With heightened security and protests nationwide due to last month's terrorist attacks, attorneys offered suggestions on handling police confrontation and emphasized the importance of understanding civil rights during a campus forum Wednesday.
The "Know Your Rights Forum" was sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the UNM Muslim Student Association.
Katy Hammel, a cooperating attorney with ACLU-NM, told an audience of less than 20 that she was happy to see students angrily responding to UNM Professor Richard Berthold's comment that "Anyone who can blow up the Pentagon has my vote."
"The best response to speech is more speech," she said.
She added that she was disappointed when she heard that students in Berthold's class said they didn't want to speak against his ideas for fear of getting bad grades.
Hammel said Berthold's comments are protected by the First Amendment, which forbids reprisals against teachers for speaking on matters of public concern. She added that if Berthold rambled on about private issues during class, the University could fire him.
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She said freedom of speech does have some limits, however. The First Amendment does not protect government actors, including professors at state institutions, who endorse a religion, she said. She added that it also does not protect people who commit racial or sexual harassment through speech, Hammel said.
"It does not need to reach the point of fondling," she said of harassment. "It can just be speech."
She added that people who incite riots through speech also are not protected by the First Amendment. She explained that inciting a riot is using hateful, fighting words and behavior such as getting close to people, pointing and yelling.
She said an example of this would be if someone were mad at Berthold and yelled in another person's face, "Let's go to his house right now and pick up a gun on the way. You've got some bullets. It all depends on you!"
She said people who want to protest should speak calmly and slowly instead of misbehaving if they want to be heard and stay out of trouble.
Hammel said that as a college student in the 1960s, she protested against loading submarines with nuclear weapons. She said she was on the news one night because she carried a sign that said "Sandwiches not subs," - a play on the protester slogan "Bread not bombs."
"Go for humor and get your point across," she said.
Hammel also recommended acting calmly if confronted by a police officer.
"What comes out of your mouth is not a threat to him," she said, adding that waving arms and frantic hands are threatening.
She recommended that if people are upset with police actions, they should calmly say they disapprove without cussing or making negative remarks.
Luis Robles, an attorney who spoke at the event, explained reasonable suspicion, probable cause and consent with the audience.
He said officers can detain a person on reasonable suspicion, or suspected criminal activity, to investigate a sketchy situation, but need probable cause, which is evidence leading them to believe someone has committed a specific crime, to arrest someone.
He said an example of reasonable suspicion would be an officer seeing two young boys pushing a television down the street in a baby carriage.
"It's taking common sense with an understanding of how criminals conduct their business," he said.
Robles added that he doesn't understand why people who are hauling drugs in their cars give officers who don't have probable cause consent for a search.
"They're very good at talking their way into your trunk," he said of officers.
Robles said he gets upset when people are detained just for being witnesses to a crime because they are often lead to believe that they have to cooperate when they do not.
"Being a witness is not a crime," he said.
He said police officers should tell witnesses that it is their civic responsibility to cooperate but should make it clear that the witnesses do not have to stay. He added that courts, however, have the authority to subpoena witnesses.