ACLU Presents: Know Your Rights

This article, originally appearing in our May 12 issue, has been reprinted due to multiple inaccuracies in reporting. We thank Emilio De Torre, the speaker at the event, and other members of ACLU of Wisconsin, for alerting The Lawrentian and contributing to this corrected article.


On Tuesday, May 2 in the Warch Campus Center Cinema, Emilio De Torre of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin spoke about personal rights during police encounters and police brutality. The ACLU are predominantly attorneys, although De Torre is not; they’re also nonpartisan—neither democrat nor republican. The ACLU and De Torre, especially, have recently been working with immigrants and visa students who cannot go home because if they do, they are worried they cannot come back due to the recent Executive Orders. The ACLU said that there has been interest in starting up a student alliance on campus in the next few weeks as well as get community members and the alliance to monitor law enforcement interactions with civilians, especially in schools.

Throughout the presentation, De Torre interacted closely with the audience, preferring to stand in the middle of the Cinema rather than in the front by the screen. He also used audience members in hypothetical examples.

He described that simply put; there are three different types of racism and bias. The first, explicit racism—is the most obvious—because, according to De Torre, “People can be unwilling to acknowledge their own racism or may just live in areas where they don’t see other types of people.” People who exhibit explicit racism are often vocal about their hatred, or display hate symbols openly.

The second type is something everyone has, which is implicit bias. It comes with the stereotypes we have heard resulting in people’s unconscious reactions. We have to continuously work on confronting our own biases. Implicit bias is different and more harmful with the police, because people with implicit racism tend to unconsciously assign labels to people based on race—even when the labels are untrue—and treat them according to these labels which can cost people time, money, and even their freedom.

For example, the City of Madison ticketed or detained almost a full third of black children between 10 and 17 in 2013. Racial disparities for ticketing and/or arresting black people for simple possession of marijuana are highest in Dane, Brown and Rock counties. This can be used to illustrate how bias is affecting policing. The Centers for Disease Control has shown how marijuana usage rates are the same for black and white people, so these disparities in tickets given shows that police are generally stopping and searching more black people.

Milwaukee was another example of a city with a problem of implicit bias in the police force. Currently, a policy is being considered that would allow police to pursue people into their own homes without a warrant for any “jailable offense,” which could be something as innocuous as jaywalking. Already, the police are able to not only ticket jaywalkers, but they can also take them to the police station.

The third kind of bias is institutional racism, which can occur in any institution, for example: schools, transportation, and housing. Of the three types of racism, this is the most difficult to fight and has a broader impact. It is a type of bias that intentionally or unintentionally has a system-wide output of racial bias. For example, In Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties, there were rules written in house deeds that kept these counties almost all white until 1967. “In 1966, even if the white family who owned a house wanted to sell to a black family, they couldn’t do so. It was breaking the law because it was written into the covenant.”

Students in elementary through high school have very few privacy rights while in school. Teachers and school administration have a lesser threshold for probable cause or reasonable suspicion than the police and may look in lockers or cars parked on school property without a warrant. Police may be invited to search students’ phones, etc. at the invitation of the school administration.

If someone happens to record police brutality on their phone, the police will probably ask for the phone. According to De Torre, in this case, the person does not have to give them the phone. They can tell them, “I don’t give you consent to search my person or property. You need a warrant.” De Torre advised that people should not just lock their phones, but encrypt them. Then, if the police take their phone, they can’t access or delete data from it. He encouraged people who feared for their personal safety to comply with police requests.

De Torre then gave some very important advice for police encounters in various situations: If someone is stopped on foot, they do not have to answer questions or give ID, and should remain silent. You must have a valid driver’s license to drive a car and are required to present it, as well as insurance and registration. The police are allowed to lie, but if they catch someone in a lie, they are more likely to detain or interrogate them. If they say nothing, the person being stopped is more likely to be able to leave. De Torre told people not to fight with police, shout at them, or touch them. The place to advocate for your innocence is in the court with your attorney.

The ACLU also works on policing reform and accountability. This encompasses use of force policies, use and purchase of surveillance technology, and civilian oversight of law enforcement. De Torre said that students could assist with this work. For more information, students can contact De Torre at

Tags , , ,

Related posts