Teaching Civil Liberties

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Students have constitutional protections when it comes to dealing with law enforecment, we must help them exercise them in a responsible and informed manner

Good teachers know that the best learning happens when students are engaged and the instruction is relevant and connected to their lives. Engaged students learn more, retain more, and are more likely t0 apply and share their learning with others. 

In the fall of 2014, following the deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown and in response to the anxiety and curiosity of my students, I began to rethink the way I taught civil liberties. My students had questions about the limits and checks on the power of law enforcement and how they should respond, if at all, when they were pulled over or questioned by police.

That spring, using resources from Flex Your Rights and the ACLU, I delivered my first workshop on dealing with the police. The response was immediate. Students who never spoke up in class were full of questions and everyone in the room was engaged in meaty, real world conversations about the intent of the Founders and esoteric questions like "what would John Locke say about civil asset forfeiture?" 

Over the last two years my workshops have gained attention from the press, but the need for this teaching remains dire. Last year, depending on whom is counting, US police killed between 900 to 1200 people. The vast, vast majority of these killings were ruled justified under state and local laws, but the laws are part of the problem. We are alone in the industrialized world in allowing the routine use of deadly force on citizens. The causes are many: a trigger happy US gun culture, fear among officers, easy access to guns for criminals via the black market, racial and class bias, the Tueller Drill ethos, societal indifference to the victims, etc. Regardless, this issue is full of teachable moments for our students and communities. 

The Bill of Rights dedicates full five amendments to issues regarding the rights of the accused (Amendments IV, V, VI, VII and VIII); by teaching my students about their rights and responsibilities regarding law enforcement we are honoring the words of Madison and the Founders. This is rich, authentic learning and among the most important teaching I do all year. Below you will find resources that I have used and collected, including my Syllabus for Students in Dealing with Law Enforcement.

Note: I don't endorse everything in these resources, but I offer them to you for your perusing, learning and evaluation.

 

The 40-minute docudrama is the most sophisticated and entertaining film of its kind. Narrated by the legendary trial lawyer William “Billy” Murphy, Jr. (from HBO’s The Wire), 10 Rules depicts innocent people dealing with heavy-handed policing tactics used every day in the United States.

 

A Media Project by Tannock, Steven, John and Charlene on Police Deescalation and community relations. Features footage from protests and officers' encounters here in Seattle.

 

Regent Law Professor James Duane gives viewers startling reasons why they should always exercise their 5th Amendment rights when questioned by government officials.