Do you know your rights when police get involved?

Mass Media Professor Rachael Hanel and Minneapolis lawyer Tim Phillips educated students about civil rights when dealing with police on Monday in the Multicultural Center.

Students may be afraid of asserting their rights if they are used to seeing television shows in which police announce to those arrested their Miranda rights before slapping on handcuffs. Even if they have done nothing wrong, they still worry that police may use information against them or their loved ones.

Phillips discussed three phrases every student should consider using when being interrogated by police:
1. Am I free to go?
2. May I talk to a lawyer?
3. I do not consent to this search! (Phillips suggested saying this as loudly as possible without sounding crazy).

One example situation Phillips mentioned takes place at a bus stop where a policeman might approach an individual casually and ask that person about their destination.

“You might be honest at first and say you’re going to downtown Minneapolis, but then as the conversation progresses and you’re getting less and less comfortable, you might want to get on the next bus no matter where it goes,” Phillips added, saying that it is important to start by not sharing a whole lot of information in case the officer might try to detain you.

Phillips explained another possible case where an individual talking to police may not have done anything wrong, but a loved one or a friend has committed a crime and is currently being investigated without the individual’s knowledge. He mentioned another where someone may have placed an item in an individual’s bag or vehicle without them knowing it.

“Lawyers also say, ‘Don’t talk to police officers when you don’t have a lawyer,’” Phillips said. “You can always invoke your own right to remain silent.”

Phillips also pointed out that a division may bridge between reality and rights on paper.

If a police official announces they have a search warrant to investigate your vehicle or living space, you have the right to ask to look at that document.

“In reality, are they going to give it to you, or do they even have it?” Phillips asked. “We don’t know, but the best thing to do is ask.” He told students that the three things to look for on a warrant are:
1. Signature from a judge
2. Dated within their lifetime or anytime recently
3. The exact location

Sometimes, Phillips said, while police might have a warrant to search the building of your residence, it may not include your unit. He then turned the floor over to Hanel, who reminded students of their basic First Amendment rights and how to exercise them.

If students involved in an RSO or student special events want to participate in a campus demonstration they need to fill out a form on the Minnesota State University website. It would also notify campus security or address concerns going on in the news.

Hanel referred to campus policy, which states that students may reserve certain spaces on-campus, such as the first and third floors of the Wigley Center, all public areas in the Centennial Student Union, and the lounge adjacent to Highland Center 2002 and 2004. Hanel thought the wording “may be reserved” was a bit perplexing because she said she didn’t think the university has a right to say which spaces are limited.

“But the nice thing about the First Amendment is that it does give you the flexibility to hold demonstrations without going through the permitting process if you wanted to react really quickly to something that is going on current events wise,” Hanel said. “So the immigration ban was a great example of something like that.”

She added that outdoor public spaces could also be used for demonstration, such as sidewalks, parks, or other public common areas. If students want to demonstrate outside of campus and within the City of Mankato they have to follow a permitting process —almost every institution has one. She said that even the university has its own conditions that students must follow in order to maintain the respect of others—sounds and their amplifications, for instance.

Phillips returned to his discussion about talking to police to clarify any confusion students might have regarding when to be assertive or when they should be cooperative.
Protestors have invented roles for individuals to assume when demonstrating or protesting that might solve potential problems.

First, Phillips explained the “police liaison” role, which involves students using their First Amendment rights to combat a political event they disagree with, suggesting that someone be assigned to communicate on behalf of the group with police officers who may show up to dissolve the protest. This may prevent arrest if police are able to demand of the liaison that the group leave instead of having to confront the whole demonstration.

Second, Phillips said that someone could serve as a “legal observer” who is trained through the National Lawyer’s Guild, which does not require anyone to be a lawyer or a law student.

“The idea behind the legal observer is not to help during the demonstration but to help pick up the pieces afterwards,” Phillips explained. “And what they do is monitor law enforcement during the event and gather evidence, which can be useful.”

The Know Your Rights event closed with a couple of First Amendment considerations, including the warning that police have the right to keep two groups separated to prevent potential violence, but they should still be in the general vicinity of each other. Hanel and Phillips also said that an individual can counter protest as long as they are not disrupting or preventing people from attending the event.

Phillips introduced the idea of legal support, which includes planning what an individual might do if they are arrested, such as filling out a jail form to ensure loved ones or pets are taken care of. Individuals should also have a hot line number set up in case they witness an arrest, creating a database of fellow protestors who may need help seeking lawyers.

For more information, you can go to the following sites:

What to do if your rights are violated at a demonstration

Libel: Proving fault, actual malice and negligence
Digital Media Law Project

MNSU campus demonstrations policy

Click to access campusdemonstrations.pdf

One thought on “Do you know your rights when police get involved?

  • Daniel Sebold

    When I was at Minnesota State University back in the early nineties I attended summer school while living in the dorms. Young women would sunbathe out next to the dorms in g strings, something we male students just assumed was forbidden to our gender. Since we have made such incredible progress in transgender rights in the last twenty-five years, I was wondering if there are now male students who do the same. Are there women students who do this still towards the end of Spring semester as they did in the early nineties? If so, then male students should demand the sexual equality to do the same. Should they not, or should they continue to obey the unwritten rules of multicultural sexism?

    Daniel Sebold

    English/Spanish alumnus in George Town, Malaysia


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.