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Field Trips Return ‘For REAL’
To Southern Nevada Courts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Class-trips to Courts Return to Clark County After Pandemic Pause

Project REAL’s ‘Courts & You’ field trips will serve up to 5,000 local students each year

LAS VEGAS, NV (January 25, 2024) – Project REAL, a non-profit fostering civic engagement and critical thinking in Nevada’s youth, announces the full-scale return of its courthouse field trips, starting with Pat Diskin Elementary on January 30, 2024. These trips, a cornerstone of Project REAL’s mission since 2004, offer Nevada’s youth vital insights into civics and law, foster informed citizenship.

Post-pandemic challenges, particularly transportation costs, decimated the volume of trips available to students. Thanks to returning transportation options and grants from Clark County and Speedway Children’s Charities, Project REAL aims to reach 32 schools this year. They plan to return to 120 annual trips by the end of the next school year.

The field trips combine watching court proceedings with discussions led by judges, demystifying the justice system and highlighting its community impact.  The nonprofit emphasizes the trips’ role in empowering students, transitioning their perspective from apprehension to active engagement in the justice system.

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, who was instrumental in securing a key grant for the revival of these trips, will speak to students on the first trip of the calendar year in recognition of Project REAL’s resumption to its full-scale community service at pre-pandemic levels.

“Project REAL is resuming their invaluable courthouse field trips, which give our students the opportunity to see first-hand the work they learn about through the organization’s law education; they will watch live criminal court proceedings at our Regional Justice Center and have a chance to ask our judges questions. I was pleased to support the JAG Grant, which makes this project possible, and I look forward to welcoming District A’s Diskin ES students to court!”

While this year’s field trip schedule is full, school administrators, teachers, and parents interested in Project REAL’s many other resources or scheduling trips for the next school year are encouraged to get more information by visiting https://projectrealnv.org or calling 702.703.6529.

Media are invited to document the significant return of these trips.  For media arrangements or further details, please contact Mike Kamer at mkamer@projectrealnv.org or 702.703.6529.

For additional comments from Commissioner Naft, please contact Katelyn Ensign at Katelyn.Ensign@clarkcountynv.gov or 702.455.3511.

About Project REAL: Founded by Sam Lionel & Irwin Molasky, Project REAL has been educating Nevada’s students and young adults about their role in the community and the broader world. Through engaging experiences like courthouse field trips and Adulting101 lessons, Project REAL fosters a sense of agency and responsibility in students, encouraging them to become informed and active citizens. Since opening its doors in 2005, the nonprofit has served over 220,000 young Nevadans.

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THE INITIATIVE

Hope & Hospitality is a Project REAL’s community initiative promoting & supporting our relationship violence prevention work. Each year we team up with local hospitality hotspots to educate the community and raise funds for that work.
Our partners select items that raise $1.00 or more each time they are sold during October. At the same time, their customers learn more about Project REAL and our many resources.
The funds raised by Hope & Hospitality are used to print our teen law guide Independence & You, and to send our team to give a relationship violence prevention presentation in high school seniors’ classes.
Since 2021, more than 13,000 students have received copies of Independence & You. Among them, more than 4,500 took part in relationship violence prevention experiences. Most of those experiences were booked & provided thanks to opportunities created by Hope & Hospitality.

The Guides

                       

SOUTHERN NEVADA

Our 2023 Partners


595 Craft & Kitchen – Select Draught
Info Coming Soon


Big Dogs – October Opportunities
The Octoberfest Special, All Happy Hour Pitchers, & October Charity Roundups

 


Eureka – Chasing Ghosts
Mescal, Coconut Milk, & Heat!


HUDL – Two Ways To Play
Big Wheel Blonde & Anniversary Event Raffle

 


Mojave – You’re My Boy Blue
Blueberry Cider


The Silver Stamp – Gambrinus Kegs
Shiner // Trumer, TBA


Tenaya Creek – TBA


Vic’s – Black Opal
A blend of spirits enhanced with blackberry puree

 

Special Thanks


$25,000 Matching Challenge


Charity Kegs @ The Silver Stamp

 

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

Meet Our 2023 Executive Committee


Kimberly De La Cruz

As Project REAL’s treasurer and go-to volunteer for press relations, Kimberly’s role on the executive committee has been to assist with recruiting businesses from Downtown Las Vegas, where she often works from remotely.  She’s also working with our other two press-experienced committee members as needed in case press opportunities arrive during this year’s campaign.  You can read more about Kimberly at our team-page

 

Rachel Diehl
Rachel Diehl is The Real “Diehl” in strategic communications. With more than 15 years’ experience, Rachel is passionate about connecting organizations with the public to create win-win experiences for all stakeholders involved. She has built a career with prominent local agencies representing clients across a variety of industries from food, beverage, and entertainment, to retail and technology, while also providing extensive philanthropic assistance to nonprofits she’s passionate about. Her public relations campaigns have been recognized by peers in her industry including a feature in PR Week’s Exceptional PR Campaign Case Studies, as well as earning multiple PRSA Pinnacle Awards. Rachel’s F/B/E relations along with her extensive philanthropic experience have made her an invaluable part of our 2023 committee. 

 

Michael Gaddy
A resident of Southern Nevada for more than 15 years, Michael Gaddy has been a Food & Beverage industry insider for more than a decade who has focused on the craft beer market since 2015.  Michael’s passion for craft beer and an account-building personality have led him to his current role as the NV-UT District Account Manager  for The Gambrinus Company. Representing larger-yet-very-much craft brands including Spoetzl (Shiner) and Trumer means Michael can often be found hopping between mom-and-pop shops in the rural southwest as well as the larger resort-corridor properties.  Michael has quietly been supporting Project REAL for more than four years, and we’re honored to have him now join us as an Executive Committee member for Hope & Hospitality.

 

Mike Kamer
As Project REAL’s Executive Director – and previously our Senior Director – Mike was responsible for the original Hope & Hospitality concept, and recruiting the initial participants in years 1 & 2.  In our third year, Mike will be visiting our various partners and leading the Executive Committee outings.  We’re looking forward to showing support for the businesses supporting us, and hope you’ll join Mike and our other committee members throughout October.  You can read more about Mike at our team-page.

 

 

Ashlie Randolph
There may be no better fit for a Hope & Hospitality Executive Committee seat than Ashlie Randolph.  Ashlie has a background in both Food & Beverage and Nonprofit Leadership.   A long-time brand ambassador for Duvel in Las Vegas prior to her departure, Ashlie also served in the nonprofit sector as NAACP #1111 Executive Committee member and the Las Vegas chapter president of the Pink Boots Society, a nonprofit that supports female brewers.  She’s also nationally renown as a co-founder of Lifting Lucy – a non-profit committed to supporting BIWOC in beer.  These days, she’s serving as the Director of Education Programming for the Public Education Foundation while also serving on Pink Boots Society’s national board as their Vice President. Ashlie is also in the funding stage of opening a craft brewery in the Caribbean, a region she fell in love with during the time she lived there off-and-on for 20 years while running her own travel agency, Ebony Excursions.  Ashlie’s experience bridging nonprofit service with the beverage side of F&B is the perfect combination for helping to open doors and raise awareness of our work in Southern Nevada (and beyond).

 

 

Samantha Gemini Stevens
Samantha Gemini Stevens is the brains, voice, and palate behind Wishbone & Vine.  Something of a living hub for culinary talent in Southern Nevada (and beyond), Gemini has shared her thoughts, her table, and her hot sauces with some of the top cooking talent in the U.S.  In addition to her flavorful exploits, Samantha’s work with Chefs for Kids has helped her to understand the power members of the food and beverage industry have to improve the communities they live in and cook for.  It’s that appreciation for the symbiosis between cooking and causes that led to us inviting Gemini to our Executive Committee this year. 

 

 

Shelby Sutter
As Project REAL’s board president, what drew Shelby Sutter to get involved with the organization was our prevention-first approach, and Shelby’s own surprise at how few corporate partners we have given the accomplishments we’ve made over the years.  As someone who builds and manages relationships for a living and who understands the power of planning being similar to the preventative work we do with Nevada’s youth, Shelby was more than happy to take on additional volunteer commitments for the first Hope & Hospitality taking place under her board leadership.   You can read more about Shelby at our team-page.

 

 

 

Join Us In October

Our executive committee will be visiting our various partners throughout October through a combination of individual visits and group outings.  Follow the Hope & Hospitality initiative on Facebook and Instagram for daily updates, or catch our group at one of these planned outings.  We’ll be around for 60-90 minutes at each location, and welcome your questions about the work we’re doing!   Here’s a few dates we’ve already planned:

 

October 04, 5:30 pm:  Tenaya Creek

October 05, 5:00 pm: Mojave Brewing

October 06, 5:30 pm :  Vic’s Las Vegas

October 07, 4:15 pm : Downtown Hope Hop (All DTLV Partners)

October 10, 6:00 pm: Big Dogs Brewing Co

October 11, 6:00 pm: Silver Stamp

October 12, 6:00 pm: Eureka

October 16, 6:00 pm: HUDL Brewing

October 18, 7:30 – 9pm : 595 Craft Kitchen

October 28, TBD : HUDL Brewing Anniversary Party

 

Below, you’ll find an essay I wrote in late December 2022 (when I was still serving as Project REAL’s Senior Director). 

At the time, I had brought it up as something we could send out instead of the traditional end-of-year donation-request letter.  We provide updates on programming and send invites out for events when we have them, but as guests of the schools we serve it’s incredibly difficult to get to tell our story.  With field trips at an all time low due to bus availability (and additional challenges we face with our mock trials), getting simple video testimonials from the students we serve has also become next to impossible since the pandemic.

I was also fortunate enough to have witnessed phenomenal student reaction to seven years of work. These events just don’t fit into newsletters well, and cannot be accurately conveyed in a single paragraph in some ‘Giving Tuesday’ letter or something along those lines. 

For those of you who take the time to read this, you won’t find a long build up to a donation request at the end; perhaps a small nudge out of due diligence, however I was aiming for extreme subtlety, as fundraising was not the point.  Instead, you’ll just see the impact of your years of support – whether that was donations, or just making calls and connecting us to the people we work with and for.

I hope you enjoy this deep-dive into our work, and welcome any questions or comments you have that may stem from it.

-M.


Mike Kamer, Executive Director
Project REAL
702.703.6529
mkamer@projectrealnv.org

 

The REAL Story:
An End of Year Essay From Project REAL’s Senior Director.  

An Opening
Typically we end each year with a message from the President of our Board of Directors or our Executive Director (and one of reasonable length, at that).

This year however I requested – and was granted – an opportunity to take on the task. That’s because I have two stories about our work I believe you all need the chance to learn about.

While this end-of-year message will be longer than anything we’ve sent out in the past, I hope you’ll join me for the journey. Just to be clear, this is more of an essay more than anything resembling an end-of-year letter.

Before I get to the two stories, I’d like to address the proverbial ‘wet towels’ in the room.


Our Work
I’m guessing that when most of you think of the work Project REAL does, you don’t imagine our staff getting teary eyed – or ‘verklempt’ as some might say – seeing our work in action. And to be fair, typically it might not seem like we’re doing the kind of work that would bring those moments on.

That’s not to say we aren’t doing critical work in Nevada – it’s pretty clear that we fill a major service gap. Most young Nevadans are not taught the differences between what behaviors can get them grounded or detention and what can get them arrested. For the students we reach, Project REAL is addressing that need.

Perhaps more important still is the fact that by doing that work in a way that ties into core-required classes, we’re modeling what can one day be a paradigm shift in the education experience of all Nevadan students.

Even with that massive scope of possibility that us opening up as a result of our services, I’ve heard from many Nevadans that the work Project REAL’s work sounds Spartan more than anything else. Usually that’s something akin to “Sure you’re doing important work, but it’s just teach kids what to do, and what not to do. Most parents should be doing that even if the schools don’t”

With regards to parents getting involved – we are working on that too but ultimately they weren’t taught about this stuff either, so there needs to be a massive shift before the onus can be placed solely on them if that’s really the best solution.

Another challenge is just the lack of urgency. Our work is important but the greatest effects are slow-moving. It’s just not the same as finding ‘fur-ever’ homes for unadopted animals living under the threat of euthanasia, supplying young students at risk of going to bed hungry with food, or providing much-needed feminine hygiene products to unhoused women.

Sure it’s true that over the last few years we’ve begun offering our mock trials which allow us to capture some adorable moments. Even better, those moments result from carefully crafted experiences that help younger students develop a foundational understanding of the law – a foundation which we’re we build upon in later years of service to those same students.

We’re also great at what we do in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. Since we began collecting student behavior evaluations in 2016, we’ve seen that every experience we deliver achieves at least an 80% positive impact rate across the board. In each activity no less than 80% of students report somewhat-to-significantly

Still, our work doesn’t radiate the sense of urgency or the true value of impact it truly deserves. That is why I’d like to share these two experiences with you from this year – two during which our team did in fact get ‘verklempt’ and teary eyed.


The First Story: On Teens and Tepidness
The first of these was on May 24 this year. Our REAL Ready Coordinator Kaylee O’Donnell and I were invited to Rancho High School’s graduation rehearsal (thanks to Las Vegas’ Ward 6 City Counselor Nancy Brune’s timely assistance). We had been given permission to distribute our teen law guides ‘Independence & You’ to the seniors once the rehearsal period has ended.

While we’d worked with the schools’ criminal justice elective students for years, consistently providing field trips whenever they were available, that was usually just 10% of the schools seniors each year. As one of CCSD’s four urban core high schools (along with Valley, Western, and Clark) providing an entire grade level with a Project REAL experience at Rancho had been a priority for years, and the opportunity had finally come.

The guides had only arrived at our offices 18 hours earlier. This was our first print run of 7,000 copies of a project that had been in unfunded development since May 2016, and which only became possible thanks to a grant from United Way of Southern Nevada and the Clark County Fiscal Recovery Fund.

While we’d done our due diligence and piloted stand-alone chapters to test reception, there was a lot of nervousness about how the guides would be received. The chaos of when and how we were distributing these guides wasn’t helping much either : the students were to complete their rehearsal, and then would have to pick up their graduation tickets for family members. It was during their time in line that we would have an opportunity to connect with them.

As soon as the rehearsal portion ended, Kaylee and I were behind a table with twenty or so cases of books unpacked, with myself carnival-barking towards the students encouraging them to just come take our free guides, explaining they’d help them.

We had maybe fifteen of the nearly six hundred students in the room come up to us. It was not going well. Then, things seemed to get worse.

Kaylee and I began walking up and down the multiple lines for tickets, essentially forcing the guides into the teens hands while saying things like “Look, it’s free just take it and skim it, and you’ll thank us in few years – we promise!” and “This guide is free and it will help you end up better off than most of your peers if you just flip through it a few times” or phrases to those effects.

Some of the kids seemed on board, and took them and shoved them in their bags. Others took them while nodding politely, but seemed hesitant. Then there were the last two type of recipients – those who were taking them just to end the conversation as quickly as possible, and those who were outright refusing to accept them.

Kaylee and I had handed out about guides to perhaps 300 of the 600 students there, so that was great, but the question of impact remained. To put it mildly, the majority of the reception was seeming tepid at best.

While this is a story about Project REAL, I’ll self-indulge here for a moment and admin that as someone that had been willing ‘Independence & You’ into existence for more nearly six years and was finally having an opportunity to finally serve the students of Rancho in the volume I’d always known we’d had the capacity to, I was feeling particularly bleak professionally, and empathetically for Project REAL over all – we had after all just completed a $50,000 print run creating 7,000 copies of these guides. All of our planning, research, student feedback, teacher feedback, and steady-paced development suggested that we were on the right path.  This looked like we just jumped into a massively misguided use of time, resources, and donor trust.  To describe what I was feeling as a sinking sensation does not come close to what I was experiencing.

But then…something started to change.

A few of the students that seemed to be the most hesitant and dismissive about accepting the guides were flipping through them and began talking while looking surprised. Other students in line started either looking along with a nearby group, or flipping through their own. Then, as if they were paid to do it (they definitely were not), various groups of students that were going through the guide were enthusiastically pointing at some of the contents and actively nodding in agreement while talking about it.

“Okay!” I thought. “This is great – some of them are getting it, and they see it – they see what we’re doing. This is going to work”.

Kaylee and I began to do another pass through the lines, offering the guides again and this time things were clearly different. Students were actively asking “Hey, can I get one over here?” and a few even requested extra copies for older brothers and sisters. Kaylee and I ended up having to make multiple trips back to the table we’d set up at to get more guides to meet the demand.

And then came the cherry on top. Some of those students who’d taken guides from us just to have us go away quickly had set their guides 50 feet or so away on the cafeteria tables, or on the ground at their feet. Kaylee and I went to go pick up these seemingly unwanted copies, only to get shouted at!

“Hey! Wait, what’re you doing?” was the general sentiment we were getting.

“We’re just picking up the extra copies nobody wanted” was how we were replying.

“No no – I want that, I just set that down. Please leave it” was how they were responding every time.

We brought more guides than there were students, so we didn’t leave empty handed that day, but we did leave teary-eyed. We weren’t just handing out guides to kids that morning, and Kaylee and I both knew it.


Misty Eyes & Insights
Independence & You offers greater understanding of adult situations shaped by the law, and the tools available for navigating those situations. The easiest example to highlight is apartment security deposits. The guide explains how they work, how often young people fail to get them returned for their first and sometimes second leases, and the tools they have available to them if they suspect a past landlord has wrongly denied them a return of their deposit.

When the average American adult cannot afford a $500 emergency without going into debt (more than 33% of them at most times, and as high as 49% of U during some seasons, according to numerous 2022-released studies).

If that one lesson about security deposits in the guide resonates with the students, we have greatly reduced the risk of being trapped in a cycle of poverty for many of them (with the average apartment security deposit reaching over $1,000).

The eventual reactions of those Rancho High School seniors was what brought the misty eyes on. We weren’t just filling a service gap, we were giving them something they didn’t know they needed, and absolutely wanted as soon as they recognized what was missing. It’s not just the value of our work, it’s the efficacy and the hunger for it. We were seeing the impact already start to take place right there, in that moment, in a way that the best feedback we get from fieldtrips or mock trials just can’t match.

The experience of watching nearly 600 young Nevadan adults being empowered with the guides we gave them – and knowing how it would impact so many of them – was an absolute honor. It also contrasts greatly with our second story: one in which the tears came via email.


The Second Story: A Legacy Preserved, Honored, Expanded.. and Celebrated
Those of you that have been supporting Project REAL since before 2018 are likely very familiar with Play By the Rules. Having been offered within weeks of our doors being opened in January 2005, Play By the Rules taught 200 laws specific to Nevada over ten to fifteen school periods.

Demand for Play By the Rules had already begun to decline slightly in 2016 as the Social Studies teachers using it were feeling the pressure of time crunch to cover other information. By November 2018 when teaching standards in Nevada for social studies and civics were updated, the challenge to onboard new instructors was essentially insurmountable.

For nearly fifteen years prior to this point, Play By the Rules was connecting with upwards of 10,000 Nevadan students each school year. Based on the records we’ve been able to find, we know that at least 100,000 copies of Play By the Rules have been printed and distributed in Nevada since February 2005.

Given that legacy, clearly something had to be done to preserve the utility and value of Play By the Rules. Under the leadership and guidance of our Executive Director Tom Kovach, I began working with our interns, past teaching partners, and community partners to reshape how we would offer the experience.

During this development process, we were recognizing that as a fifteen year old experience, some of the material was outdated, along with some of the teaching approaches being used. Play By the Rules was classic, but it ended the majority of it’s sentences with state statute citations, and the experience prioritized memorization of consequences over risk –aversion. It also – if it was going to be used in the way =it was designed to be – required the students be given reading homework (this is a huge ask for a supplemental experience like Play By the Rules, and something that led teachers to pass on our attempts to donate the experience to their classrooms).

The result of those revelations was a two-phase adaptation of the Play By the Rules concept.

First, we created a ‘new use’ guide that would encourage community programs and motivated social studies instructors who were excited by team-based learning. The new guide removed any homework reading needs and changed the focus from memorizing laws to helping students develop risk-aversion skills. These steps would allow Play By the Rules to reach a wider new audience while returning to use in some classrooms.

Next, thanks to a grant from Nevada Humanities we created a brand new student guide designed specifically around the ‘new use’ teacher’s guide we’d created to keep Play By the Rules alive. The new guide – Choices & You – presents a lot of the same information as Play By the Rules, with a fresher look, modern examples, and a voice that ensures any consequences that are discussed are put in the context of a student’s choices. Simply put, we don’t tell them what to do, the way Play By the Rules used to. Now, we explain that they have the power to make choices, and they will face the consequences – good or bad – of those choices.  By giving them the power, they give us their attention and ears.

At least…that was the thought behind it, and there was a lot of impact banking on that thought.

You see, to avoid homework reading as a requirement for Choices & You, we designed the classroom experience as a sales pitch (this took place during the first phase of development). Each student only reads about 15% of the guide when it’s being used in their class, and each team of students (there are five teams per experience) reads different parts of the guide.

The first result is pretty clear: when they take part in various activities during which they’re supposed to apply the laws their learning about, they tend to get a lot of wrong answers. That (in theory) is where we would achieve success:

By showing them that not only do they have control over their relationship with the law in their lives but that there is a lot more to the law that they need to know about, we would sell them on the idea of reading all the content of Choices & You they don’t get to in class on their own, in their free time, without any prodding from adults.

This was a massive gamble that Tom was allowing me to lead. We had input from a variety of sources including teachers that had used Play By the Rules for years, but we were banking on ‘at risk’ kids to be as excited about learning laws outside of class as their more positive-behavior inclined peers.

To again be completely transparent with a personal reflection, while I was excited to have led this project’s development, I was terrified I’d taken on more than I should have – I was replacing a resource that had a nearly fifteen year history of success with something that would fall entirely at my feet if it failed. The reasons for that replacement were certainly justified (as Play By The Rules wasn’t reaching the same volume of students as it had in the past), but still, there were some foundational adjustments to the concept being made.

The first order of Choices & You books arrived around October 15, 2022. Based on samples we’d sent out, we had three middle schools on board to use the new material on a grade-wide scale (so 250-400 students per school). Based on the communications we’d had, we weren’t expecting any teachers to have begun using the guides yet.

It was December 15th – just a few days ago – when I had my second moment of the year during which something from Project REAL caused ‘my allergies to flair up and get something in my eye’.

It was just an email.

“Good morning, Just wanted to let you know how things are going. We will finish Day 6 before break. They are super engaged and really enjoying the curriculum.

A couple of kids said they wanted to keep the book after we are done so they can go back and read everything. They like the characters and what not. They are having really good discussions amongst their teams and happily sharing things out.”

This might not seem like much at first, but you have to recognize everything that’s at play here.

First, this is one of the urban core middle schools with major behavior issues (the teacher is on break, so I don’t want to share specific details without her permission).

Second, these are 7th and 8th grade middle school students.  If you’re a parent or know one, you’ve heard the phrase ‘terrible twos’ about toddlers being unmanageable. Well 7th and 8th grade students are the terrible twos of the K-12 education experience.

Third and finally, our gambit is paying off and a lot faster than we anticipated it happening. The students are only halfway through the guide, yet they’re already self-identifying as wanting to re-engage the material outside of class (while we can’t give them physical copies, they are all given free access to the full guides as pdfs which are hosted on our website).

Between that, the simple line ‘They like the characters and whatnot’ signifying our design team’s collective instinct of needing to have a book where the students could see themselves in the illustrations would help with its success, and the relief that came with seeing we preserved, honored, and expanded upon a legacy that began in December 2004 when Project REAL was first founded, I wasn’t going to walk away from that email without getting at least a little ‘verklempt’.

 

A Long Essay For a Longer-View of Things
If you’re still with this piece, I want to thank you. Already, something of this length runs the risk of losing an audience along the way, yet that just illustrates the need for support from people like you.

Oh yes, we’re going to ask for your support at the very end of this, but please, hear me out.

This essay is an example of what it takes to fully communicate Project REAL’s story. We’re not giving victims of violence a place to escape in an emergency. We’re not providing hair cuts to people looking to get their first job in a while. Heck, even though we do ‘give out’ free books, it’s not the kinds of novels and imagination-sparking stories that people typically get excited about helping young people connect with.

What we are doing is radically reshaping the possibilities for law related education on a systemic level, and that’s not something for which the value of can be clearly explained just by listing the experiences we facilitate. With REALReady being an exception, those examples tend to lack an urgency can lead to a kick-the-can view of our work. Something akin to “Project REAL is important, but not urgent” – a position we clearly disagree with.

If you can’t tell by the last few years of student behavior stories in the news, we’ve been kicking the can for far too long. It’s time to make some long-term investments.

I was recently told by a local business owner that their group wants to make Project REAL a permanent recipient of their charitable work. That commitment – I was told – was the result of a forty minute conversation we’d had, and our eventual release of Independence & You.

Essentially, it was made clear that our publications along or even a ten minute explanation accompanying them just isn’t enough to tell our story effectively.

To be successful, we need longer-form opportunities like this one to really the way you can explain the work of other organizations – even Law Related Education ones!


Wrapping Things Up
And with that, I’d again like to thank you for coming on this journey with me; allowing me to share those experiences from this year with you.  I hope – having explored two major accomplishments for the organization (which admittedly, I found very rewarding personally and professionally as well) – that you will support us as best you can.

Maybe you’re in the position to donate to help us serve one student with an average of 3.5 hours of law related education each for each $25 you can provide. Perhaps you want to work with us to fund Project REAL serving a school you attended here in Nevada, or one your children currently attend. You might just have a meeting you’d like to arrange between our team and schools or other community partners because you believe there’s an opportunity that will result in Nevada being a greater community for us all.

Whatever you reason, I hope you’ll get in touch by emailing me at mkamer@projectrealnv.org or by calling 702.302.3372.

Thank you for your time, your attention, your dedication, and any past and future support.

We appreciate you.

-M.


Mike Kamer,  Senior Director
Project REAL
702.703.6529
mkamer@projectrealnv.org

Pictured: Project REAL’s ‘Choices & You’ Student Guide:
An Evidence-Based Approach To Improving Student Behavior,
Available Now For Free To Schools Throughout Nevada


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Local Nonprofit Takes Action to Make
End-of-Year Behavior Challenges a Thing of the Past

Project REAL’s free resource is available to directly address end-of-year behavior challenges
while bringing ‘summer camp energy’ to middle school classrooms.

LAS VEGAS (Monday, April 10, 2023) –  While behavior issues were a growing national concern in schools long before the pandemic, they increased significantly as students returned to schools when in-person learning resumed. As the end of the school year approaches, one Nevada-based nonprofit, is working to make things easier for local teachers and parents during this particularly challenging season for student behavior.

Project REAL has been providing Nevada’s schools with free resources for teaching young people about laws since 2005. Their newest resource, Choices & You, is aimed squarely at addressing behavior challenges in middle schools. It’s a classroom experience designed to help students gain a deeper understanding of the consequences of their actions by exposing them to over 200 laws specific to Nevada. The experience includes more than 15 team-based activities that encourage critical thinking about decision-making, particularly when it comes to breaking the law.

Despite its focus on laws and consequences, Choices & You was built to be engaging and fun for students and teachers alike. In designing the experience, Project REAL made a deliberate effort to ensure that it could be easily integrated into middle school classrooms in Nevada. That’s why Choices & You aligns with over 40 of the Nevada Department of Education’s content correlations, making it a seamless addition to any English Language Arts or Social Studies class serving grades 6 – 8.

Inspired by an older resource called “Play By the Rules,” which the organization offered for more than a decade, Choices & You incorporates modern insights into adolescent behavior and decision-making, making it significantly more effective.  According to Project REAL’s Senior Director Mike Kamer, the shift in approach has been highly effective, and as a result, they’ve had reports that students with behavior issues have become some of the most engaged students in the classrooms when Choices & You has been brought in.

“We don’t give them a list of laws and demand they follow them. Instead, we speak to them at their level, and empower them with a skill set that allows them to understand how their decisions can have much farther-reaching consequences than they realize, but that those choices are theirs to make. It’s also worth noting that in each class where Choices & You has been used, no less than 80% of the students reported a positive impact from their experience with the program. ” said Kamer.

Although Choices & You can be used at any time of the year, Project REAL is specifically targeting teachers whose students have completed this year’s testing cycles to incorporate the resource into the final days of classtime. By doing so, the nonprofit believes that teachers can proactively address end-of-year behavior challenges, reduce incidents of trouble among students during the summer break, and even set the students and their classrooms up for successful behavior in the next school year.

Kaylee O’Donnell, Program Coordinator at Project REAL, emphasizes the immediate risks that students face when making uninformed decisions. “I have led our 45-minute emergency behavior intervention ‘REAL Ready’ in classrooms, which is like a movie-trailer version of Choices & You. Through this work, I have yet to come across a classroom where at least a few students weren’t on the brink of making decisions that could lead to ‘accidental crimes.’ It’s particularly prevalent among this age group, and many well-behaved kids just don’t understand the legal consequences of their choices.”

Project REAL is offering schools the opportunity to use Choices & You for the final five days of the remaining school calendar, and pledge to follow the plan for the 2023-2024 school year. Schools that agree to this will be prioritized to receive school sets of the Choices & You guides.

The organization has made the entire guide available on a special website for download, and encourages schools to seek out print editions at no cost other than a pledge. To bring Choices & You to their school for free, parents, teachers, or school administrators can contact Project REAL by emailing the nonprofit’s Senior Director Mike Kamer at mkamer@projectrealnv.org or calling 702.703.6529.  For more information or to download the a free digital copy of Choices & You, visit https://projectrealnv.org/choices

For interviews or followup, please contact Project REAL’s Senior Director Mike Kamer at 702.703.6529 or mkamer@projectrealnv.org.

Project REAL, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, was founded in 2004 by Irwin Molasky to meet the challenge of teaching Nevada’s Kinder-through-College students the importance of the law. Since then, they have taught over 200,000 students in Nevada about their rights and responsibilities under the law, with the goal of preparing them to be informed, law-abiding and participating citizens through courthouse field trips, mock trials, and unique in-class experiences.  For more information or to make a financial contribution so more students could benefit, please visit https://projectrealnv.org.

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Project REAL Works to Turn Vegas Orange,
Prevent Relationship Violence Through Teen Education About Laws.

On Thursday, February 9, 2023 Project REAL team members were joined by Commissioner Michael Naft,  CCSD Superintendent’s Chief of Staff Shana Rafalski,  John Torre of the Clark County District Attorney’s Domestic Violence Unit,  & Sara Slavenas of the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence at the Welcome to Las Vegas Sign.

Since February is Teen Dating Violence Prevention month and orange is the color used to hilight the issue of teen relationship violence,  the others joined us as we flipped the Welcome to Vegas sign orange for 24 hours…to bring attention to Project REAL’s free Teen Dating Violence prevention experience & resources.

If you’re looking for those resources, please follow this link to the mini-site we’ve created specifically for this work:

https://projectrealnv.org/teendating

 

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month:
Nevada experts on how to help

KNPR featured our Senior Director along with team members from SAFE House and Teens Against Trafficking to discuss Teen Dating Violence Awareness  (or Prevention) Month.  Visit the link above to hear the story, learn about our work, and to hear the original segment on KNPR’s State of Nevada.

Please support the reporters and news outlets that help tell our story. 

Explore the original coverage at the link

https://knpr.org/show/knprs-state-of-nevada/2023-02-06/teen-dating-violence-awareness-month-nevada-experts-on-how-to-help

Gatherings, Groupthink & You
Lots of Friends = Lots of Felonies?!

Large groups can provide a deceptive sense of safety and security…
especially when you’ve got mischief on your mind!

Scientists have shown that the human brain isn’t fully developed until you’re 25 years old. That’s why there’s age restrictions leading up to that age. You need to be 18 to vote, 21 to drink and smoke, and renting a car requires you to be 25.

One of the ways you’re at greater risk of running into trouble with the law when you’re younger and still developing as a ‘person’ is simply by being in a group.  Kids get into large groups, people suggest stupid ideas, and before you know it, everything’s gotten completely out of control. Many times, there’s a sense of invincibility like “Let’s go for it and take the risk – they cant catch us all!” however that usually doesn’t end well for the young risk takers.

Impulsively deciding to take a risk while hoping you’ll blend into a crowd isn’t the only danger you face by being in a large group of people.  For many ‘good kids’ there’s still a risk of just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Maybe you didn’t expect things to go bad, or perhaps you just went to watch a crowd and see what would happen out of curiosity.  The reality is that if that crowd goes bad, you’re at risk of being accused of having been a part of it. Start thinking about it like this:

When it comes to large crowds disturbing the peace, police officers arrest anyone they can that’s present, whether they were taking part in an illegal activity or not. In this piece, we’re not saying that you should never hang out with your friends, we’re saying that you should be aware of how situations can get out of hand, and that you can be charged with a crime just for being present, even if you didn’t start it.

There are all sorts of ways this can play out in your life over the next few years.  Consider one of the most likely scenarios you might find yourself in…a party.

House parties, especially ones that involve alcohol, can quickly get out of hand and force police intervention. It’s important to remember that if you’re younger than 21, having alcohol in your possession, even just being at a party where there’s alcohol and no adults, can lead to a Minor in Possession (MIP) if you’re caught. An MIP, meaning possessing or being drunk while under the age of 21, is a misdemeanor, and could mean fines and/or community service if charged.

A party doesn’t need to be in a house to hurt you and those around you, however. On May 17th, 2021, in Huntington Beach, California, a man named Adrian posted on their Tik Tok account about a party he was throwing for his birthday, which soon became viral, and soon became known as “Adrian’s Kickback”.

The crowd was huge, with partygoers overflowing into the streets, and fireworks were set off unsafely in the crowd. The police were eventually called, and were forced to use tear gas, a chemical that causes irritation to the eyes and lungs, and paintballs to disperse the crowd. 150 random partygoers were arrested by the officers, while the rest of the group fled the scene. Even though many avoided being arrested, if you were one of the partygoers, there was still a high chance of you being arrested and charged, even if you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Massive street parties can be dangerous, but huge parties in the suburbs can carry their own problems.. In October, 2020, a Las Vegas neighborhood had several massive parties disrupt the suburbs, with claims of the use of flamethrowers and rocket launchers in a residential area. Obviously, this behavior is unacceptable in a civilized world, and it could lead to disastrous consequences.

While no injuries or damages were reported, dangerous behavior like that could have led to a fire on other houses or serious injury. While the behavior itself already puts people in danger, it’s not even beginning to mention the arrests made at the party, and the various other crimes that police officers could have charged any of the partygoers with.

If you had happened to be one of the people arrested at that party, you could be held responsible for any illegal activity at the party. It’s best to choose who you hang out with carefully to avoid ending up in situations like this.

It’s not just parties that can land you in some trouble. In Las Vegas’ Meadows Mall in January of 2021, several different fights broke out among almost 200 students after they were denied entry into one of the stores in the mall. All of the kids were escorted off of the property, and several of them were arrested for fighting. The group gathered outside the bowling alley, and the rowdiness quickly dissolved into fights that needed police intervention to break up. Not only did it lead to loss of business for many of the companies in the mall, but it also led to juveniles being arrested essentially at random for breaching the peace and assault, both of which are misdemeanor charges.

When you’re in a large group, it’s easy to think that your behavior will go unnoticed because of the large number of people. However, just because a group is doing something rather than an individual doesn’t mean it will go unpunished. In 2011 in Las Vegas, a mob of teenagers robbed a convenience store, stealing nearly $600 worth of merchandise. While all of the teenagers were able to escape the scene, that definitely doesn’t mean they avoided consequences. The police treated the incident as grand larceny, and while the teens were only there for three minutes, other customers got pictures of license plates on cars. While you may be lucky enough to avoid being arrested in the moment, any one of the unlucky people that get arrested could easily name everyone involved, leading to a charge anyway.

Remember, it only takes a few people to turn a rowdy group into a riot, and for everyone to be blamed for the damage. Getting into a fight in public can lead to disorderly conduct charges, as well as assault charges if the other person tries to sue. It doesn’t matter who throws the first punch, only who was involved.

Violence and being a public nuisance (like Adrian’s Kickback) isn’t the only way that group thinking can get you into trouble with the law. Group pranks can also get people into a lot of trouble, as seen in at Truckee High School, California in 2005. A group of 28 high school seniors, hoping to get in a funny end-of-school prank, vandalized the school by spreading condiments and flour all over the hallways and lockers. When the police came, the majority of them ran away, but a few of them were caught on the roof. The rest eventually turned themselves in over the following few days.

The damage to the school totaled $5,100, which is just over the $5,000 limit for it to be considered a misdemeanor, and each of those 28 teens faced a felony charge for involvement in the destruction of school property. Thankfully, the teens were lucky enough to get a lesser sentence from the judge, and instead had to do 30 hours of community service each before leaving for college. However, if all the other kids had chosen not to come forward, the unlucky few that were caught could have been left with a felony on their permanent record.

All of these examples show two main ways of getting into trouble with groups: a sense of invincibility, and guilt by association. That ‘they can’t catch us all’ mentality may lead you to think you can get away with something, but with cameras placed everywhere today, it’s likely that you’ll be caught, and you could be severely punished as an example for others. Even if you didn’t do anything, we know by now that you can still get into trouble just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. ‘Constructive possession’, which is roughly the idea that because you’re near something illegal, you’re sort of responsible for it can lead to serious charges, even if you personally didn’t do anything.*

While it may not seem very serious, peer pressure is a real thing, and it makes people do stupid and dangerous stuff.  This applies to people of all ages, but these situations are especially common among people between the ages of 15 – 25 years old.  As you spend the next few years growing up, maturing, and gaining independence, keep in mind where you are and who you’re with, because it could be the difference between a fun party and a felony conviction.

 

*For example, if you get into a car your friend is driving and they are pulled over,
you can be arrested and charged with grand theft auto if the car is actually stolen…
even if they had told you that it was their car, and you had no idea!
That’s just one way that constructive possession can be charged.


QUESTIONS:

  1. Crowds can very quickly turn into riots with the right people. What do you think is the difference between a gathering like a protest and a riot? Look up the legal definition of both and compare it to your answer. 
  2. The drinking age in a lot of European countries is 18 instead of 21. Do you agree with the U.S. legal drinking age being closer to 25, when the brain is fully developed? Why or why not? 

  3. Take a look at the house party example in Las Vegas. They could have been charged, in Nevada, with:

Disturbing the peace (3 months in jail, $400 fine)

If you were arrested as a partygoer, and charged with two counts of each charge, how much money and how long of a prison sentence could you be facing?

——
Be sure to provide full explanations for each of your answers. For more details, you can read the articles this piece was sourced from here:


Contributed by: Ethan Champagne
Edited by: Mike Kamer

Pandemics, Pandemonium, & You:
Misbehaving Miscreants = Misdemeanors & More

If it seems like the end of the world and you know it, and you’re feeling fine…
that doesn’t mean you should just ignore all the laws and ‘wild out’!

In 2020, the world was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic, and what we knew as normal life was drastically changed. Because of COVID-19’s virality (a virus’ ability to spread to other people), government officials saw this for the potential health threat that it was, and instituted mask mandates and social distancing measures in order to help slow the spread and keep the virus contained. This is a wild change from what 95% of the world had ever experienced before. It was scary, off putting and just a major change to the day-to-day lives of everyone. Because of how strange the time felt, there were instances of people making really bizarre choices.

While most of the population took COVID-19 as a real threat – and many were scared by all the changes to their daily lives (walking around with masks on felt like a sci-fi movie at the time for many of us) – some people took it more as a joke than anything else. Some people even pulled what they thought of as pranks.  What some might have thought were just a crude, harmless jokes were actually illegal choices that led to fairly serious criminal charges in many cases.

In Tennessee in April of 2020, right at the start of social distancing measures, a man was arrested after coughing on several customers in a Walmart while loudly claiming that he had COVID-19. While the man most likely meant for his actions to be a crude joke, it was seen very differently by authorities.

The District Attorney General of Henry County in Tennessee said that the man’s actions could be interpreted as an act of terrorism, as people saw it as a plausible threat to their health with a biological agent. An act of bioterrorism is severely punishable by law, with even pretending or making a fake threat still carrying a felony charge in a lot of states.

For those that don’t know, terrorism is roughly defined as acts of violence used to further some sort of cause like religion or politics. Bioterrorism is still classified as terrorism and is used to cover the use or the threat of a chemical or biological substance, viruses like COVID-19 included.

Terrorism charges have always been a serious matter, but for the past few decades, the government has essentially had a zero-tolerance policy on acts and/or threats of terrorism, no matter the intent. Terrorism is usually broken up into two sections, foreign and domestic. Foreign means a person from another country acting against the U.S., while domestic means a U.S. citizen committing an act of terror on American soil. While there has been a general focus on foreign terrorism since 2001, domestic terrorism has been on the rise in recent years, and any hint of either is taken very seriously by law enforcement.

While terrorism charges are generally used for acts of violence for an ideology (an important personal belief) like religious terrorists that you see often on the news, fake threats and jokes can still hold serious consequences. Hoax (fake) threats may not be charged as full acts of terrorism, but there are still lesser felony charges waiting for making a hoax terrorism threat, no matter the original intent.

There are many other jokes and actions out there that might be interpreted as acts of terrorism by authorities. In Pennsylvania in March of 2020, a woman named Margaret Cirko also faced terrorism charges after spitting on over $35,000 worth of produce in a supermarket! Cirko was seen spitting and coughing, loudly claiming that she was spreading “the virus”, and at one point forced herself to vomit.

Her problematic behavior caused the entire store to be evacuated, and the $35,000 worth of food to be thrown away. Cirko’s “prank” took the previously mentioned example a step further and she faced increased charges because of it. On top of destruction to property and disorderly conduct (both misdemeanors), Ms. Cirko faces multiple charges of terrorism for her actions, which, as we already know, is a serious felony! It generally goes without saying that spreading your bodily fluids on food or other people is considered unacceptable in a civilized society.

These two examples could attempt to be argued as incidents of free speech, if they claimed that they were trying to make a political statement of some kind. However, it’s important to keep in mind that speech isn’t protected if it threatens or endangers other people, and spreading germs by coughing or vomiting at the start of a pandemic is not protected behavior under the First Amendment.

Even just claiming to have contaminated food or spread a disease in some way can lead to criminal action. In Texas in October of 2021, Christopher Perez was sentenced to prison after he posted on his Facebook page claiming that he had paid someone to lick food in grocery stores all over San Antonio. It was later found that Perez’s claim was not real, but there are still criminal consequences for making a threat with a virus like COVID-19.

Again, threatening to or actually spreading a virus is considered bioterrorism, and, as we know, it’s still considered a felony, even if it was a hoax threat. Perez is now in federal prison for his post, showing that even what you post online can still have serious backlash when it comes to terrorism threats.

It’s not just spreading bodily fluids that can get you into trouble with the law. Again, in March of 2020, this time in Las Vegas, a man named Aldo Gonzalez and an unnamed minor faced felony charges for wearing hazmat suits and spraying people in a grocery store with water in order to go viral online. However, from the perspective of the victims and law enforcement, the two were harassing shoppers and spraying them with an unknown biological agent, which we know the legal system takes very seriously.

While the authorities later found out that it was meant as a prank, and that the substance was just water, they still were forced to evacuate the building and quarantine anyone that was sprayed until everything was declared clear. Because of that, Gonzalez faces charges for dispersing a hoax substance, which is considered a felony in Nevada. The prank may have just been meant as a joke, but there is no protection for terrorizing citizens, even if it goes viral online.

All of these cases were originally meant as jokes, however crude they were, and were never meant to be interpreted as terrorism.  That’s actually the point of having you read all of this: you need to learn to pause before you prank, and to question whether a choice you’re about to make is one that might not just be mischievous, but criminal!  This piece has discussed people licking, spitting, coughing, and ‘frauding’(in the case of the water spray), but these are by no means the only ways ‘pranks’ can be criminal.   There are many unique situations – things no one has thought of yet – that can turn criminal.  Ignorance or intent isn’t an excuse for breaking the law, and the authorities always takes incidents like this very seriously. Always remember to think things through before pulling any pranks, no matter how small they may seem. Keeping the consequences in mind can help you avoid serving serious prison time for one stupid decision.

Again, this is why you should always remember to ‘Pause Before You Prank’.  

In general though,  if you don’t learn to pause before you prank from this, at least keep this takeaway in mind:  Joking about serious public health crises is frowned upon, and making people feel like their health is at risk can produce serious criminal consequences.



QUESTIONS:

  1. In your state, what is the charge for an act of terrorism? What about for a threat? A hoax terrorist threat? Choose one of the examples mentioned above, break down the possible crimes committed, and figure out the sentence for that case in your state. 
  2. Why is making a fake threat still a crime? Do you think it should be considered a crime? Why or why not? 
  3. Are the cases given above examples of free speech under the First Amendment? Why or why not? Why is a threat not considered free speech?


Be sure to provide full explanations for your answers.  For more details, you can read the article this piece was sourced from here
:


Contributed by: Ethan Champagne
Edited by: Mike Kamer

Vocal Violence, Viciousness, & You:
Free Speech Isn’t Irresponsible Speech


The easiest way for people to accidentally commit a crime is by
misunderstanding their rights, and then acting on those misunderstandings

The First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution (the one that covers freedom of speech, the press, protest, etc.) protects a lot of your speech from criminal punishment by the government. While a lot of speech is considered legal, there are some limits to what you can say in a public space, the internet included.

Speech is only protected until there is a threat of violence on a specific person or group, in which case it becomes a criminal threat, which can be criminally charged in most states. With school shootings and threats of shootings becoming more and more common across the country, the tolerance for threats (even over the internet) has dropped to absolute zero within law enforcement. 

 

Sometimes even a crude joke can lead to disastrous consequences for your future.


In Carson City, Nevada, schools in the county shut down a day early for winter break in 2021 because of threats on social media towards the school. A student posted on their Snapchat story warning students not to come to school on December 17
th because of their plans for a school shooting.  The threat was later found to not be real, and posted by someone from outside the state, but the school district and the officers still took it as a credible threat until verified, costing time and energy from both groups that could have been used on other problems.

The school district has vowed serious consequences for anyone making threats, with the possibility of criminal prosecution on top of being expelled from school. In Nevada, it’s not only illegal to make threats of violence, but it’s also illegal to make false threats and waste government resources.  Because of how seriously these threats are taken, you could not only be facing charges in your state, but you could be facing federal charges as well for any school shooting threat. In Nevada, making a terrorist threat is a category B felony, and nationally, making any sort of hoax threat is a federal crime, and both could lead to prison time and severe fines. On top of that, because of the two different charges (state and federal), you would be required to go through two different trials and face two different punishments that must be served one after the other.

The sheer number of posts on social media can make most of them seem unimportant. However, posting the wrong thing can bring serious civil and criminal consequences, and there’s no hope of deleting it once it’s out there.

Some states have created “Red Flag” laws that mark dangerous comments and behavior in the hope of stopping mass violence before it starts. In Florida in August of 2019, a high schooler was arrested for a school shooting threat over a Discord chat, a popular platform for chat rooms. The student swore to bring his father’s automatic rifle to his high school and kill at least seven people.  The chat was reported by someone, and it was later referred to the local Florida Sheriff’s department, with the name and information of the user associated with the account. In Florida, threatening to commit a mass shooting, even without actual intent, is a felony, and could mean several years in jail and huge fines.

In America, the protections that the First Amendment offers allows us to mostly say whatever we want, with very few limitations when compared with the rest of the world. However, threatening to hurt a person or a group is not only an unethical thing to do, but it’s also not protected by the First Amendment. That means that there’s no restriction from the government arresting you and charging you with a crime.

The First Amendment may give us all the right to free speech, but with that right comes a responsibility to use the right as intended. With so much misunderstanding about what the First Amendment covers, it’s easy to think that anything you say is protected by the Constitution.

However, the First Amendment was created to protect political speech and disagreement, not to protect insults and threats. The Supreme Court has made it very clear through court cases like Schenck v. United States and Brandenburg v. Ohio that speech that could cause a panic, potential harm, or “imminent lawless action”, such as a threat or shouting fire in a crowded theater, is not protected speech. Not knowing the extent of your rights is not an excuse to violate the rights of others.

You should always think before you say or post something that could be interpreted the wrong way. This doesn’t mean that you should never post online or interact with others, it just means that it’s best to be cautious with what you say, as it can easily end up hurting yourself and others.

 


QUESTIONS:

  1. Other than the situations covered in this article, what are some examples of ‘speech’ that aren’t considered ‘protected’ by free-speech rights, and why would they not have those protections (meaning why could you end up in trouble with the law for communicating in the way you’re giving as an example)?
  2. In Florida, threatening to commit a mass shooting is a felony, and it could mean up to 15 years in jail and $10,000 in fines for each charge. If the police find four separate game chats of you threatening school violence, how many years in prison could you be facing if you were charged as an adult  if you were charged under Nevada law?
  3. How does the internet affect how speech is understood today? Do you think the anonymity of the internet changes what people say online vs offline? Explain why or why not.


——
Be sure to provide full explanations for each of your answers. For more details, you can read the articles this piece was sourced from here:

 


Contributed by: Ethan Champagne
Edited by: Mike Kamer

Pajamas, Prison, & You:
When Crime Doesn’t “FEEL” Like Crime

Many of the crimes you can commit with MAJOR consequences don’t feel like crimes at all… because you can do them while laying around your home in your PJ’s !

The internet has massively expanded over the past few decades, and hardly a day goes by where you don’t go online. While you may have grown up with it, adults and some lawmakers are still adjusting to online life. Even if it doesn’t feel like it to you, it’s a new area of law, and that means that adults don’t talk about online crimes with young people as much as other choices and events you might think of as “normal crimes”.

While laws against things like violence and theft are obvious, computer crimes aren’t really general knowledge, and it can be easy to overlook them if you’re not careful. Nowadays, you can easily commit crimes in the comfort of your home, in your pajamas, and you may not even know that you’re at risk of breaking the law!  At Project REAL, we created a phrase we think will be helpful for young people like you:

 

Pajama Crimes

 

Pajama crimes are any kind of crime you can commit from the comfort of your home, while wearing your pajamas….and they’re a huge risk to everyone!  That’s because unlike crimes that have been crimes for a long time (violence, theft, property destruction, etc), pajama crimes are unlikely to lead to a criminal getting caught in the act.

Think about it: If you set something on fire, there’s a chance someone can drive up and witness you do it, then chase you down or call the police.   If you steal a candybar from a 7-11 after school, the store clerk might catch you or flag down an officer that happens to be driving by.  If you get in a fight, there’s a good chance a neighbor will call the police then come over to break it up.   When you’re online though, there aren’t any witnesses in the moment:  There’s no store to run out of if you steal a movie.  There’s no witness nearby to see you ‘destroy’ the code of a video game.  There’s no nosy neighbor to interrupt you as you threaten a classmate with violence.  That doesn’t mean you won’t get tracked down, charged, and eventually found guilty of crimes though.

The false sense of security from being in your home (and maybe in your pjs) is what makes pajama crimes so dangerous.  That danger is why they’re so important to understand!

Just like in the real world, there are laws covering all corners of activity on the internet, and being aware of the different ways that you can run into legal trouble online is the first step to avoiding it. From video game chats to online stock trading, these several examples show how easy it is to make one wrong move and be looking at serious consequences.

In 2019, a high schooler in Florida was arrested for vowing to shoot up his school with his father’s assault rifle over a chat in an online game. Someone saw the chat, reported it, and it was referred to the local Florida Sheriff’s department after the FBI collected the relevant information. Because of the “Red Flag” laws regarding school shooting threats in Florida, the student was arrested and charged with a felony for a written threat to commit a mass shooting.

While it may have been meant as a poor attempt at a joke, it was still considered a very serious comment and raised a lot of alarms, even through a game chat. The government may not be combing through every single chat sent on something like Xbox Live, but chats are reported all the time, and they could easily get referred to the FBI, no matter the original intent of the message.

Because of the lack of face-to-face interaction on the internet, it’s easy to forget that there are real people on the other side, and that your actions can still have real world consequences. One illustration of people not fully understanding the consequences of their online actions is swatting. “Swatting” – an online prank where users call the police on someone that they had a disagreement with – has recently become more common. Not only does this waste the time and resources of the police department, but it can lead to criminal charges for anyone found to be involved in the false report.

In 2019, a 19-year-old named Casey Viner was arrested for playing a part in “swatting” someone he had a disagreement with while online gaming with horrible unintended consequences. When the police SWAT team breached the house that was called in, they mistook the owner of the home as a threat and accidently shot and killed him, even though he wasn’t the person Viner and his friend, Tyler Barriss, had a disagreement with. Barriss was the one that made the false police report, but Viner was still charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice for the part that he played in the death. Mr. Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in prison because of other threats he had made before over the phone. A single prank phone call caused by a video game led to serious jail time for both men, and the death of an innocent bystander.

Another example of  the ‘pajama crime environment’ making crimes not feel like crimes can be seen in the hacking and cheating that occurs in online video games. Anyone can modify and create cheats in a game, but the moment that they’re used online, it crosses the boundary into illegal behavior. In July of 2022, Bungie (an online video game creator) sued one of their users for using hacks in one of their multiplayer games. Because the hacker improperly changed Bungie’s property, the company at the time of the article was suing him for $2,000 for each time he used the hack, and $150,000 for misusing their intellectual property. Companies are merciless when it comes to protecting their products, and the fines in civil court can end up being much larger than those from a criminal charge.

It’s not just video games that can draw the attention of law enforcement. Because of the ease of online trading over a smartphone, almost anyone can actively trade on the stock market now; it’s not just reserved for people on Wall Street. The appeal of the easy money of trading stocks can lure a lot of people in, but “white collar” crimes that come with the stock market still apply, even if it’s happening online.*

*“White collar crimes” are usually focused on money: Things like stock-trading crimes including manipulating a stock by lying about the company online or making trades using illegal information.

The expansion of the internet led to the opportunity to make money. With the widespread access to the stock market thanks to online trading apps like RobinHood, almost anyone can actively trade in the stock market. But with new opportunities come new possible legal troubles, and stock trading can lead to an entire new area of legal consequences if someone isn’t careful.

Stock trading is a method of making money where someone invests in a company that they think will grow sometime soon by buying a small percentage of the company for funding towards the company. As the company grows, that percentage of the company (stock) will hopefully get more valuable as the company starts making more money. Eventually, they sell the stock back to the company for actual money after the stock is worth more than they paid for.

While it sounds like a nice, easy way to make money, stock trading comes with a lot of risk. No companies or stocks are guaranteed to go up, so it’s just as likely that an investment will be worth less that was paid when all is said and done. Not only is a lot of money constantly at stake, but if you make any sketchy trades, it could mean huge fines and jail time for stock fraud.

An example of severe consequences comes from a company called Wealthpire, run by a man named Manny Backus, A.K.A. Manuel Jesus. Mr. Backus started a web-based blog where he claimed to have made millions in the stock market and offered people the chance to follow all the active trades that he made. However, Backus made false claims about his success in the stock market and lied about the trades that he made while still taking the money from clients. This slight misstep online gained the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who oversee the stock market, and forced the company to settle with a whopping $1.5 million fine for stock fraud. Laws can be very technical, and while it may not seem like you’re doing something wrong, veering even a little over the line can lead to serious consequences.

Trading stocks online, even publishing your active stock trades, is not inherently considered illegal. In 2014, a 16-year-old named Connor Bruggermann made almost $300,000 trading stocks online and was using the same model that was seen with the Wealthpire example. Bruggermann was able to avoid legal trouble but was still taking huge risks. With stock trading, especially online, all it takes is one wrong click or decision, and the $300,000 could be gone in the blink of an eye.

Gambling online is another attempt at making money, but, like stock trading, that can lead to a lot of legal complications. In 2017, an idea involving two Youtubers and a video game gambling site led to the two gamers involved paying a huge fine to the Federal Trade Commission. The two video stars showed a website where you could gamble Counter-Strike: Global Offensive skins with the chance to win big with rare items. One of the men even showed himself winning a jackpot on his channel to show it was possible, leading to a large influx of activity on the site.

Not only is internet gambling illegal for juveniles in the United States, and not only was it seen as encouraging minors to gamble, but the website that the two men were promoting was owned by them. They used their platform and pretended that they weren’t involved to get more money out of people losing, as those in-game items do have real money value. While these two men were caught and hit with a fine, there are still plenty of online scams that slip through unnoticed by law enforcement and even sometimes by you.

What you say and post online can have serious consequences as well. You have surely been told about the possible consequences of bullying, and cyberbullying is no exception to that rule. In 2006, Megan Meier was friended and began chatting with an older boy named Josh Evans, and the two quickly formed a relationship. However, after about a month in, there was a sudden switch in Evans’ behavior, and Megan’s page was suddenly flooded with mean and hateful comments. Megan had a previous history of struggles with depression and ended her life less than a day after receiving all of the messages.

While back in 2006, there were no laws against cyberbullying, there are now laws protecting kids against vicious attacks online. Cyberbullying, if you’re a minor, can lead to fines, community service, and even up to six months in jail time, just for tapping a few keys from your home computer.

However, with Ms. Meier’s case, it was actually a parent of one of Megan’s old friends that created a fake account to gain her trust and then bully her. Because of the potential anonymity of talking online, and the fact that we only interact with a screen, it’s easy to forget that there’s a real person on the other end, and for comments to quickly get out of hand. It is unforgiveable that a mother drove a child to suicide, and it’s a reminder to fully understand any possible consequences before you speak online, because it could be the difference between life and death.

These are just scratching the surface of the different ways that your behavior online can stir up a lot of trouble. Because so much of our lives are online, it’s easy to forget that what we say and do online can still affect our offline lives, especially when those consequences can come weeks or months after the crime took place. Being aware of the laws online is a good step in the right direction, but as our lives move more and more online, being conscious of your actions will be the most important thing you can do to stay safe.


QUESTIONS

 

  1. What’s the difference between the Wealthpire case and the GameStop case? How does a newsletter announcing stock trades differ from a subreddit discussing trades? 
  2. Can you draw the line of where speech stops being protected and becomes a threat? Use the internet to help you define it. 
  3. With Florida’s Red Flag law, a threat of a mass shooting is a second-degree felony and can be punishable with a 15-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine. If they found 6 separate written threats, what’s the maximum penalty someone could face in Florida? 
  4. Give at least one more example – something not covered in this article – of an online activity that could cause you to end up in legal trouble?


——
Be sure to provide full explanations for each of your answers. For more details, you can read the articles this piece was sourced from here:

 


Contributed by: Ethan Champagne
Edited by: Mike Kamer




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Thank you for letting us watch the civil case!  It was cool because it was a real case and not one played out. I had a lot of fun watching the other kids act out a session.  Thank you for your time. - Kaylie [Hewetson Elementary - Grade 5]

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