Friday, November 14, 2014

Know Your Rights Academy at Brownsville Community Justice Center

Here, at the Justice Center, our young people are often facing circumstances that force them to interact with the justice system in challenging ways. Many young people are still learning what to do or what not to do when they encounter law enforcement. We wanted to provide our young people with the opportunity to give voice to their stories, learn what their rights are, and be empowered to make productive community change. Changing the narrative, and improving the relationship between community residents and the justice system is what motivated the Justice Center to develop a relationship with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and bring the “Know Your Rights Academy” (KYRA) to the Brownsville Community Justice Center.

We have heard and seen in the news about the numerous unfortunate incidents involving police officers happening around the U.S. these past few months. Many of them have involved young African American and Latino men and women and some of those incidents have ended with many persons on the wrong end of police harassment, feeling like victims who have received little or no justice. For some residents who live in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments, traveling home or having visitors has meant being unlawfully stopped or arrested.

Reports of wrongful arrests have occurred frequently in public housing properties around the city, especially those with a majority of black and brown occupants. Individuals have been stopped by police officers for trespassing on NYCHA grounds or loitering in building lobbies although they may have simply been waiting for a friend or relative that resides in the area. Davis vs. City of New York is a lawsuit that was filed to challenge the practice of illegally stopping and arresting public housing residents and their guests for the purported crime of trespass.
KYRA provides NYCHA residents with an opportunity to learn about their rights, train other NYCHA residents to know their rights and continue to prevent the unfair acts of the NYPD and NYCHA.

The initial Brownsville KYRA meeting. Participants had the opportunity to meet one another and conduct a simple role play exercise as police officers and civilians.

The purpose of KYRA is to educate, organize, and empower NYCHA residents to play an active role in their communities. In addition, youth participants are learning valuable leadership skills, community organizing techniques and best practices in meeting facilitation.

Key Practices as a facilitator:

● Meaningful interactions with individuals by asking thoughtful and engaging questions.

● Inviting guest speakers with subject matter experience, who have faced similar experiences and a willingness to make real changes.

● Building a fictional government to allow participants to better understand how laws and policy impact society.

● Different topic discussions about the power of sharing stories; the
importance of being physically aware and paying attention to language; and how to assert your rights in different situations.

Participants created and organized their own fictional governments by setting laws and fair resource distribution amongst their peers.


Participants listen as a guest speaker informs them on how to properly facilitate a KYRA meeting; from invitations to introductions and appropriately closing out.

Participants practiced in groups and pairs on how to ask questions and properly inform their guests about their rights as civilians.

“The Know Your Rights Academy is an opportunity to educate the youth on how to protect themselves from an irrelevant police encounter. In others words a purposeless stop, questioning and search.”

The Know Your Rights Academy provides facilitators with the opportunity to inspire the community, share valuable information, and create safe spaces for NYCHA residents to exercise their constitutional rights and lead their own efforts in decreasing police harassment.

Participant, Quindell, with singer, actor, and social activist Harry Belafonte at the GULD conference in NYC.

Quindell with a spoken word artist and presenter from the GULD conference.