As new laws have been slashing our freedoms, there has never been a better time to protest – but it is these same laws that make it increasingly dangerous for protesters.
During the Occupy protests, we constantly saw hundreds of arrests, some of them wrongful arrests, from a police force that was not afraid to get violent. It became normal to hear about old ladies being pepper-sprayed, passersby being imprisoned for days, and many other instances of police brutality.
In fact, “69 journalists have been arrested in 12 cities around the United States since Occupy Wall Street began;” including journalists from the Associated Press, Vanity Fair, The New York Daily News, NPR, and many more; including BTR’s own John Knefel, who was arrested and held in detention for 37 hours while attempting to cover an Occupy protest of Goldman Sachs last December.
Below are many tips for those who want to voice their opinion safely, without getting arrested or hurt…
For starters, never bring any weapons to a protest. No guns or knives, or anything that can even be construed as a weapon. Don’t bring any contraband of any kind, because there is a good chance that you might be arrested, no matter how out of the way you are. This can land you extra jail time.
Always bring a camera! Any camera will do. It doesn’t have to be fancy it just has to capture video, and preferably sound. If a police officer approaches you, turn it on. You have the right to record an officer performing official duties in any public space. That means you can record an officer during a traffic stop, during an interrogation, or while he or she is making an arrest. In this day in age, with YouTube and Facebook, it’s essential to post videos of wrongdoing.
If the cop asks you to put your camera away, and you are on public property, tell him it is your right to film. If the officer grabs your camera, try not to resist. You do not want to invite a charge of resisting arrest.
Read the permit and make sure you not obstructing any traffic, and that you are on public land.
Many arrests at protests are due to the protesters either being on private property, or obstructing traffic. The laws protecting your right to protest do not apply on private property, and you can be arrested immediately for that. Also, being an obstruction can be cause for arrest. This includes excessive noise, blocking an entrance or the flow of traffic, or physical violence.
One of the biggest arrests in the Occupy movement was on the Brooklyn Bridge. It is assumed that around 500 – 700 protesters were arrested when they crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in October of last year.
Many of the protesters claimed that the police ticked them into walking across the roadway instead of the walkway. Jesse A. Myerson, a media coordinator for Occupy Wall Street, claims that, “the cops watched and did nothing, indeed, seemed to guide us onto the roadway.”
Remember, officers can lie to you, so check the permits. If you at all suspect that you are on private property, or can be considered to be obstructing traffic, be aware that you can be arrested at any time.
You do have the right to distribute literature, chant, and engage passersby in debate, but you do not have the right to block a building entrance or physically harass people. A protest that blocks traffic is illegal without a permit.
Listen to the Police. They are people too. Usually they are nice people who are just trying to do their job. They have orders from their bosses, and when they see someone being deliberately obtrusive, it just makes their job harder. A lot of the time they really are there to protect and serve. You may not know everything that’s going on, and when you get in the way you may actually cause a threat to the public.
That said, sometimes you will run into a cop that abuses their power. When these police target you, it is important to know your rights. The police are legally allowed to lie to you. So it is important to know your rights so they don’t intimidate you into self-incrimination.
When dealing with an officer, always remain calm. It can be frustrating and scary, but they are just as afraid of you. Police officers spend all day in fear of being harmed. When you talk back, or raise your voice, you can be seen as a threat, and you should never give them any reason to feel threatened.
“Police have a dangerous job. Even the most professional officers might become aggressive if they feel threatened or if their authority is challenged. Always control your words, the tone of your voice, and your body language. If you’re visibly scared and angry, it’s easy for an officer to get scared and angry too.”
Don’t get into an argument with the police. Remember, anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law.
Also, don’t ask for badge number or let them know that you want to report them. This can make them angry. Never touch a police officer. They can consider this assault, no matter how benign your intentions.
Many times, an officer will ask you for your ID. Unless you are in a car, there is no law requiring you to show your identification.
The police can ask you for your name, but unless you are suspected of criminal activity, you don’t have to tell them. The easiest way to tell if you are suspected of criminal activity is to ask the officer, “Are you detaining me? Or am I free to go.” If they are not detaining you, they have to let you go. However, it might be easier to show them your ID and get it over with. Sometimes cops can get upset when you don’t comply with simple requests.
The police are also allowed to pat down your clothing, if they suspect you have a concealed weapon. Do not try to physically resist, otherwise they could consider it resisting arrest, just make sure you tell them that you don’t consent to any further search.
You do not have to consent to a search. In order for police to search you and your belongings, you have to allow them to perform a search. If a police officer asks to perform a search, just say no. Whether this is your car, or your pockets; remember, you have the right to refuse.
If a cop gives you an ultimatum, telling you that if you do not consent to a search, that you will face a harsher sentence; but “refusing a search request is not evidence of guilt, and doesn’t give the office the legal right to search or detain you.”
If you are detained, remember, you have the right to remain silent – and you should use it. You never know what can be used against you. It is best to just give them the silent treatment, and wait for your lawyer. Sometimes keeping quiet means you don’t even need a lawyer. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the most attention, which is the opposite of what you want in jail.
You have the right to make one phone call when you are detained, but often this is unreliable. Before you go, try this new app called “I’m Getting Arrested App.” It can help notify you’re your friends and family if you haven’t responded in a certain amount of time. The app will send a text message and you can seriously cut your time in jail.