Students learn about citizen rights during lecture

Andrew Henderson

With recent controversies regarding the use of deadly police force in America, there has been a renewed focus on informing citizens about their legal rights.

Courtney Teasley, attorney at law based in Nashville, was the featured speaker for the Know Your Rights event, sponsored by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc.

Teasley’s speech centered around knowing the rights citizens legally have, but many may not know about. She gave examples of the types of police encounters, explanations of Fourth Amendment rights and emphasized on not only knowing your rights, but asserting them.

“It’s so important to know what your rights are, but even more important to assert your rights,” Teasley said. 

Teasley said some citizen rights include remaining silent, having constitutional rights regardless of citizenship status and having the right to a lawyer if arrested.

She said people are often taken advantage of because they simply don’t know their rights, and genuinely don’t know they have the right to say no to the police in instances. Educating people about asserting their rights to protect good people from being taken advantage of is what motivates Teasley.

“Just because you say no and just because you assert your rights does not mean you are being disrespectful,” she said. “That’s the most important thing I want people to know.” 

Selena Sanderfer, assistant professor of history, was one of the main organizers for the event and the advisor for ASALH.

Sanderfer said, since last year, as a result of events in Ferguson and Staten Island, which involved black men being killed due to police force, she felt there was tension and a need on campus to address police brutality. 

She wanted to do this in a way that offered support and practical suggestions. 

“We wanted to educate our students so they would know their rights, and hopefully some of the things we saw in the news wouldn’t have to happen in our area,” Sanderfer said.

Sanderfer said she hoped the event emphasized being respectful to police officers, without feeling disrespectful about asserting rights.

Sanderfer said even though she anticipated a higher turnout, she felt good about what the students in attendance learned. 

Mark Anthony, Louisville native, junior and member of Phi Beta Sigma, was one of the student speakers for the event. Anthony did a presentation about the mass incarceration rates of African-Americans in the United States. He cited a statistic that said one of every three black men can expect to be imprisoned at some point during his lifetime.

“I was shocked by some of the statistics,” Anthony said. “In general, I’ve seen a lot of arrests with African-Americans, but as far as actually seeing those statistics and seeing how credible they were and how astonishing they are made me confused.” 

Anthony said the statistics caused him to really think about the issues facing African-Americans and mass incarceration. He acknowledges that there is racial discretion and corruption out in the world, but hopes from his presentation people were able to better understand and ponder questions regarding mass incarceration.

“Anytime you bring awareness for a good cause it’s going to be beneficial and people are going to somewhat resonate with that when they leave,” Anthony said.

Kris Terry, sophomore and Nashville native, said he thought the event was good and taught him a couple of things he didn’t know, but also reinforced some things he did know from being an African-American in the world. He said he will take what he learned from the event and take it with him if he finds himself in a situation with police.

“Knowledge is power, you know,” Terry said. 

Teasley echoed Sanderfer’s sentiments that the event was critical to have. 

“Even more important now to bring these issues to the forefront,” Teasley said. “Instead of shying away from them, let’s talk about these issues. Let’s talk about ways to prevent these issues. Let’s talk about why these issues happen and what can be done to stop them.”