Know your rights: What to do if you’re pulled over

Students and staff were trained on handling encounters with campus and state police officers during a Know Your Rights workshop held by Black Students United (BSU) last Wednesday, Feb. 8. Attendees were educated on their rights, some of which are not always taught. 

Know Your Rights is one of several events the BSU has planned during Black history month. “You don’t want to just bow down. Stand firm in your rights,” advised Miriam Smith, local political activist and co-founder of the Monterey Black Lives Matter chapter. 

Smith provided a long list of tips and information to help students understand that “the law is always on your side, you just have to know how to work it.” She advised you only to crack open your window and to “fight every ticket you get – the majority of the time, the reason for the ticket is not accurate.” 

Smith’s two most significant pieces of advice were to start recording the second you’re pulled over and remember your right to stay silent.

Smith assures that as public servants, officers have no constitutional right to privacy while on the job. So even if you are pressured to stop recording, never give in. 

She also spoke incredibly passionately about one’s right to silence when being pulled over. 

“You have every right to say no or not answer a question… It’s your duty not to be a witness against yourself,” explained Smith. Another thing people may not be aware of is that an officer is required to tell you what you’re being pulled over for before they ask for your license – if there’s no articulable reason for the stop, don’t feel pressured to hand over your license. Instead, make it respectfully known that you know your rights and simply ask, “Am I free to go?”

It may seem daunting, but Smith said “if [officers] know you know your rights, they’re less likely to harass you.” 

Smith also works with the local organization Community 831, which aims to teach volunteers how to de-escalate situations and act as emergency responders in place of police officers.

Students at the event voiced their concerns over the amplified police presence on campus. “A professor and student were late to a class I was in because they got held up trying to diffuse a situation where a black woman was pulled over on campus and was being antagonized by UPD,” said fourth-year Jojo Cook.

Cook shared that she’s heard more stories of the university police pulling over students and arguing verbally rather than stories of stopping “partying or drug busting.”

To get involved with Community 831, contact [email protected]
or call (831) 747-5880.

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