Street Smarts from Veteran Los Angeles Prosecutor, Jonathan Cristall, Esq.
Most of the skills we know about life don’t come from the classroom! No one in a typical high school teaches us how to fight off online predators, or reason with a police officer who’s harassing us in the street. If we want to learn how to survive in the “real” world, we often have to teach ourselves through trial and error.
Our guest today is a father of three who worried about what might happen if his kids weren’t taught life lessons about consent or the dangers of social media. He sat down and wrote a long list of all the topics he felt he needed to teach his kids outside of the academic sphere… and then went ahead and published it. His name is Jonathan Cristall, a City of Los Angeles prosecutor, and his book is called What They Don’t Teach Teens: Life Safety Skills For Teens and the Adults Who Care for Them.
Jonathan and I both know what happens when you learn your lessons the hard way. He was arrested in his teenage years, I was arrested in my twenties. Jonathan for nonviolent property offense, me for possession of meth. And we know we’re not alone, because 1 in 3 Americans are arrested in their lifetimes. Another person is put in cuffs every three seconds. There are about as many people with arrest records as there are with college degrees in the U.S! Not to mention, people of color are much more likely to be unjustly targeted by law enforcement.
With such overwhelming statistics about the American criminal justice system, we all need to know how to talk to cops. Unfortunately, Jonathan noticed that most people don’t know their basic rights when dealing with police officers. He explains the implications of this concern thoroughly in his book, and today’s episode.
Critical Insight: How To Talk with Police Officers
One significant fact most people are unaware of is their right to refuse a search. If officers have a search warrant or have probable cause due to the situation at hand, they can lawfully search without your consent. Otherwise, you have to agree…and often they get you to agree by asking you veiled questions like: “Do you have anything in your pockets I should worry about?” or “Why don’t you let me see your phone?” No matter what, you don’t have to answer these questions or consent to these searches.
You might be asking yourself: won’t invoking these rights make cops more suspicious? Maybe, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know that denying consent is an option. Even if cops are rough with you on the street, knowing your rights will help you defend yourself when the court date rolls around. Exasperated, overworked cops tend to be rough in the moment, so Jonathan recommends not putting up a fight with an officer in the street. Without being rude, you can peacefully exercise your right to silence and to refuse search. Later, you can hold a police officer accountable for their actions in front of a judge.
Use Your Rights for Good, not Evil
If you know your rights, Jonathan warns they should only be used for good. In our interview, Jonathan shares an example of a young man who committed sexual assault–and filmed it. Then he sent it to his friend. When the police asked to search the friend’s phone, he refused, on the bias of an unlawful search. By protecting his friend, he kept justice from being served. When invoking your rights, Jonathan insists on focusing on doing the right thing, not withholding important evidence as that may prevent someone dangerous from being brought to justice.
Life Skills, Smarts, and Sex
Sexual assault is something we dicuss at legnth in this episode, mainly because there’s a lack of adequate education about sexual activity among young people today. Jonathan really drives home the idea of affirmative consent in our interview. This means asking before, during, and after a sexual encounter if your partner is still enthusiastic about what’s going on, instead of assuming that their silence or compliance means they’re consenting. Affirmative consent means making sure they’re more than excited to keep going.
Throughout an experience, partners should be asking each other: Is it ok if I touch you there? How do you feel about what I’m doing? Is it cool if we try something different? If a partner indicates they’re unsure, or answers the question with a “maybe,” then it’s time to stop. It’s important to bring light to these topics, because people today are often more comfortable having sex than they are talking about it.
Rarely brought up in the sexual assault conversation is the notion of sexual coercion, in which manipulation plays a role. Even if we’re not aware that we’re manipulating someone into a sexual encounter, we may be doing so, says Jonathan. For example if someone is intoxicated, they can’t consent. Arguments like, “But I bought you dinner” or “You’d do this if you really loved me,” are coercion. Same goes when someone is in a position of authority and makes the person they’re with feel like they’ll get in trouble if they don’t participate.
All this talk about sex brings us to another serious problem, one that’s getting worse and worse in our present moment: sextortion. This is when someone’s sexual images or videos are used for blackmail, and it’s often tied to online activity. Young people may be talking to somebody online who appears to be the same age as them, and might send them nude photographs. Then, they find out that the person they’re in conversation with is a much older person, or otherwise not who they appear to be. Then this person can use those photographs to threaten and blackmail them.
Digital Street Smarts
As Jonathan and I discuss in the episode, it’s important to be careful online. He brings in his experience as someone who hires people for the city attorney’s office in Los Angeles. When hiring, he goes through not only people’s profiles, but also what they like, comment on, and who they follow. In some cases, he’s even looked into who their friends follow.
If you’re worried about your online presence, Jonathan suggests getting rid of anything that anyone might use as a reason not to hire you. Not only that, he suggests posting about the good things. If you win an award or complete a service project, don’t be afraid to share it on your social media! When people are looking to hire for a competitive position, these examples of your value will help you stand out.
Thanks Jonathan Cristall!
All these topics are essential to raising teens who can make it in the world, or adults trying to deal with discrimination or relationship problems.
It’s been an absolute joy to talk with Jonathan today. If you enjoyed our talk, you can find more of his work at WWW.WTDTT.com or by subscribing to Sex, Drugs, and Jesus for an extended cut of the episode.