Young people should cooperate with law enforcement, but also know their rights and register to vote if they wish to enact broader change, a community forum held in honor of Martin Luther King Day concluded.
The forum last Monday featured panel discussions with lawyers, law enforcement, judges and the district attorney to answer questions from the audience and clarify what police can and cannot do, and how young people should respond during police interactions.
The event, which was hosted by the New Rock Legal Society, the Chi Tau Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the Covington Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and the Newton County Sheriff’s office in partnership with the local NAACP branch, focused particularly on the tension between black communities and law enforcement.
Tami Thomas of the New Rock Legal Society said a “balanced discussion” was needed in response to public outrage over the killings of unarmed black men and teenagers such as Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
“We have plenty more work to do,” she said. “The conversation doesn’t end just because the controversy does.”
15-year-old K.J. Chambers admitted his mother “dragged” him to the forum, but said he was learning a lot.
“I learned that there are 12 people on a jury and how they’re chosen,” he said.
Commenting on the events in Ferguson and their aftermath, he said, “I was kinda thinking that I don’t want to put myself in that position.”
His mother, Kim Chambers, an AKA alumna, said she believes cooperation from youth needs to be met with institutional reform from police and the legal system.
“I think it’s a combination of both,” she said. “Some things need to be changed in the legal system also.”
Among the topics discussed was the different between a grand jury and a regular jury, probably cause and reasonable suspicion in relation to searches, and racial profiling.
Monday’s event was not the first Know Your Rights event organized by AKA, said Joy Jackson, president of the Chia Tau Omega chapter covering Newton and Rockdale counties. This time, however, she said they chose to focus on jury trials and what young people should do in the event they are stopped by a police officer.
In addition to organizing public events, as a mother, Jackson was also faced with explaining what happened in Ferguson to her two young sons.
“It was very difficult for them to understand, but I told them whenever a police officer asks you to do something, just do it, regardless of how you feel, what you’re thinking at the moment--do whatever the police officer asks you,” she said.
Judge Horace Johnson, for his part, pointed out that juries are selected from voter registration lists, and encouraged anyone concerned with grand jury outcomes to register to vote.
“If you’re not registered to vote, you don’t get a chance to participate in the process,” he told the audience.