Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Workshop held Monday night to educate people of their rights with police encounters

By Dan Curtin

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(Benno Kraehe/ Daily Collegian)

(Benno Kraehe/ Daily Collegian)

Civil rights attorney Luke Ryan gave a seminar in the Campus Center Monday night about people’s rights in encounters with police and best ways to handle the situation.

About 40 students, faculty and members of the community went to the ninth floor of the Campus Center to ask questions and learn more about their rights in a wide variety of police encounters. Ryan made it clear he’s not expert on police encounters, but his years as a criminal defense attorney has given him a unique perspective.

“I believe I would be doing everyone in this room a terrible disservice to portray myself as some kind of authority on this subject,” Ryan said. “I can and will tell you certain things about the law that I have learned in the last decade as a criminal defense and civil rights attorney, but I cannot and will not pretend I’m an expert on the law of the street.”

In the beginning of the seminar, Ryan talked about how his own personal experience gave him a certain ignorance because people of color have different experiences with the law.

“Here’s the source of my ignorance; white privilege,” Ryan said. “Outside the academia, I can report that the concept of white privilege continues to be controversial and poorly understood.”

According to a summary finding by the Office of Justice Programs, “[in] 2011, about three percent of traffic stops led to a search of the driver, the vehicle or both. Police were more likely to search male drivers [four percent] than female drivers [two percent].”

The summary also found that in 2011, white drivers that were pulled over were searched at a lower percentage than black or Hispanic drivers.

Ryan is a partner at the Northampton law firm Sasson, Turnbull, Ryan & Hoose and was named a “rising star” in 2013 and 2014 by the Massachusetts Super Lawyers, a status given to lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Ryan had members in the audience break up into groups and answer prompts of theoretical encounters that could happen with police and what amendment it falls under.

“When we talk about things like filming the police, that’s something covered by the First Amendment. Investigatory stops are guided by judicial interpretations of the Fourth Amendment,” Ryan said. “Whenever the topic is conversations or speaking to the police, that’s a Fifth Amendment issue. And when the right to counsel comes up, that’s something covered by the Sixth Amendment.”

Ryan brought up examples of police encounters including the death of 15-year-old Delano Walker, who was hit by a car in a police encounter in 2009.

“Some might say that the way that Delano Walker exercised his rights was partly responsible for his death,” Ryan said. “This is like casting blame on 12-year-old Tamir Rice for bringing a toy gun to the park. Or telling a rape victim that she asked for it by drinking alcohol or wearing a flattering outfit.”

Michael Mongeau, a 47-year-old graduate student, came to the event to make sure he was up-to-date on his rights in police encounters.

“I got my degree in criminal justice years ago and I’ve been a Black Lives Matter supporter for years,” Mongeau said. “I know there are different situations where the police do not have the right to search or the right to detain and I wanted to refresh my schooling.”

Regina East, a senior Afro-American studies major, took away there are many occasions to say no to an officer and deny their request.

“You can say ‘no’ a lot. I knew I could say ‘no,’ but I didn’t know if it was lawful or not,” East said. “I knew it would heighten the situation. It was kind of eye opening.”

Dan Curtin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @dmcurtin96.

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