By Crystal Stevens
Students and faculty discussed citizens’ rights with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Wednesday evening as part of Hope-in-Action.
ACLU attorney Charu Verma answered the audience’s questions regarding their rights as citizens at schools, protests and during police encounters.
The presentation opened with a discussion of the First Amendment, and how it applies to protesting and encounters with law enforcement.
The remaining discussion covered citizens’ rights during police encounters. Each situation has different guidelines, but it was reiterated throughout the discussion that it is important for citizens to use their right to remain silent.
In addition, when being stopped by law enforcement, asking the question “Am I being detained?” can help in an unfamiliar situation. If the answer is “No,” then it is the right of the citizen to leave, Verma said.
Immigration was also discussed – the ACLU is now encouraging naturalized citizens to carry their naturalization papers at all times. Immigrants are also being encouraged to have their immigration papers with them.
“We are in unprecedented times and the landscape is changing quickly,” said Verma.
“Since the election, the ACLU has received an increased number of requests for trainings. ... I’ve done three of them and I have three booked within the next two weeks as well,” she said.
Verma has been conducting training sessions with the ACLU, providing a platform for citizens to learn about their rights.
Her presentations aren’t just limited to schools, either, she said.
“I have been doing ‘Know Your Rights’ trainings for a couple of years. I go to community organizations, churches and schools,” she said.
Verma also gave tips for any future protesters.
“I think, especially for college students, there’s really been a desire to protest and to know your rights when you’re out there protesting,” she said. “I think it is really something specific for college students.”
When Verma isn’t doing a training at a college, she’s “not going to talk about protests because that’s not the issue that’s important to the audience.”
She added, “We tailor-make our presentations depending on who is requesting them and what their needs are.”
Miguel Arias, a sophomore, said, “There’s some rights I did not know I had. For example, when you’re in a car driving and you get stopped, your friends don’t have to show their IDs, which I didn’t know.”
Verma emphasized the importance for citizens to know their rights so they can handle law enforcement encounters effectively.
“It’s always important to know your rights, because you never know when you are going to engage with law enforcement,” Verma said.