Op-Ed | My Mother’s Day dreams for New York’s youth

male suspect arrested in the night city, with police flashers behind him
Photo via Getty Images

Last month, I was on the bus with my youngest daughter during a day off from school when the MTA police approached me, claiming I hadn’t paid the fare.

I had. 

Despite my insistence otherwise and my attempts to show them my MetroCard, the officer remained convinced and handed me a ticket in front of dozens of people on the crowded bus.

My daughter seemed scared and intimidated by the MTA officer. She told me that she thought I had been racially profiled – no one else on the bus had been asked whether they had paid the fare, she pointed out to me.

The incident got me thinking about how my first instinct was to tell the officer that he was mistaken and to explain to him why. But, what if an officer had stopped me for something more serious? My instinct to “just explain” could have made matters worse for me. 

I can’t fault myself for not knowing this. As a mother of three and a community advocate, I wear many hats, but a lawyer’s cap isn’t among them.

As I reflected on the incident, I worried about what would have happened if I wasn’t there with my daughter. As much as I didn’t want to think about it, the unfortunate reality is that likely one day she will experience this, as youth of color are at heightened risk of random stops by the police. According to the NYCLU, of the nearly 17,000 random stops by the NYPD throughout 2023, almost 90% of them targeted people of color.

In that moment I realized that if I, an adult, wasn’t fully aware of my rights when confronted by law enforcement, how could I possibly expect my children to navigate similar situations by themselves? 

That’s why this Mother’s Day, I’m calling on the New York State Legislature to pass a crucial law that will allow mothers everywhere to rest assured that their children’s rights are protected when they encounter law enforcement.

Our leaders in government must pass the #Right2RemainSilent Campaign’s Youth Interrogation bill, sponsored by The Bronx’s own Senator Jamaal T. Bailey. Senator Bailey’s bill would make sure that police cannot question a child without them first speaking with a lawyer.

Under current New York law, police are able to coerce a child to waive their Miranda rights and interrogate a child without a parent or guardian present. 

It’s easy to see how these policies manifest: approximately 90% of young people interrogated by police waive their Miranda rights because they don’t understand the consequences of the waiver or feel intimidated by authority figures like police officers. These youth face a significantly elevated risk of false confessions, with juveniles being up to three times as likely as adults to falsely confess, according to research from the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth.

And, as my daughter reminded me with her observation that day on the bus, more often than not it is youth of color like her who will bear the brunt of these unfortunate realities. Due to disproportionate over-surveillance in low socio-economic schools and communities, youth of color are far more likely to come into contact with the police on a daily basis than their white counterparts. 

Right2RemainSilent would help level the playing field. After the police take a child into custody – and if they determine interrogation is necessary – it would be mandatory that the child be provided a lawyer to consult with before any questioning could take place.

It’s time that we protect our children equally by passing Senator Bailey’s #Right2RemainSilent bill. Making sure all children – not just the most privileged – have equitable access to speaking with a lawyer when the police want to question them is my Mother’s Day dream for moms and kids across New York. 

Norma Ginez resides in Concourse Village, The Bronx.