“We are only 14 years old. We aren’t thinking about lawyers,” a teen declared in the middle of a presentation I was giving at his high school.
The topic of the presentation is based on the ACLU of Ohio’s publication What To Do If You’re Stopped By the Police. This wallet-sized card outlines rights and responsibilities when interacting with the police. Updated frequently, this publication reflects Ohio and federal laws concerning a number of rights, including the right to remain silent, the right to a phone call, and the importance of reading a warrant. The card also outlines the importance of staying calm, of identifying yourself to the police, and of filing complaints if necessary.
Read and share the ACLU of Ohio's What To Do If You're Stopped By the Police
The interactive presentation can seem chaotic to some, but it is designed to appeal to all learning styles; it is collaborative and open. Audience members volunteer to read portions of the card, and at any point anyone can interject to ask a question, share a personal experience, or even tell a joke. At the end of the presentation, participants are asked to share stacks of cards with their family and friends.
I give several of these presentations a year, but there are times when I am forced to pause and reflect. That moment hit me with this group as I stressed the importance of asking for an attorney.
I said, “Lawyers and judges get lawyers to help them when they get in trouble with the law and they went to law school; they know the law and still need help. That means that the rest of us who do not have law degrees need to do the same.” The teens agreed, all but The One.
I suddenly thought of Anthony Harris, who was 12 years old and living in New Philadelphia, Ohio, when he was wrongfully convicted of murdering his 5-year-old neighbor. Anthony said that he stabbed the little girl—even though he did not—after being subjected to a police interrogation technique that is known to compel children to make false confessions. Subsequently, Anthony was sentenced to serve nine years of incarceration. Luckily for him and his family, teams of lawyers took on his case and were able to free him, overturn his conviction, and get him a formal written apology.
Children should not have to think about lawyers, but since this county incarcerates more children than any other country in the world, they need to. That is why the ACLU advocates for children’s rights to counsel and educates them on what to do when stopped by the police.