The Police, the ACLU, and the Public Walk into the Library

Tuesday night I went to a “Know Your Rights” presentation that was put on by both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Chapel Hill Police Department. The co-sponsorship was what intrigued me. I think I have a decent handle on search and seizure law, nuanced though it is. I was interested in the joint presentation aspect and the interaction with the public because I think we need more of this.

An ACLU lawyer did the initial presentation followed by questions from the audience for the police officers.

Some advice that came out of this event:

  • Know your rights so you are not dependent on a someone else to tell you how they work and do not work.
  • Know your rights so that you know what to report later, if necessary.
  • Politeness and respect are helpful. Treat officers the way you want them to treat you.
  • Children (and later, adults) will talk to their teachers and to police officers the way they talk to their parents. Following instructions is also a highly valuable transferable life skill.

I appreciated the effort to make the event fairly balanced and frank.

Some questions from the audience were good. There were requests for combined sponsorship (police and non-police) events like this to be held in the schools once a year. There was discussion of bias (in policing but also in each of us), self-recognizing bias, and responding to actions rather than skin color or gender.

Some questions showed that some people do not understand the use of deadly force (a gun) in chaotic and dangerous situations with innocent bystanders. For example, one question wanted officers to wear the gun on the weak-hand side and another question wanted officers to only shoot at legs. These options are bad enough on their own. Can you imagine them in combination?

Finally, one question was sweet in its obvious personal importance. A young man, sitting next to his father, wanted to know how old you have to be before you can be left home alone.

The bottom line was we all want safe and respectful interactions on both sides and communities in which people look out for one another.

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