This past Friday, the Tufts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) hosted the “Know Your Rights” event, in which guest speakers Nashwa Gewaily and Professor of History Peniel Joseph informed students how to navigate their civil rights while protesting and interacting with police.
Gewaily, a legal fellow at ACLU of Massachusetts, took the floor first and addressed the legal aspects of protests and the constitutional rights of citizens. Starting with the basics of holding a protest, Gewaily explained various situations in which a citizen’s right to free speech can be limited.
According to Gewaily, the important issue is to inform the public of measures they can take in the face of police interaction and sometimes brutality. She explained that it is crucial for people to understand what their rights are so that they can react accordingly to the situation.
“It’s important to understand that there are rights on the books that you can exercise, and these are mainly to protect you when in court,” Gewaily explained during the event. She noted, however, that realistically, there is only so much civilians can do to control the nature of police interactions on the street or when protesting.
Gewaily explained that the goal should be to strike a balance between knowing one’s rights and what those rights mean, and exercising common sense and judgment to protect oneself.
Gewaily also discussed other issues surrounding police interactions, such as filming or recording of police officers, which have recently become controversial.
“Filming the police has become a hot topic,” Gewaily said. “Generally, it’s established that you do have the right to record police in public. You always have that right as long as you don’t interfere with police activity or secretly record people,” she said.
Joseph then addressed issues of civil liberties and protest rights from a historical point of view.
According to Joseph, although knowing legal rights when protesting is important, the “moral passions” behind protests are just as crucial to understand.
“We have to remember that many protesters were driven by moral passions, and a lot of times we didn’t have protest permits,” Joseph said. “So when we think about where [we] are now in terms of protests and civil liberties, the important thing to remember is that the legal aspect is very important, but what’s equally important is this idea of moral passion, this idea that you can actually go on the street, the idea that you can actually demonstrate.”
In light of various demonstrations, both historical and recent, Joseph further stressed the importance of connecting racial justice and civil liberties, and stated that race is “always at the core of this fight for civil liberties.”
Events such as “Know Your Rights” have occurred in reaction to recent student demonstrations at Tufts and across the country. First-year Brandon Katz, co-founder and leader of the Tufts chapter of ACLU, said that he wanted people to know how they should act during these protests, as uncertainty exists regarding civil rights in protest and police settings.
“We decided to host this event because so many Tufts students are involved in protests,” Katz explained. “There’s a lot of confusion about such things, and I would really boil it down to saying, it’s important to know these rights so that you can exercise your rights to the fullest extent without overstepping and getting [in] trouble with the law.”
First-year Teddy Cahill, fellow co-founder and leader of the Tufts chapter of ACLU, similarly feels that knowing civil rights can be useful in general police encounters.
“In general, if you’re in a police encounter and you’re pulled over when you’re driving or just walking down the street and get stopped, it’s important to know what your rights in those situations are,” Cahill said.
Though the club is relatively new, Tufts ACLU plans to host further events and volunteer projects this semester, according to Cahill.
“What we are trying to do is bring awareness to these issues of civil liberties, what your rights are, what you can do to protect those rights,” Cahill said. “I personally consider myself pretty well informed, but there’s also so [many] things to know out there. So I think it’s always good to be better informed.”
Editor’s note: This post was updated to correct and clarify several points made in the article made by Ms. Gewaily. The Daily apologizes for these errors.