Sunday, March 2, 2014

Know your rights--and the duties of police officers

I recently met a person who is working in a restaurant. He is a white American, but most of the workers are Latinos. He has developed a problem with other employees. The other employees come in before their shifts begin, put on their uniforms, set up their stations, and otherwise work off-the-clock. He refuses to do that. He tells the others that he doesn't want to give his work to the company without pay, but they tell him he's lazy. They shame him, he says, and he really can't abide that so he will likely quit his job.

It is likely the Latinos have little concept of work as a timed endeavor. They probably consider that they come to work, do their job, and then leave, without any consideration of how long they have worked. Their concept of an hourly wage may be vague. The American man would have to explain these things—in fact, he has tried—but he has the weight of numbers against him. The other employees all have the same view of the situation. He might be able to persuade them one at a time, but is helpless to argue against them all together.

The American man would like to organize them, because he knows that unions are able to improve wages and working conditions. Many of his coworkers are undocumented, however. They refuse even to discuss such a prospect.

The American needs to connect with them. First, he needs to prove to them that he is not lazy so they will stop shaming him in the workplace. He should tell them he doesn't mind working at all, especially when he is working to better himself or others. He should offer to spend some time each day teaching them something they can use to better themselves or cope with society better.

One thing he could do is explain the concept of ICE holds. Immigration police (ICE) pick up suspected undocumented workers and hand them over to the police or sheriff to be held in prison until such time as ICE wants to move on their cases. This is called an ICE stop. Under US law, however, a person can only be held in jail for 48 hours without bringing a charge against him in court. Undocumented workers do not usually know this. They should also know that there are some public interest lawyers that will file a writ of habeas corpus for undocumented workers who are being held illegally. Usually, once a prisoner is released, he will not be deported. The telephone number of such a lawyer would be valuable to one of the American's co-workers. Once one of them, or one of their friends, is released from prison in this way, it is likely they will stop shaming him.

Many people, even Americans, do not know their rights when they are stopped by police. They are technically free to walk away, but sometimes it is not possible to insist on this right.

One right they do have is to be represented by an attorney. Even before they are under arrest, they should tell the police that their attorney warned them not to answer any questions until he is present. A person who is likely to be stopped should get in the habit of carrying an attorney's business card, in case the police ask him for his attorney's name and telephone number.

A person in not required by law to produce identification when asked to do so by the police. He is required to give his real name and address, however. Failure to do so may lead to an arrest.

The subject of a police stop should not offer any incriminating evidence. For example, if a policeman asks if a bag of drugs belongs to you, you should always say you don't know anything about it. Do not reveal the location of other evidence.

The police are permitted to lie to suspects. They may say it will go easier on you if you confess, or give them names of your friends. Don't believe them. A policeman may seem powerful, but he is unable to influence the court. The person who can do that is the prosecutor, but you should always have a lawyer talk to the prosecutor.

For more information on this topic, see ACLU's Know Your Rights pamphlet.

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