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Brooklyn Women Knew Their Rights — and You Should Too!

Michael Cummings,
New York Civil Liberties Union
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July 13, 2010

Thanks to the ACLU, Taneisha Chapman and Markeena Williams knew their rights when New York Police Department (NYPD) officers stopped them last summer outside a housing project in New York City. After the officers demanded their identification, the women produced a flyer issued by a local state legislator containing the ACLU’s advice on what to do when stopped by police. The flyer included the fact that in New York, “You can’t be arrested for merely refusing to identify yourself on the street.”

The officers went ahead and arrested Chapmen and Williams anyway. The unspecified charges were later dismissed. Now the Brooklyn women are suing the city for wrongful arrest.

Each day in New York City, thousands of innocent people, mostly black and Latino, are stopped by police on the city’s streets. The ACLU and New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) are committed to providing people the information necessary to protect their rights during police encounters. The NYCLU offers this updated palm card (or iPhone app) walking you through what to do if you’re stopped by the police.

The palm card not only apprises people of their rights, it helps them defend those rights. For instance, it informs people how to proceed if they are unjustly arrested.

A word to the wise: learn the laws in your state. In New York, police can’t make you identify yourself if they don’t reasonably suspect you of a crime, but that is not the case in some other places. So check out the ACLU’s national know-your-rights card, and contact your local ACLU with state-specific questions.

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