on the Red Hook Initiative, a bunch of eight youngsters sit down for a new workshop. For two hours, the highschool college students find out about easy methods to reply if a police officer stops them on the road, what their rights are, and easy methods to defend themselves.

The three-month class is the first-ever Know Your Rights Ambassador Training Series, held in partnership with the Initiative and the Legal Aid Society. By the tip of the year, the scholars will likely be ambassadors for this system — and can head out to facilitate Know Your Rights Workshops for his or her friends. 

The objective, mentioned Legal Aid Society neighborhood organizer Germain Thompson, is to present RHI youth not simply the information they want, however the skill to unfold that info far and broad and into future generations.

“That’s why the training series is so intense – it’s from September to December — so they can actually have the full understanding of what a police encounter and their rights during a police encounter,” he mentioned. “So they can fully understand the history of gang policing and how the gang database was formed.”

The Legal Aid Society has facilitated comparable trainings earlier than — however that is the primary time they’re instructing younger folks easy methods to develop into lecturers themselves.

People of shade usually tend to be surveilled and stopped by police, and the Red Hook Initiative desires to verify its youth — and their communties — are prepared for police interactions. File photograph by Paul Frangipane

The two teams first linked and began planning the coaching collection again in 2019, mentioned Natisha Romain, Director of Adolescent Youth on the Red Hook Initiative. Some of the middle’s youth had simply had a damaging encounter with the police, and the Legal Aid Society got here in to do an info session.

“The young people were very responsive to it … and because our young people expressed interest, we were like, OK, let’s keep moving,” Romain mentioned. “Let’s see where this can go.”

They had just a few curiosity classes in early 2020 and had loads of youth in this system — however their plans have been derailed by the pandemic. But the delay didn’t affect curiosity — thus far, the response from the present members has been nice.

“It’s been a really great opportunity for young people to learn things that they are connecting to things that are happening in their neighborhood or happening with their friends, and they’re realizing this is a lack of information,” Romain mentioned. “This is a lack of information that they’re seeing in our school system, where they literally have come to me and said, ‘I want my friends to know this.’”

“I’m like, don’t worry, you’re going to teach your friends!” she mentioned.

‘You want to make sure that you are prepared’

Though the primary info session was in response to a selected incident, Romain mentioned the first motivator for launching the coaching collection was the realities the younger folks at RHI face in their neighborhood and the town at massive. Heavy police surveillance of Black and brown kids poses a hazard to their security, she defined.

After stop-and-frisk was deemed unconstitutional in 2013, a federal decide determined that an impartial monitor would supervise the NYPD’s compliance with court docket orders. The most up-to-date monitor’s report discovered that the police have been underreporting stops and that there was a racial disparity in stops – extra Black and Hispanic individuals are stopped than white.

“Waking up as a person of color, as a Black person, you have a concern that the police may approach you, and you want to make sure that you are prepared,” she mentioned. “I’m in a place where I want my young people to be as prepared as I possibly can make them … I do that by providing them with opportunities for access to information.”

At the Red Hook Initiative Youth Ambassador workshops, Tuesdays are devoted to discussing easy methods to deal with precise interactions with the police — strolling by means of the steps of being stopped and requested for ID, being detained, and being arrested.

At the core of these conversations are the “six R’s” — don’t run, don’t attain or resist, stay silent, refuse searches, request an lawyer, and refuse any meals or drinks supplied by legislation enforcement.

“We always say do not reach, because an officer may feel threatened if you start reaching and that may be cause for you to be shot, tasted, whatever the case may be,” Thompson mentioned. “If an officer is asking to search you, refuse all searches, do not consent to the search.”

The remaining “R” — refuse all meals and drinks — is an effort to maintain an arrestee’s DNA out of legislation enforcement databases. If somebody drinks out of a water bottle or smokes a cigarette and leaves it behind on the precinct or in the interrogation room, police could possibly pull their DNA from the merchandise.

“This program has been good because I learned more about cops and NYPD’s systems and other things they may do to target Black and Brown people. This is important information because as a young adult, I have citizen rights and I know what to do when a cop may approach me,” mentioned Carter, a RHI participant and youth ambassador.

On Thursdays, Thompson discusses New York City’s gang database. A instrument the New York City Police Department has lengthy defended, the database tracks all New Yorkers with gang affiliations — however critics say it’s all too straightforward to be added to the listing. 

rally against police gang database
Members of the GANGS Coalition and then-councilmember Antonio Reynoso final year rallied for the abolition of the gang database. Thompson mentioned it’s necessary to coach college students in regards to the database as they study their rights throughout police encounters. File photograph by Kirstyn Brendlen

Family members and neighbors of gang members could also be added to the database primarily based on proximity alone, in keeping with a 2019 report by The Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College. The majority of the listing consists of individuals of shade, and being in the database can imply harsher sentences for what would in any other case be a minor felony cost.

Thompson impresses upon the youth in this system how straightforward it’s to be added to the database and the impact it might have on their lives and interactions with cops. In 2014, the Legal Aid Society filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a listing of individuals in the database.

The youngest particular person on the listing was ten years outdated, Thompson mentioned.

“Being ten years old, on the gang database, being watched by police officers and being investigated without a parent’s knowledge…that’s a big issue,” he mentioned. “That’s why we feel like it’s important for us to spread this message, spread this word, educate people on the NYPD gang database.”

He additionally tells them to watch out on social media. Young folks use social media as a type of expression — sharing music and artwork and particulars about their personal lives. Those particulars can unintentionally elevate a crimson flag for police.

“We touch on safe ways to interact on social media, like watching things that you post, watching reciting rap lyrics and not knowing exactly what it means or not giving the author credit — stuff like that can be determined as your own words,” Thompson defined. “If you’re saying something that’s gang-related, it’s quite possible that the NYPD SMART Unit may flag you as a gang member.”

Spreading the phrase

Perhaps a very powerful a part of this system is that it trains the scholars easy methods to host Know Your Rights workshops themselves — a primary for the Legal Aid Society. 

After this system wraps up, they’ll be paid to host workshops for his or her friends in faculties and elsewhere as a part of the Red Hook Initiative’s High School Youth Leaders program. The eight members — who vary in age from 16 to 18 — have been just a little nervous in regards to the prospect of internet hosting the workshops themselves, Germain mentioned, however they’ll apply in the group and get conversant in the method.

Just a month into this system, the scholars began speaking about how they wished to share what they discovered with their household and associates, Germain recalled.

red hook initiative training
When the eight members end this system, they’ll be able to exit and host workshops themselves. Photo courtesy of The Legal Aid Society

“They want to bring this information and content to their schools, they want to tell their friends,” she mentioned. “At one point they were giving out pamphlets, they were like, ‘Miss, you should read this.’”

Thompson mentioned he generally will get the scholars to attach with him and concentrate by recalling his personal experiences getting arrested and dropping one in all his greatest associates in a gang taking pictures. Neither he nor Germain had the information they’re imparting on the scholars once they have been younger.

“That’s one of the things that I always tell folks — if I had known what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into a lot of stuff I got into in the past,” he mentioned. “That’s the importance of these workshops is to go into these communities and give that information because I know there’s folks out there who are blind to all of this like I was when I was their age.”

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