Two high school teachers in Norfolk, Virginia were placed on paid administrative leave after they screened a film to a senior government class that teaches people how to assert their rights when stopped by police. The film, BUSTED: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters shows what and what not to do during common situations like traffic stops and mostly focuses on asserting your 4th amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. It is narrated by Ira Glasser, the former executive director of the ACLU.
The film is funded by a grant through the Marijuana Policy Project and the first scene opens with a group of young people on their way to a concert when they’re pulled over for speeding. They quickly give up their right to not consent to a search and a small amount of marijuana is found and they are arrested. They don’t make it to the show. The same scene is then repeated only this time, the concertgoers follow a few simple rules and only end up with a speeding ticket.
The trouble for the teachers came after a student in the class returned home and reportedly told her mom, “You won’t believe what we are learning in Government. They are teaching us how to hide our drugs.” In fact, the film does not show how to hide drugs, only how to avoid giving up your 4th Amendment rights and explains some of the “gotcha games” that police play. BUSTED and it’s updated version, 10 Rules for Dealing With Police, are both endorsed my many people working in law enforcement including police officers who say it’s just as good a tool for police as it is for citizens.
Neill Franklin, a retired Maryland state police officer, calls the film an important primer for educating police academies. “I’m a cop. I’m straight from the streets,” Franklin says. “One of the things I always talked with police academy instructors about is to ensure we follow our oath, to serve and uphold the Constitution of the United States. Most people think what a great piece for kids and grown-ups, but I see it as a great tool for police academies.”
Is this appropriate for a high school government class? Some would argue that explaining to young people that they have the right to not comply with every demand of a police officer is setting a bad example. “If you don’t have something to hide, then why would you mind having your car searched?” they’ll ask. Others, like Steven Silverman of Flex Your Rights, say that it’s a slippery slope to disregard the Bill of Rights just because some people may take advantage of it:
It’s certainly disturbing that civics teachers are being punished for teaching students about how constitutional protections apply during police encounters. The Bill of Rights is not some abstract concept that ought to be forgotten after finals, nor is it a trick designed to protect evil-doers.
The Bill of Rights was deliberately designed by the Founders to protect the innocent against abuses by government power. The fact that some lawbreakers might use constitutional protections to avoid punishment is a poor excuse for abetting constitutional illiteracy.
The real question here is, if the classroom isn’t the appropriate place for teaching young people to not only understand what their constitutional rights are but how they can assert them when confronted by police officers, then what is? You can watch BUSTED below and decide for yourself:
One thing is for sure, police encounters can be nerve-racking whether or not you have something to hide. The BUSTED website has a long list of success stories from people who confidently asserted their rights after watching the film, including a Grateful Dead fan:
Greatful Dead Sticker = Cop Magnet
As young drivers my friends and I had consented to many, many searches of our cars. Mostly due to the fact that we did not learn about our rights in school and we were afraid of the police.
About 10 years later my friend Phil learned about his rights and related this story to me.
He liked to drive around on the highways here in Jersey for fun and one day on route 78 he was pulled over. While on the way to the window to get Phil’s documents, the officer was able to observe a Grateful Dead sticker in the back window. He took Phil’s paperwork and said that he pulled him over for speeding. Then he asked Phil to step out of the car.
Phil proceeded to get out and quickly shut the door behind him and hit the lock button on his remote. The officer asked him why he shut the door and locked it and Phil replied that it was just habit. The officer then asked to search the car to which Phil replied, “No I do not consent to any searches”. The officer then asked him “what if I search your car anyway”. At this point Phil armed his car alarm and said, “If you do then I will phone the police and have you arrested for breaking and entering”. The officer turned beet red and shoved Phil’s papers back at him turned and left in a hurry.
To be honest, after all the times that he and I had given consent, when he stood up for his rights, it really empowered us through his recount of the events that had just happened.