A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: Street Law

Taking it to the Street

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By Drew Carroll

Yankee Stadium comes into view out the window of a Bronx bound 4 train and I feel a tinge of excitement.

I’m not going to a game, though.  Instead, I get off at the next stop, from where I head for my weekly visit to a seventh grade classroom inside Jordan L. Mott Middle School.

My mission: To teach the class of minority students – mostly black and Latino—about the Constitution.  Lately, the lessons have had real world practicalities for these kids.

Trayvon Martin’s shooting in Florida has sparked a nationwide discussion about that state’s “Stand Your Ground Law.” People in New York City are also talking about the New York Police Department’s “Stop-and-Frisk” policy, which is said to apply disproportionately to minorities.

The statistics bear out such suspicions: of the 684,330 stops last year, 87 percent were either black or Hispanic. The NYPD says that this is not due to racial profiling, but because more cops are assigned to high crime (mostly minority) urban areas.

Though some lawmakers are trying to craft legislation to curb the racial profiling inherent in the city’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy, it’s the law for now, and one that these seventh graders are familiar with, from their parents, siblings, or even from personal experience – though they are only 13.

My visit to the school is coordinated through Street Law, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides information to underprivileged communities about law. The program was created in honor of the slain Robert F. Kennedy, and in the 40 years since it was created, Street Law has expanded into a million dollar operation bringing legal education to the underserved across the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. Over 100 law schools participate, offering practical legal lessons in their communities.

New York Law School’s Street Law program is designed specifically to meet the challenges presented to minority communities by the city’s Stop-and-Frisk policy. For ten Fridays in the spring, New York Law School students travel to the South Bronx, lesson plans in hand. With the fourth amendment as the focal point, middle school students learn about the law governing police stops, frisks, searches, and arrests, read Supreme Court cases about their rights as students, and then argue both sides of the issues. It may be hard to imagine a group of middle school students sitting around talking about a Supreme Court case, but that is the beauty of Street Law. As one student recently told me, “I need to talk about this,” and with Street Law, she gets that chance.   (more…)

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