Justice 456, an initiative of Queens Defenders, a nonprofit public defender organization serving the borough of Queens, has a mission – to inform the community of their rights, in particular, the rights provided under the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
We spoke with the founders of Justice456 — Nick Hillary and Mani Tafari. Hillary, an athlete and coach, was wrongly accused of murder, and has since been acquitted. Mani is an attorney with Queens Defenders. Both are committed to this educational program that teaches others how to protect themselves.
What is the one thing to remember when stopped by the police?
Tafari: “The most important thing is to be respectful. Set an atmosphere for good interaction with law enforcement. When you maintain respect, you are given respect. Don’t give law enforcement a reason to change the atmosphere.”
How would you summarize the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments?
Tafari: “I am going to break down the complex. The 4th Amendment protects you from unlawful searches. The 5th Amendment is the right to remain silent. The 6th Amendment is the right to counsel. So, when stopped, you simply say: “I will not consent to a search today. I have nothing to say. My attorney is on the way.” Kids can understand this. We are going into schools and community centers within the black communities to teach this.”
Has there been any legal precedent or major cases that have changed how we view or use these amendments today?
Tafari: “Gideon v. Wainwright is a landmark United States Supreme Court case from 1963. Clarence Earl Gideon was an average man, not a lawyer. He wrote a letter to Chief Justice Earl Warren, and as a result, states now must provide lawyers. They have to be represented by a lawyer. Change came from Mr. Gideon, and now change is coming from Mr. Hillary. Ordinary people are saving the day.”
Hillary: “One needs knowledge. My focus is to inform and communicate about these three rights. Once you know, you’re empowered. You are educated.”
Tafari: “We are ‘Constitutional Translators.’ The average person can digest these amendments and use them for protection. Four, five, and six is a bullet proof vest. Nothing is greater than the Bill of Rights.”
Why is the Justice456 program important to you?
Hillary: “It is extremely important to me because of my personal experience. It provides me with a platform that allows me to preserve my rights because I know what they are. This is what we as a society have been lacking. I want everyone to understand that these amendments protect us. We hear a lot about the 1st and 2nd amendments, but we don’t understand the magnitude of 4, 5, and 6. This program makes certain to provide this information.”
Tafari: “It’s about survival. Black communities are unjustly prosecuted by people who are supposed to protect them. There is an African quote about a bird – ‘When man learned how to shoot without missing, he (the bird) learned how to fly without resting on trees.’ These three amendments can save your life.”
How did the Justice456 program get started?
Hillary: “It started based on my experience with the law in 2011, and continues through this day. The idea for this program came about gradually, and in 2016, it became my mission to inform young people of their rights. These rights are what kept me informed and protected throughout my ordeal. Mani and I have a history that goes back many years. We attended school together and played on the same soccer team.”
Tafari: “It started because of Mr. Hillary and what he faced. As multiple organizations prosecuted him without evidence, we decided it was a structural problem. A skilled doctor can remove cancer, but we are trying to avoid cancer to begin with.”
Hillary: “Prevention is better than cure.”
For more information on the Justice456 program visit www.queensdefenders.org/justice456 and join the conversation with #Justice456 & #KnowThe456