Youth Education Grads Saluted At MS 53 Ceremony
As a response to the increased interactions between young people and police on the peninsula, Common Law, Inc. and CUNY on Wheels chose 12 students from PS/MS 53 to take part in a 10-week program that taught them their legal rights and provided leadership training.
In the 10 short weeks of the Rockaway Youth Legal Education Program at PS/MS 53 in Far Rockaway, through discussions and a courtroom visit, Common Law attorneys covered a range of topics with the teens.
"We went over reasonable suspicions, stop and frisk, detention … that was just the basics," said Karen Gargamelli, one of three attorneys who run Common Law, during the closing ceremony on January 8. "The hope is we would have larger conversations like, do those things really play out on the streets? Is that the reality even though it's the law? Also [we discussed] larger things like, what is justice in general?"
A highlight of the afternoon was the presentation of digital narratives by seven of the nine students who completed the course on their experiences with police and the lessons they learned while they were in the program.
DaQuan Fulton, 14, said he attended the class because he "wanted to learn about the law" and was among several who related experiences in which the police stopped them for no reason.
"I wanted to be part of the Legal Education Program, because I wanted to learn my rights and know what to do if I was stopped by a cop," said Elijah Frazier, 15. "The class made me smarter, and I know what to say if [a cop] stops me again."
Nefretiri Pinder, 15, said the class gave her "a chance to learn more about the law." She continued by saying, "In the class I learned what's being done to do something about unfairness in the criminal justice system … we even discussed our rights if we get stopped and frisked by a police officer."
The defining moment in the program for Sincere Credell, 15, was learning about his rights - particularly, that police cannot take a prisoner outside the jurisdiction where he was arrested. Credell explained that he was once stopped and arrested by Nassau County police on Central Avenue in Far Rockaway. Instead of being taken to the 101 Precinct, he said he was taken to a Nassau County jail.
Mario Hill, 15, also had a story about being stopped by the police while he was out late one night.
"He [the police officer] told them [my parents] the reason he stopped us and took us in was because something had happened in the neighborhood," said Hill. "That's when I realized the reason he took us to the precinct was to keep us safe off the street at night. After this experience I learned that some police officers are good officers."
Among those who helped to congratulate the program participants were PS/MS 53 Principal Claude Monereau; Vice Principal Diane Ludvigsen; La- Guardia Community College's Nakita Vanstory, the director of CUNY on Wheels; Jay Kim and Karen Gargamelli of Common Law; and Detectives Carl Robinson and Orlando Cabrera of the NYPD's J-RIP (Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program).
Students were presented with certificates for attending the program. Those who came at least 80 percent of the time received a free voucher from LaGuardia Community College to attend a class at its Teen Academy.
This is the second group of young people to go through the program, which was funded by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. More than 100 applications were received for the free training. According to Vanstory, there is a waiting list of students interested in taking part, but funding needs to be secured before the Youth Legal Education Program can continue.