This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Essential Question: What protections from government intrusion do citizens have and what
are the systems and structures created to protect them?
A Syllabus: Advice for Students in Dealing with Law Enforcement
Framing & Context: In recent years a new civil rights movement has arisen in response to numerous law enforcement
killings of unarmed Americans. The #BlackLivesMatter Movement, Campaign Zero and countless local autonomous
organizations throughout the nation have been created in response to police killings of unarmed Americans. In
reviewing these killings patterns become apparent. I am tired of this cycle. I don’t want you to become a hashtag like
#MikeBrown, #SandraBland, #SamuelDuBose. That said, none of the things in this syllabus will guarantee your safety,
there are no guarantees in life, and adults who tell you otherwise do you a disservice. I hope these resources can help
reduce the likelihood that you have an adverse encounter with law enforcement.
You have rights and I encourage you to exercise them: Americans have a series of protections from government that
are laid out in the Bill of Rights. Via the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, these
protections have been incorporated (or applied) to the states. That means the following amendments apply in all 50
The Fourth Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.
The Fifth Amendment: No person shall… be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor
be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.
The Sixth Amendment: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy… the assistance of counsel for his
When dealing with the law enforcement, you have the right to refuse unreasonable searches of your person or
property. Your consent to a search is the same a warrant from a judge. You also have the right to remain silent. Your
number one goal when having an involuntary encounter with law enforcement should be disengagement. If you are
explaining, you could be self-incriminating or providing probable cause for additional scrutiny. Lastly, you have the right
to an attorney. If you feel uncomfortable stop talking—you should never answer questions, beyond basic factual
matters, without the presence of an attorney, your parents or preferably both.
Specific Terminology Related to Police Use of Force: Officers are empowered by the State to enforce its laws and are
authorized to take away your life and liberty in the process if needed. When studying use of force by law enforcement
four terms pop-up frequently. Each one, when used by law enforcement grants them permission from the public to
violate your body.
To initiate a search or provide probable cause: “They matched the description…”
To rationalize use of force and blows: “Stop resisting…”
To rationalize discharge of a firearm: “I feared for my life…”
To rationalize use of deadly force: “The Tueller Drill…”
Resources: Flex Your Rights has produced a 40 minute video featuring attorney Billy Murphy Jr. Flex Your Rights has also
created a list of ten rules for people to follow when dealing with law enforcement:
1. Always be calm and cool: a bad attitude guarantees a bad outcome.
2. Remain silent: what you don't say can't hurt you.
3. You have the right to refuse searches: saying no to searches can't be held against you.
4. Don't get tricked: remember, police are allowed to lie to you.
5. Determine if you're free to go: police need evidence to detain you.
6. Don't expose yourself: doing dumb stuff in public makes you an easy target.
7. Don't run: they'll catch you and make you regret it.
8. Never touch a cop: aggressive actions will only earn you a more aggressive response.
9. Report misconduct: be a good witness.
10. You don't have to let them in: police need a warrant to enter your home
Statistics and Useful Links
The British newspaper the Guardian in their By the Numbers feature, compared European policing to American policing
in an article that included the following stats:
American police killed more people in the first 24 days of 2015, than UK police have killed in 24 years.
Stockton, CA had 3xs as many police shootings in the first 3 months of 2015, than Iceland had in the last 71
The US suffered more police shootings in March 2015, than Australia did from 1992-2011.
If you are looking for statistics on nationwide police killings the Washington Post published a lengthy report following
the protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
An organization called Mapping Police Violence uses GIS data to maintain a sortable map of law enforcement killings
across the nation.
Another Washington Post investigation from August found that black men — who constitute 6% of the nation's
population — account for 40% of the unarmed people killed by police.
Who is doing something about racial profiling by law enforcement? The NAACP has report called Born Suspect: Stopand-Frisk & the Continued Fight to End Racial Profiling in America. It is featured on their website and is accompanied by
a video detailing the report’s findings.
What are my rights if I am undocumented: MIJA, the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance has a website dedicated to
advising immigrants, both documented and otherwise, on how to conduct themselves when dealing with law
enforcement officers. Remember their advice is Montana specific, because (of Federalism) different states have
“Knock Knock,” What to do when law enforcement knock on your door: Flex your rights has also created a module
called Police at my door: what should I do? It gives specific advice on how to handle yourself when law enforcement
knocks on your door.
A former officer turned activist weighs in: Redditt Hudson grew up in inner-city Saint Louis and worked as a law
enforcement officer for years. In 2014 he wrote an op-ed that was published in the Washington Post, about what he
thinks needs to be done to reduce law enforcement violence. I suggest you not read the comments.
Tracking Misconduct Nationwide: The Cato Institute, a right-leaning Washington based think-tank, maintains a blog
called the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project. The blog catalogues reported incidents of police conduct
around the nation.
Jeez this is grim, are there policy solutions?: Campaign Zero has a ten-part set of policy recommendations to reform law
enforcement practices. They include: ending broken windows policing, enhancing community oversight of law
enforcement and putting limits on the use of force by law enforcement.
In closing: These are just a few links. I could build an entire course around the relationship between citizens and the
constabulary. I think it’s important to point out that I am not anti-police. Police work is very difficult and they make
choices day-to-day that have life altering impacts. That said, it is my hope that you never have a negative experience
with law enforcement, but if you do, it is my hope that you handle yourself well, even if they don’t.