At a law school known for producing some of America’s brightest law faculty, some students are getting a head start.
This semester two third-year students at the Yale Law School will launch the Juvenile Rights Advocacy Project, a program designed to bring Yale undergraduate and Law School students and youth from the local community to New Haven high schools to teach students about their civil rights. The program’s founders hope that by educating high school students on their legal rights and proper conduct with police officers the project will foster a better understanding between local youths and New Haven police.
Homer Robinson LAW ’02 and Gabriel Bankier-Plotkin LAW ’02 conceived the project two years ago as volunteers for Street Law, a nationwide program that places law school students in classrooms to teach high schoolers about various aspects of the law.
“We had a chance to talk with some of the kids, and we found out how much enmity, animosity and tension kids were feeling about how they were being treated,” Robinson said.
To address the teens’ concerns, the law students designed a 90-minute workshop to teach high school students how to conduct themselves with the police.
“We want to go in with an intensive program aimed explicitly at getting at this issue, and getting the message to as many people as we can,” Bankier-Plotkin said.
Law School Dean Anthony Kronman said the new program comes at a time when police brutality issues have surfaced to the forefront of public debate.
“The work that Homer and Gabriel have done is particularly important in light of the rather extraordinary attention which has recently been focused on issues of police conduct, appropriate use of force and racial profiling, all of which raise serious and legitimate concerns and remind us of the difficult and charged interaction between police and members of the community at the street level,” Kronman said.
Taking advantage of Robinson’s background in documentary filmmaking, the two decided to center the workshop on a 25-minute film composed of vignettes of students interacting with police.
Laura McCargar ’02, who helped Robinson and Bankier-Plotkin find teens to help script and star in the video, said the students should find the clips authentic and engaging.
“The video walks the very fine line between being sympathetic to what youth go through when dealing with police, and what kind of behavior is acceptable when dealing with those situations,” McCargar said.
With the video and workshop curricula completed, the group hopes to recruit and train enough undergraduates and law students in the next few weeks to take its workshop to the streets as early as next month. The Juvenile Rights Advocacy Project is one of many organizations at the Law School involved in the New Haven community, ranging from Umoja, a long-term leadership training program designed for local youth, to law clinics that provide free legal services to city residents.
But Bankier-Plotkin said that law students are not sufficiently involved in local affairs.
“I think that the Law School students in general are very committed to community service. But a lot of these projects overlook the New Haven community,” he said. “Our project, using New Haven cops, New Haven kids and New Haven streets is specific to New Haven in the problems that it addresses.”