Sunday, July 10, 2016

Response to Distortions in SJ Times Editorial About Decarcerate the Garden State


The following is a "letter to the editor" response to a South Jersey Times editorial that misrepresents the position of my letter as co-founder of Decarcerate the Garden State to Commissioner Hespe calling for Personal Rights Awareness curriculum to be added to NJ's curriculum for all public school students:

From: Bob Witanek 
Sent: Jul 10, 2016 1:16 PM
Subject: Re: Response to Distortions in SJ Times Editorial About Decarcerate the Garden State 

 I appreciate NJ dot com's continued interest in the urging I made to Commissioner Hespe regarding a Personal Rights Awareness addition to the NJ curriculum.  I also appreciate the link to the letter, press release and related commentary from our blog site where I published my letter to Hespe.
However this editorial is a distortion of the position.  Here is the actual urging from my letter:
" NJ Must Provide Mandatory Rights Instruction to All Public School Students"

" . . . - given the role that the public schools you preside over are referring student matters to the police, it behooves this same statewide school system to equip the students with knowledge of their rights when they are forced into encounters with police - in this case - by the public schools.
Students need to be advised of their right to ask for their parents and an attorney and their right to remain silent. 
Also districts need to send letters to parents explaining what their varying police policies are and that parents have an interest in informing and educating their children as to what their rights are."

Nothing about "clamming up".  No contradiction to what the editors culled from the ACLU.  

The editors have made a straw man argument here - putting words in my mouth that were not in my letter.

They actually end up agreeing with me that the students should not have been interviewed without their parents.  I would suggest that the editors take a look at this comment or contact me to discuss further why their editorial is a distortion.

My letter did not spell out exactly of WHAT the Personal Rights Awareness curriculum would consist.  It only called for the creation of same.  Defense attorneys and Civil Liberties experts as well as professional educators would devise the course work.  It could include scenarios and classroom discussion about various hypothetical situations.  There would be room to explore the nuances of "the right to remain silent" vs. collective safety in an emergency situation for example.

The South Jersey Times could have made the same point without implying that we are saying anything that we in fact not at all saying - it could have made recommendations of what should be in such a course.  Actually it did end up on that note - but the way it couched it - it comes across as in opposition to our position (falsely implying that we are saying that students should never ever talk to cops).

It was a poorly written editorial that probably harms the effort to increase youth rights awareness - that these days could be the only thing standing between them living a happy life and ending up incarcerated for a substantial part of that life.

Bob Witanek

Co-founder Decarcerate the Garden State

  1. Ari Rosmarin ‏@A_Rosmarin  10h10 hours ago
    .@bwitanek Also @TheSJTimes misstates @ACLUNJ KYR advice: we don't say cooperate; we say don't resist. To stay alive. There's a difference.
    2 retweets2 likesReply Retweeted 2 Like 2 More
  2. Ari Rosmarin ‏@A_Rosmarin  10h10 hours ago
    Misguided editorial. @bwitanek & DecarcerateNJ are right: never too early to know your rights w cops.

This is in response to the editorial at this link:

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