By Sharon Chin

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) What freedoms and responsibilities do you have when you become an adult? That’s what this Jefferson Award winner is teaching young people turning 18.

Demetrius Shelton says the law sees people differently once they reach adulthood. Behavior that got you sent to the principal’s office could now send you to jail. So he’s giving young people tools to become responsible citizens.

What if police stop you for questioning?  Teenagers Amaris Canada and Earl Moseby spent a recent weekend morning learning what to do.

“Remain respectful, remain steady, keep my head on straight,” Canada said confidently.

“Stop and ask questions to police, instead of panicking and running like you did something wrong,” Moseby added.

The two joined more than a dozen students at a symposium at Castlemont High School in Oakland. Administrative law judge Demetrius Shelton planned it after police shot dead an unarmed black 18-year-old following a confrontation in Ferguson, Missouri.

“Not knowing your rights when dealing with law enforcement officials can be a  matter of life and death,” Shelton said.

Shelton began volunteering to coordinate similar workshops nationwide four years ago as president of the National Bar Association, the country’s largest bar association for attorneys and judges of color.

For example, students discover police can ask them for ID, but the students have the right to record the traffic stop on their phones.

“Use sound judgment,” Shelton advises. “The ultimate goal when interacting with police, we often tell them, just walk away safely. If anything was done wrong, we’ll fix it later.”

He also teaches young people they have the right to remain silent, the right to have a lawyer if they’re arrested, and to make sure they’re not misunderstood — if they need to turn around to get an ID, to tell the officer they’re turning around to get an ID so nobody thinks they’re getting a weapon.

In addition to the symposium, Shelton led a team that developed a booklet called How the Law Treats You Differently When You Turn 18. It describes the rights and freedoms of adults, like the ability to vote, sign contracts, use credit, rent a home, and buy a car. He even presented First Lady Michelle Obama a copy of the publication.

At the workshops, students break into groups explore each of the freedoms described in the booklet.  Shelton recruits several volunteers to lead the talks, including attorney Craig Holden, a friend since college who is himself the current President of the State Bar of California.

“He’s always been a leader,” Holden reported. “That’s just innate to who he is. He’s always been a selfless person, interested in giving back.”

Shelton is an administrative law judge for the state department of social services. One of the reasons he volunteers to put on the symposiums is to encourage students to pursue careers in the legal profession, and he mentors aspiring lawyers.

So for empowering young people with knowledge about their rights, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Demetrius Shelton.


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