Monday, November 7, 2011

"You Have the Right to Remain Silent": Spanish Community Service Learning and Our Legal Rights

by Ann Abbott

What would you do if the police knocked on your door?

My first instinct would be to open it. 

But I would fight that instinct. I would ask them through the closed door what they wanted. Until I figured out the situation, I would give no information beyond my name. 

If the conversation continued, I would ask them if they had a warrant. If they said no, I would stop communicating. If they said yes, I would ask them to slip it under the door for me to verify. Those are  my rights.

I am a US citizen. White. I live in a very good neighborhood. I was raised to see the police as my ally. Truly, I don't think I have any reason to fear them. I want to be a good citizen, and I want to help the police create a safe community for all of us.

But it is our right to remain silent--and not just after they have arrested you, despite all the chatty people you see on Law & Order.

I teach this in my "Spanish in the Community" course. It's in Lección 14 ("¿Qué se debe hacer durante una redada?"), and students tell me that they had no idea what their rights were. Most also think it's something they don't have to worry about. They've probably never found themselves on the wrong side of the law and cannot imagine ever finding themselves in that situation. Ever.

Of course it can happen to anyone. But the larger lesson for my students is that the community members we serve need to know this information--citizens, legal residents, documented immigrants and undocumented immigrants. These rights are for all of us.

And this morning, I read a case from the community that illustrates exactly why I teach this information to my students"

"Esta manana oficiales de immigracion entraron a uno de los barrios donde viven muchos Latinos en Champaign y detuvieron a una persona que estaba saliendo de su casa. Le preguntaron su nombre y pidieron ID. Cuando el hombre entro a su casa por su ID ellos fueron tras el, le hicieron mas preguntas y al final lo arrestaron. POR FAVOR cuando alguien asi se acerque no tienen obligacion de responder a mas preguntas. Solo deben dar su nombre. Si los oficiales no tienen una orden de arresto con su nombre, firmada por un juez y con su direccion no tienen derecho de entrar a su casa pero si ustedes les dejan la puerta abierta ellos entran. No les abran la puerta. Estos oficiales aparentemente estaban buscando a alguien mas pero se llevaron arrestada a esta persona. Cuidense."

Comunidades also has an activity that asks students to explore and question our concept of "success" (pp. 94-95). One item involves community-police relations: "Un grupo de padres que colabora con la policía local con la intención de disminuir la criminalidad en su vecindario." Students almost always say that, yes, that is an example of successful people. I then point out that although the intention may be noble, in some communities collaborating with the police may be seen as a betrayal. We need to understand that our lived reality with the police--which informs our perspective on them--may not be the same as everyone else's. Some immigrants may bring with them the notion that police are corrupt and not to be trusted. (Well, some people in the US might feel the same way, in fact.) Some people may not be able to distinguish the difference between the police and ICE officials. "Secure Communities" has created much mistrust between immigrant communities and local police. 

I am certainly not against the police and their role in public safety. However, I do want my students to ask themselves and others if a man leaving his home, as in the example above, has anything to do with public safety. What crime was he committing? Why was it necessary to arrest him? Was that a good use of police time and effort? Did that make our community safer in any way? I also want students to understand more about ICE, Secure Communities and other policies that determine police relations with our local communities. 

This may be a controversial post. Do you have an opinion to share? Do you know what your rights are? How much do you know about ICE, Secure Communities and crime rates among immigrants? What are the facts versus the media hype? Please leave a comment if you have a perspective to share!

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