Protecting your child, lessons from “When They See Us”

By Randall Hill

I recently finished, Ava DuVernay's "When They See Us" a four-part mini-series on Netflix that tells the story of the Central Park 5; five black and brown teenage boys who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman and spent between 6 to 14 years in prison. If you have not yet seen this movie, I highly recommend that you do. The trailer for "When They See Us" is below. 

Think-and-grow-rich-book-cover

The film drives homes what can happen when a person doesn't know their rights or how to exercise them. Ironically, the mother of Yusef Salaam understood her son's rights and took the right steps to protect him, however, lack of knowledge of the other parents resulted in Yusef going to jail with the others.

"When They See Us" provides lessons about our criminal justice system that all African-Americans need to be aware of. If you're a black parent, watch it with your kids or at least make sure they see the series as part of their education about the U.S. justice system. Ava DuVernay discussed the film and the criminal justice system with Trevor Noah in the video below:

Children in juvenile court proceedings do not enjoy the same constitutional rights as adults. Prior to the civil rights era in the 1960s, juveniles had few due process rights at all.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that there’s no jury-trial right in juvenile delinquency proceedings. (McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528 (1971).) However, minors tried in adult systems are entitled to juries.

A child’s statements to police can be used against them in court proceedings, however, only when the statements are voluntary and given freely. The government may not coerce confessions, as provided by the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and the due-process prohibition against admitting involuntary confessions into court. However, forced confessions are not easy to prove. Parents need to teach their children not to say anything to police without a parent or attorney present.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police can use deception and are allowed to falsely claim that a friend or acquaintance has confessed or implicated someone when in fact he/she had not (Frazier v. Cupp, 1969). The police can claim to have found a suspect's fingerprints at a crime scene when there were none (Oregon v. Mathiason, 1977), determining such acts insufficient for rendering the defendant's confession inadmissible. State courts have permitted police to deceive suspects about a range of factual matters, including, for example, falsely stating that incriminating DNA evidence and satellite photography of the crime scene exist (State v. Nightingale, 2012).

Children need to be trained on how to respond when stopped or detained by police. Police officers must have probable cause to search and arrest a minor who is suspected of violating a criminal statute. Minors like adults have the right to remain silent and are not required to answer questions. There are exceptions 

  • In some states, you must provide your name to law enforcement officers if you are stopped and told to identify yourself. But even if you give your name, you are not required to answer other questions.
  • If you are driving and you are pulled over for a traffic violation, the officer can require you to show your license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance (but you do not have to answer questions).
  • Even if you have already answered some questions, you can refuse to answer other questions until you have a lawyer.
  • Keep in mind that lying to a government official is a crime but remaining silent until you consult with a lawyer is not.

Reverse Miranda

When my sons were minors, I required them to keep a reverse Miranda card in their wallets that stated the following:

To: Any agent, law enforcement officer, or representative of the government 

My Name is: X Hill – I am a minor child, following my parent’s instructions.

If you have been presented with this, then you have detained me against my will. I wish to be released at once. If you believe you have a legal reason for still holding me, then it must be for one of two reasons: 

1. You believe I have information relevant to a case or investigation and need my assistance. I am happy to comply and will in no way obstruct justice. Simply type up your questions and contact my parent/s (R or C Hill 314-xxx-xxxx). Upon review by them and any attorney they so choose, I will answer any and all that they and their attorney advise me to. Please do not argue about this, or it will delay the investigation, and neither of us wants that. 

2. You believe that I have committed a crime. I want to speak with my parent/s and/or the attorney they provide me and do not wish to answer any questions or make any statement until I do. You may contact my parents at 314-xxx-xxxx, alternate contact, grandmother 314-xxx-xxxx

While doing those things, please see to it that I am given food, drink, and bathroom breaks frequently, as I will not ask. Please do not ask that I fill out, sign, initial, check off, or in any way mark anything for any reason. I have been forbidden to do this by my parent/s until they and/or their attorney, can review any such documents. 

Finally, please do not interpret my silence as rudeness, guilt, retardation or anything else but what it is – obedience to my parent/s and their attorney. 

Prison Industrial Complex

Locking up prisoners is big business. The three largest private prison corporations CoreCivic, formerly the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Geo Group, and MTC take in $5 billion in revenue a year. If you bank with Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, BNP, and U.S. Bancorp, you may have helped finance private prisons.

In addition to private prisons, there are corporations that contract cheap prison labor, construction companies, surveillance technology vendors, companies that operate prison food services and medical facilities, prison guard unions, phone companies, private probation companies, lawyers, and lobby groups that represent them. "The Prison Industrial Complex: Mapping Private Sector Players” exposes over 3,900 companies profiting off mass incarceration.

Private prison inmates earn as little as 17 cents per hour. Companies including: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more have profited from prison labor.

It Begins Early

School districts thru zero tolerance policies often trap disadvantaged kids in the school to prison pipeline that can unfairly introduce them into the criminal justice system. Black students, in particular, are more likely to be arrested in school for minor behavior issues. 

When my youngest son was in grade school, the principal shared some startling information, the number of prisons built are based on third-grade reading scores. This is supposed to be an urban myth, however, test scores are used to make some predictions. During my son's freshman year in high school, I had to appeal an excessive penalty for horseplay.  

You owe it to yourself and your children to use Court.rchp.com and other resources to educate yourself about the law and our legal system. As "When They See Us" demonstrated, we're only as strong as our weakest link.