This week I volunteered for the first time to participate in a program the Los Angeles County Bar Association has been running for seven years, called Dialogues on Freedom, in which lawyers and judges lead class discussions in public high schools about constitutional rights. The hypothetical situations presented to the students deal with issues that could affect them personally, and that at the same time raise constitutional issues implicating practically every amendment in the Bill of Rights. This year the hypothetical dealt with enhanced police powers that the hypothetical city counsel was thinking of putting into place to deal with suspected gang activity.
The students at Lincoln High School, where I was assigned, were a lot more energized than I expected about these issues. I was also surprised that the majority of them seemed to take the civil libertarian side of most of these issues. Every time we suggested such measures as imposing a curfew, searching students’ backpacks, censoring violent television shows, or even gun control, we were met with cries that the council was attempting to impose a police state. Given that a lot of these students understand that they are themselves at risk from potential gang activity, it was heartening to know that many of them still demanded that the police have at least reasonable suspicions before depriving them of their rights.