The importance of knowing your rights: Three youth share their experiences with police stops

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One of the youth featured in the video during a break in the filming.

A new video features three young people delivering a powerful message born of their own experiences in King County. When stopped by the police, they urge viewers, ask if you’re free to leave. And if you’re not, ask for a lawyer, then stay quiet.

The “know your rights” video was produced by the King County Department of Public Defense (DPD), working with the Seattle-based nonprofit Creative Justice and producer Jordan Melograna of Block by Block Creative. It features three youth who have been stopped by law enforcement and faced experiences they described as both scary and confusing. Says one of the teens in the video, “I wish I had known my rights.”

Visit DPD’s new Facebook page to view the video.

Funded by the county’s Equity and Social Justice Opportunity Fund, the two-minute video aims to address a serious issue many youth – particularly youth of color – face today, and to do so directly, simply, and in the words of young people. It concludes with Anita Khandelwal, the director of the Department of Public Defense (DPD), reminding youth that public defense is here to help and providing a phone number youth can call if they’re stopped by police.

Joshua Saunders, a managing attorney at DPD, said he and a team of public defenders came up with the idea during a discussion about how to advance the principles of equity and social justice in the greater community and in concert with community partners. Someone at the meeting suggested they reach out to Creative Justice, a Seattle-based organization that offers an arts-based alternative to youth incarceration, and a partnership to produce a video quickly emerged.

Josh is thrilled with the results. “I like both the product and the process. There was a value in and of itself in creating this video with a community partner. And the product itself is excellent. It takes the voices and opinions of young people and presents them in a very serious way.”

The three young people are all current or past participants at Creative Justice, said Aaron Counts, lead artist and program director at the nonprofit. The youth were pleased to participate and are happy with the way it turned out, he said. And like him, they believe it will be an effective way to reach other youth.

“It’s succinct and to the point. The video does a great job of explaining in real language what people should do,” Aaron said. “I love it.”

DPD is distributing the video via social media and direct outreach to partners. DPD also regularly participates in a Civics Day event in Kent and Renton, where hundreds of high school seniors spend a day learning about the criminal legal system; DPD plans to share it there, as well.

Research shows young people often lack the experience, perspective, and judgment to recognize and avoid choices that could be detrimental to them, Anita noted. “We hope this video – and the voices of these three amazing young people – can help others make informed choices and assert their rights if they’re stopped by the police.”

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