Citizens’ rights advocacy group hosts film screening, Q&A with attorney

Ben Wolf, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, explains to Evanston residents their rights when dealing with police officers. Wolf answered questions Tuesday night following the screening of a film offering tips on the issue.

Joseph Diebold/Daily Senior Staffer

Ben Wolf, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, explains to Evanston residents their rights when dealing with police officers. Wolf answered questions Tuesday night following the screening of a film offering tips on the issue.

Joseph Diebold, Web Editor

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Days after the Evanston Police Department announced it will increase its presence in the 5th Ward, an advocacy group hosted an event Tuesday to educate citizens about their rights when encountering officers.

The Citizens Network of Protection brought about 10 Evanston residents to the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St., for a film screening and question-and-answer session with Ben Wolf, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

The film, “10 Rules for Dealing With Police,” was produced by Flex Your Rights, a nonprofit that aims to improve constitutional literacy so citizens, especially those who have not actually committed a crime, know their rights.

Among other “rules,” the film advised citizens to be polite with officers, to refuse warrantless searches and to clarify whether they have been detained for purposes of searches.

“You can always ask if you’re detained or if you’re free to leave,” Wolf said. “The movie does a good job of explaining how to do that respectfully so that you don’t pick a fight with an officer.”

During the Q-and-A, citizens asked about protecting their children from truancy and curfew laws.

Wolf said he and the ACLU have been fighting to stop racial profiling by police both in the area and around the country.

“It’s a problem in Evanston, and it’s a problem in Illinois,” he said.

He also praised the film for emphasizing that citizens do not need to consent to a search after routine traffic stops, saying it is a situation commonly associated with racial profiling.

The screening came on the heels of an announcement last week by EPD Chief Richard Eddington at a 5th Ward meeting that the city may up its use of stop-and-frisk tactics because of escalating gun violence in the ward, including a shooting in broad daylight that sent the community center into lockdown. CNP organizer Betty Ester said when EPD made a similar announcement several years ago, it did not result in a significant change, but her organization will remain vigilant.

“That’s something we don’t need to see,” she said. “Now they’re talking about the ‘zero tolerance,’ so we definitely do have concerns, and we will be keeping an eye on it.”

Wolf said stop-and-frisk requires police to find a balance between public safety and avoiding infringement of rights.

Ester said she hoped one primary takeaway from the film, especially for the city’s youth, was not to run away from police.

“Our members were saying we need to keep reinforcing this until they really get it and know this is what you need to be doing: Stay calm, don’t run,” she said. “In 2010-11, kids used to run a lot, and they would wind up being shot at, hurt.”

Some citizens also expressed concern about EPD overreach last year when Diwani Greenwell, the 13-year-old son of Medill Prof. Ava Thompson Greenwell, was handcuffed and detained during a search for a nearby burglar. The family later sued the arresting officer and the legal case is still pending.

Ester said the group has been working for nearly a decade with two goals: education and the creation of an independent police review board in the city. She added CNP was not satisfied with the creation of the citizen’s police advisory board in 1997 and is continuing its push for the new body.

Tuesday’s event was the first of three screenings of the documentary CNP will hold. The film will be shown May 28 at the Evanston Police Outpost, 633 Howard St., and June 5 at Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave.

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