Student organization teaches students ins and outs of civil rights

Sophomore Erin Taylor doesn’t want to end up like her friend who was pulled over by a police officer for a broken taillight and ended up being charged with possession of marijuana and paraphernalia. As president of GW NORML, which advocates for the legalization of marijuana, Taylor wants to know her rights.

On Nov. 19 NORML along with GW ACLU, which advocates for the protection of citizens’ rights, held an event to raise awareness among students about their constitutional rights in police encounters.

“We wanted to show people their rights and how to use them,” Taylor said. “People shouldn’t feel guilty about taking advantage of them.”

Taylor also said it would be beneficial to stress the fact that there is nothing wrong or suspicious about not consenting to searches. This is simply an execution of a constitutional right.

Sophomore Aaron Seyedian, president of GW ACLU, said that it is common for students to be unfamiliar with how to conduct themselves when confronted by the police.

“Most college students don’t really know how to handle run-ins with law enforcement well,” Seyedian said. “I’ve been with people before who haven’t.”

At the information session, students watched “Busted: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters,” a video by Flex Your Rights, a public education group. Steve Silverman, the organization’s founder, and John Katz, a GW alumnus and local defense attorney, concluded the presentation by answering questions and sharing their opinions.

Sophomore Scott Curley attended the event to see if he could learn anything new, although he said he already had general knowledge of his rights. One of the themes stressed during the session was even people with a strong sense of their liberties can still waive their rights unknowingly out of fear of being arrested.

“There are strategies cops use that people can fall into,” Curley said.

Curley cautioned that students must also recognize the chance they take when engaging in activities that could result in a run-in with the law.

“Students don’t have to drink or do drugs,” he said. “It’s a choice people make.”

Although Curley has never been issued a ticket or been pulled over before, he did recognize that there’s always a chance he could have to deal with law enforcement in the future. Seyedian similarly acknowledged this possibility.

“I’m an average college student, and that student runs a risk of getting in trouble,” Seyedian said.

Participants said they felt that college students are no less justified in asserting their constitutional privileges than other citizens, but some rights are restricted on campus.

“Policies could be a little more favorable towards students,” Seyedian said.

Taylor said she was grateful to walk away with the extra knowledge that she gained at the session.

“I don’t anticipate that I’ll have to deal with the cops in the future, but I feel ready if I do,” Taylor said. “Things can often happen at the most unexpected times.”

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