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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Knowing your rights is essential

Gwendolyn Smith

Columnist Gwendolyn Smith

Last week, four historically black Greek organizations hosted events regarding rights when interacting with law enforcement officers. Judges, lawyers and police officers served on panels to provide diverse perspectives and answer questions.

The room was filled with Black students, motivated by curiosity and concern for the current state of relations between police and African-Americans.

Seeing a room filled with Black students interested in learning more about rights was encouraging but also saddening. It was encouraging because so many students were interested in engaging other students with law enforcement officers. It was discouraging because other students didn’t find it necessary to attend an event to learn about their legal rights and how to conduct themselves with law enforcement officers.

These events should be of interest to everyone — not just those concerned with Black lives. If not for social justice reasons, just to be aware. It can be difficult to fully comprehend laws and regulations.

The panel was an open, safe space to interact with law enforcement officers — which was a new concept for me. Prior to attending the panel, a majority of my knowledge about the inner workings of the police force came from Olivia Benson on “Law and Order: SVU.”

Having the opportunity to listen to stories and receive advice from practicing law enforcement officers was an incredible opportunity.

The dialogue was much more than a discussion about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Amongst the topics, the panelist provided explanations for practices and clarified tricky police jargon and protocol for interacting with citizens.

Underage drinking is illegal, but we all know it happens on Frat Court. Do you know under what circumstances police can legally enter a private home? Are you aware of the repercussions of being charged with underage drinking?

Black trash bags can’t protect you from everything, you know.

The panel also discussed police interactions. Vince Rozier, a Wake County judge, said that the initial tone of a police interaction is important because that determines whether or not there is an altercation.

He said it was up to both the officer and the individual to know their rights and to converse in mutually respectful ways.

Students should take this time to learn about legalities. There will never be a place filled with more qualified individuals to help dissect constitutional rights and their implications.

You can only learn so much from the internet. Tossing statistics around without contextual knowledge is pointless. It requires examining the current state holistically.

It’s better to know your rights before you’re in a compromising position.

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