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NAACP event teaches youth proper way to interact with law enforcement

By Sarah Thomas sthomas@news-journal.com
Nov. 2, 2013 at 9 p.m.


The death of a Florida teenager more than a year and a half ago spurred a seminar Saturday in Longview designed to teach minority youth how to safely and positively interact with law enforcement.

The Women in the NAACP, along with the Longview Chapter of the NAACP, sponsored "Life in Longview: After Trayvon," named after Trayvon Martin.

"(The goal is to) train and begin the process of advancing our young people to where they are situationally aware of their surroundings, in this case law enforcement," said Branden Johnson, president of the Longview chapter of the NAACP.

About 20 people gathered to hear advice from legal experts including Longview Police Lt. Carlos Samples, Jarvis Christian College Criminal Justice Professor Calvin Lester and Wiley College criminal justice major Clayton Davis.

"It usually takes a crisis for our people to get together and discuss issues that should have been discussed much earlier," Lester told the crowd. "Quite obviously, we are concerned about what happened in the Trayvon Martin case."

Lester discussed the differences between Stand Your Ground laws, such as the one surrounding the case of George Zimmerman - the neighborhood watch captain who shot Martin and was later acquitted in the death - and the Castle Doctrine, which in Texas gives people the right to protect themselves and their homes against intruders.

"Everyone has the right to defend themselves," he said. "But if you hit me with a brick, I can't pull out a bazooka."

However, Lester added, the Castle Doctrine in Texas is extended beyond a person's house and property.

"Your castle goes with you. If you are in the grocery store getting milk, then your castle is in the aisle where you're getting the milk."

Lester also talked about the controversial stop and frisk practices such as those used in New York City, where the police department has come under intense scrutiny from civil rights groups that believe the practice is used to disproportionately stop, search and arrest blacks and Hispanics.

Although Lester called stop and frisk "lazy policing," he acknowledged the need for police to "pat down" people's outer clothing to make sure they don't have weapons, citing the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court case Terry V. Ohio, which protects people from unreasonable search and seizure.

Samples told the crowd misunderstandings between police and members of the community can be caused by many factors, including the way an officer perceives a certain culture.

"Aside from his (stun gun) and his badge and his gun, (the officer) brings something else to into the neighborhood - his perception," he said.

For example, Samples said, 10 black men standing on a corner doesn't make him nervous because he grew up in a black neighborhood.

"I get out and talk to folks," he said. "But you have to understand a white guy might get nervous about that."

When young people are stopped by police, Samples said, they have to remember to give the officer respect and be mindful of their own actions.

Davis, who also is the Juvenile Justice Chairman for the Wiley College chapter of the NAACP, said adverse reactions can produce a negative response from police.

"The way you talk, tone of voice, body language. The first sign of guilt can be having the jitters or an aggressive demeanor," he told the crowd.

He said oftentimes younger people become defensive toward police because they are offended that the police are even questioning them.

If anyone suspects an officer is being abusive or violating their rights, Davis said, it is always best to be prepared to file a complaint with the department. To effectively lodge a complaint, he recommended getting as much information about the officer as possible, including badge and patrol car number.

"Police misconduct cannot be challenged on the street," he said. "Know what the police are in place for. Remember they are there to protect and serve. Be respectful."

Samples agreed.

"It's your police department. ... I work for the community. I never forget that. The community doesn't work for me," he said.

"You have a lot of control when it comes to interaction with police," Lester added. "You can talk your way into something or you can talk your way out of something."

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