When Participants first come to Avenues for Justice (AFJ), not only do they need help with legal representation, they also need assistance navigating the complexities of the criminal justice system starting with knowing their legal rights at the moment of being arrested. Our Participants live in communities which are overpoliced, and are far more likely to be stopped and arrested than the average City resident—especially those between the ages of 16 to 24.
According to a report by the Data Collaborative for Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, for teens aged 16 to 17, the enforcement rate for African Americans was nine times greater than that of their Caucasian counterparts; for those ages 18 to 20, the enforcement rate for African American young adults was 7.9 times greater; and for 21 to 24 year olds, 7.8 times greater for African American young adults. Enforcement rates refers to arrests, criminal summonses, and pedestrian stops.
To educate and empower our Participants on their rights, not only in the courtroom but also in their own communities, in 2020 AFJ piloted three online Legal Rights and Responsibilities workshops. In 2021 it was expanded to a weekly schedule led by AFJ Court Advocate, Brian Stanley. All new Participants are now required to join Legal Rights and Responsibilities. The workshop is part of our Youth Activism & Communication (YAC) HIRE UP training series funded by New York Community Trust, making it our highest attended workshop.
Over the last few months topics covered during the weekly workshop include:
Recognizing that many participants are experiencing “Zoom burnout,” Brian supplements his lectures with videos and Jeopardy-style quiz games and translates legal jargon into clear language and concepts. Following the lecture, students jump into teams and are quizzed on the topics they just learned.
Legal Rights & Responsibilities gives Participants the tools on how to mentor others. Brian teaches Participants how to share their new skills in their communities so their friends and families can also handle situations such as the right to remain silent and deny consent (as Dariel did twice, legally).
We spoke to two AFJ Participants who enthusiastically attended several classes. Here are their thoughts on why the workshops are so effective:
GEORGE: “I like the structure of the program, it’s easy to work with and a really good bonding experience with my peers. I am glad to learn this stuff because when I was arrested, I forfeited my rights when I allowed the cops to enter my house. In hindsight, I never saw a warrant. One thing I am looking forward to learning more about are good ways to represent myself in court and how to understand everything that is happening to me without a lawyer explaining.”
DARIEL: “Not a lot of places teach your rights, so I am really happy to be in this class. It’s the only place where I have learned my rights. I like the Jeopardy game because it’s a good learning game and more fun than regular school. Everything is straightforward and we are really engaged. I feel like there is so much more to rights that I did not know and want to learn. I truly believe if I had taken the class, I would not be in the legal situation I am in now. However, I am really happy to have learned what I learned so far because I have had two police encounters where I denied consent to search my car when they did not have any right to. I am grateful to have this knowledge.”
Legal Rights & Responsibilities is just one of many HIRE UP workshops at Avenues or Justice. Follow us on Instagram to see frequent programmatic and other AFJ updates!