Panel Discusses Minority Rights

Know Your Rights
Karen Zhou

As part of Islam Awareness Fortnight, Sarah Wunsch, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, speaks about minority rights and racial profiling at a panel titled "Know Your Rights," which also featured Larry Ellison, President of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers.

When being questioned or detained by law enforcement officials, minorities should be respectful, but also understand their rights as citizens, panelists said at a “Know Your Rights Panel” on Tuesday.

Hosted by the Harvard Islamic Society, Harvard-Radcliffe RAZA, the Institute of Politics, and the Harvard College Sudanese Society, the event featured president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers and detective Larry Ellison and American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Sarah Wunsch.

“Know Your Rights” was the first in a series of events that comprise a two-week Islamic Awareness Fortnight, which is intended to educate the Harvard community about Islamic culture and beliefs.

President of the Islamic Society Ana R. Nast ’12 said the panel was organized in response to two recent events related to racial and religious profiling: the shooting of Sanford, Fla. teenager Trayvon Martin and the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims in the New York area.

The event opened with the screening of a video that instructs Muslims and individuals of Middle Eastern descent about how to react when agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation make a surprise visit to their homes or office places.

Wunsch reminded attendees that they are not required to answer questions and instructed them to call her or another attorney in the event of an FBI visit.

“We need to educate people about their rights so that they don’t get scared when answering questions,” Wunsch said. “You can easily get sucked into uncomfortable situations.”

Ellison said that as a black male, he understands the frustration of racial profiling.

“It’s happened to me, even while I was working,” he said.

Ellison also said that it might be helpful for minorities to wear certain types of clothing, such as collared shirts, to avoid being profiled by police.

Though RAZA president Edward Escalon ’14 said he enjoyed the event and thought it was useful for the members of his organization, he said he was “put off” by Ellison’s suggestion to dress differently.

“I don’t think I should have to stop wearing my hoodie in order to not be profiled by police,” Escalon said.

The event concluded with another video that described how individuals should behave when detained by airport security personnel.

As a non-Boston native, Fatima O. Mubarak ’15 travels often, and said that she found the airport segment of the panel particularly useful as a person of color.

She added that she enjoyed the opportunity to learn about her rights in sensitive environment.

Other events in the Awareness Fortnight include a “Taste of Islam” study break, a community prayer, and a presentation on Islamic Leadership in America.

—Staff writer Melanie A. Guzman can be reached at