The Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff used its annual Constitution Day Observance held Thursday in the Dawson-Hicks Hall Auditorium to educate students on their rights under the federal and state constitutions.
“The idea behind this event is to encourage students to get to know their rights under the U. S. Constitution and the Arkansas Constitution,” said department chairperson Ebo Tei. “I had to point out to them that most Americans are not familiar with their rights under the Constitution. I am originally from Ghana and became a naturalized U. S. citizen in 1987. In order to become a citizen I had to pass a test. It is estimated that many native-born Americans could not pass this test. So part of today’s event is to remind the students of their rights and the importance of knowing them.”
Bei said Constitution Day began in 2004 when U. S. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia introduced a bill calling for the day be observed annually.
“We had copies of the U. S. Constitution on which we performed a mock signing both in the auditorium and in front of the student union,” Bei said. “We handed out copies of the Constitution given to us for the event by the office of U. S. Sen. Mark Pryor.”
Former Arkansas state representative Efrem Elliott delivered the keynote address for the event.
“I focused my remarks primarily on the Arkansas Constitution and what our rights under it are,” Elliott said. “What I found is that not only our students but some of our middle-class adults don’t know their rights. I passed out copies of the state constitution and talked about some of the things that are in it.”
Elliott said some students brought up the Trayvon Martin case in Florida and asserted that the 17 year old who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in February 2012 had his constitutional rights violated.
“I asked them what Martin’s rights were under the Florida constitution and how are they different than rights under the Arkansas constitution,” Elliott said. “They didn’t know how to respond. I told them that laws are different from state to state and that it is very important that they know what their rights are.”
Elliott said he discussed the topics of search and seizure, reasonable suspicion and probable cause with the students.
“One of the students said that he thought you could get arrested through being guilty by association,” Elliott said. “They said that they knew of people who had been arrested when somebody in a car they were riding in had marijuana and the police took everyone in the car into custody.”
Elliott said that just because the police may do things a certain way does not necessarily mean that what they are doing is constitutional.
“Just because you can do it does not mean that it is constitutionally right,” Elliott said. “I wanted to make sure that they know what their rights are so that they can tell if they are being violated or not. I wanted to get them in more in tune with knowing what their rights are.”