Charlottesville, Va. — In an effort to de-escalate tensions between American citizens and police and ensure that all parties emerge from such encounters with their lives, liberties and property intact, The Rutherford Institute has issued constitutional guidelines to better educate the public about their rights when stopped by the police, how to behave during a police encounter, what to expect during a traffic stop, and what to do if you believe your rights have been violated by a law enforcement official.
“In an age of militarized police often trained to view the citizenry as enemy combatants and equipped with weaponry and gear better suited for the battlefield, the perils of exercising one’s constitutional rights grow more costly with each passing day,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Anything short of compliance will often get an individual charged with any of the growing number of contempt charges that get trotted out anytime a citizen voices discontent with the government or challenges or even questions the authority of a government official, particularly a law enforcement officer. Yet even compliance isn’t a fail-safe plan. Indeed, individuals who don’t resist when confronted by police are still finding themselves tasered, tackled or shot simply because police perceive their expression to be threatening or because they moved in a way that made an officer fear for his safety. Something needs to change.”
As the nation’s law enforcement agencies have become more militarized and trained to view the citizenry as enemy combatants who must comply with any and all police orders, encounters between police and members of the public have become increasingly tense, the potential for aggression has escalated, and the risk of civil liberties violations has grown.
For instance, one motorist was tasered by police and charged with resisting arrest after he questioned why he was being ordered out of his truck during a traffic stop. Another individual was shot by a police officer during a routine traffic stop over a seatbelt violation as he was in the process of reaching for his license and registration. The trooper justified his shooting of the unarmed man by insisting that the man reached for his license “aggressively.” As these incidents make clear, while there is no sure-fire way to guarantee that an encounter with law enforcement officials does not escalate into aggression on the part of police, Americans need to not only know their rights but they also need to understand how to exercise those rights appropriately, respectfully and in such a way as to ensure that the lives and liberties of both the citizenry and police are protected and preserved.
The Rutherford Institute’s “Constitutional Q&A: Rules of Engagement for Interacting with Police” provides the public with a legal framework to guide with various kinds of police encounters (traffic stops, roadside searches, blood draws, etc.). It also warns of emerging technologies available to police, such as alcohol detecting flashlights and software for extracting cell phone data, that further threaten the privacy and security of individuals.
The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.