Trayvon’s murder and Zimmerman’s case have reminded me that there is some under the surface work that we need to do. I support all the work around pushing the federal case and mobilizing around local and state elections. But there is something that as a community we used to do more often and I believe we need to commit to now.
There has been a lot of talk about the ability of the defense vs. the prosecution during the case, the stand your ground law and the self defense law, which Zimmerman’s attorney used to get him acquitted. We, the United States of America are a land filled with bad laws and worse law makers that us prejudice and personal interest to pass laws that benefit certain groups at the cost of others. It is not about whether we trust the law or not….it is do we know it. How many times have we seen liars get off because they had a better understanding of the law than those telling the truth? With that said, we have to teach our kids (and thus ourselves) the law. We have to know our rights and the time and place to flex them. And our babies have to have strategies to protect themselves in the heat of the moment that often we have not given them.
When I was the National Youth Director of the NAACP we used to have a program called The Law And You. It was a video accompanied by a training that taught our kids specifically how to deal with encounters with the police. It was so effective in empowering our kids with not just what the rights of the police were, but what our kid’s rights were and how to use them. It also instructed our kids on how to engage and survive an encounter with a bad cop. The ACLU used to and may still have a pocket guide that would provide any citizen with similar information. And while I hope the NAACP meeting in Orlando for their National Convention now will consider re-instituting the program. We need to in our homes, churches and community organizations train our adults and children on the laws where we live.
Focus on these three areas:
1. What laws protect you when in an encounter? Zimmerman knew about stand your ground and acted accordingly. What if we teach our kids to call 911 when threatened? How would this case have been different if even not trusting the police, Trayvon would have had a voice record of his fear for the court to hear. Or a dispatcher who could have again told Zimmerman to back off because the kid he was following lived in the neighborhood.
2. Know the law and rights when it comes to encountering the police.
3. Know the laws that apply to you in court. While you need a good attorney – you must know the law as well.
We don’t always have to suffer at the hands of bad laws. We must however know them well enough to protect ourselves and our children from those that want to use them against us. As we push for better law makers to be in office so that we can have better laws on the books, lets also know the law; giving us power we don’t have when we simple complain that the law does not work for us.