Since Flex Your Rights was founded in 2002 to educate the public about constitutional rights during police encounters, our work has met with very little controversy. Every citizen should understand their basic Bill of Rights protections, and our materials have been embraced by both police and the public. That’s why we’re deeply concerned about today’s news that two high school teachers in Virginia were suspended after showing one of our videos to their students:
Two Norview High School teachers were placed on paid administrative leave this week after a parent complained that they distributed classroom materials that gave advice on how to deal with police if stopped.
The video, “Busted: Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters,” is posted online at http://tinyurl.com/2sb2ho. It opens with a portrayal of young adults stopped by a traffic officer who searches their car and arrests them for marijuana possession.
A commentator on the video states, “Whether or not you break the law, this video is designed to explain what the law is and how you can legally and properly assert your constitutional rights through even the most stressful police encounters.”
For each scene, the commentator explains how legal rights apply to police searches of vehicles, homes or individuals and how people can cite those rights during encounters with police. [The Virginian-Pilot]
Millions of these encounters occur each year in America, and it is plainly absurd to suggest that our young people should receive no education in how to handle them. People who understand their rights and know what to expect during a police encounter are less likely to make regrettable decisions, thus our materials reduce the likelihood of negative outcomes for both individuals and officers of the law.
Unfortunately, as we work to provide this important public service, we do sometimes receive criticism from individuals who misinterpret our discussion of constitutional rights as an endorsement of breaking the law. It’s not. We sometimes depict and discuss criminal activity in our materials because there are important legal lessons that are difficult to illustrate without it. Police are trained both to fight crime and uphold the constitution, and there are numerous instances in which these interests come into conflict with one another. Depicting such scenarios makes our work realistic, but should not make it controversial.
In a perfect world, only bad people would be stopped by police, misunderstandings involving innocent people would not occur, and our laws would never be used to punish anyone who didn’t deserve it. Things just aren’t that simple, and the constitutional rights we all enjoy were brilliantly designed by our nation’s founders to help ensure fairness under sometimes complicated circumstances.
That’s why police have endorsed, rather than condemned our efforts, and the video at the heart of today’s controversy has earned overwhelmingly positive reactions such as this one:
“BUSTED teaches that people have precious inherent rights under our
Constitution and should never feel guilty when exercising these rights
during police encounters.”
– Joseph D. McNamara, Former San Jose Police Chief
Indeed, no American should ever be ashamed to assert their Bill of Rights protections, and our educators should be praised, rather than reprimanded, when they teach constitutional rights in the classroom. Withholding this important knowledge from students is gravely irresponsible and we’ll vigorously oppose any effort to silence or mischaracterize the work of our organization.
Please click here to share your concerns with the school administration, and stay tuned for more details as they emerge.