mass action handbook
getting your community on the road and into the street

tips for avoiding police harassment...

so you'll be where you want to be
when the time comes
to do whatever you came to do...

avoiding police harassment means behaving smartly and legally, as described under automobile tips and pedestrian tips below. it also means being an active documenter of police misbehavior. such documentation is necessary to hold the police accountable for what they did (after the fact) as well in seeking injunctions before they do stuff. an injunction is impossible without good documentation, so if you want the lawyers to file one, it's up to you! see documentation procedures below for guidelines on how to do activist documentation.

automobile tips
  • before you leave home, be sure you have up-to-date paperwork (license, insurance, registration) in the car

  • if the car is borrowed, bring a letter from the person who lent it to you saying that you have their permission to use the car and that you have their authority to get it released from impound, etc.

  • inspect your car before leaving home. make sure there are no confusing or illegal items tucked away in it. (large dark things in glove box, heavy sports equipment in back seat, stems or seeds under the floor mats, anything that looks like paraphernalia...) realize that weapons and drugs laws vary state-to-state (and you may pass through several states during your trip). for example: in CA people who play baseball must carry their bats in the trunk and they must be accompanied by a baseball glove, otherwise the bats are considered to be a weapon.) remove random stuff from the car and put anything weird-looking that you must bring in the trunk.

  • fix any burnt out tail-lights or other small fixable details so you won't get pulled over for those.

  • before you leave home get maps of the city where you're going and learn the locations of your campsite/homebase, convergence, major freeways, so that you can move about smartly once you'e there.

  • avoid u-turns and any illegal maneuvers, even minor ones. use your turn signals. keep in mind that speeding tickets can double or triple the cost of your trip.

  • while approaching and always while driving in protest-town, assign a competent navigator WITH A MAP to sit in the front passenger seat and assist the driver so you don't get lost or meander around and so that you minimize your time on the streets. it's very stressful trying to drive carefully in a new town, it really helps to have someone else navigate, read street signs, scope out parking etc, find your water bottle, etc. so you can concentrate on hyper-legal driving behavior.

  • be aware that overloading your car with activists not wearing seatbelts greatly increases your chances of harassment in protest-toown. you might plan to make more trips with smaller loads.

  • if you stop to get beer on the way back to camp, be sure to carry it in the trunk.

  • as you're getting into the car, remind the driver to check and make sure they have their license easily accessible on their person. (not in the trunk or under the floor mat or in the air filter!). when lots of people aren't carrying their ID's it's easy for drivers to forget and it can be a big hassle if you have to go searching through 12 ids for yours (we were once cited for "carrying too many id's" which turned out not to be illegal after all, but we spent a couple of cold hours sitting on the curb anyway when we had better stuff to do.)

  • if you catch a lot of rides with other people, support the driver (even if you don't know them!) by keeping car noise down so they can concentrate on their driving, offer to navigate, and check out the parking scene when you arrive. this is community responsibility. don't hop out of somebody's car like "well it's not my car, that's their problem".

  • if you are detained by police don't make excuses, don't make stuff up, don't lie. just remain silent and be sure to say "i do not consent to this search" if they are searching your car. (they will do it anyway, but it is probably an illegal search.)

  • harassment of activists means that an illegal parking job could be costly. when you park, read all street signs carefully and make sure it's legal. feed your meter!

pedestrian tips

  • harassment of activists means that some police departments develop a sudden urge to enforce jaywalking laws.

  • never go anywhere alone! if you are stopped, harassed, or picked up no one will know and you will not have witnesses.

  • generally, it's safest to walk with a large group. if you see other activists in ones or twos ahead or behind you, invite them to join your group. this builds community!

  • size of the group: you want to be with the largest group possible except when:

    • you are scouting

    • there is an ordinance describing any group of 8? persons as an "illegal assembly"

    • you are trying to move a lot of people into an area quickly and quietly without arousing police attention

    • you are in disguise, trying to pass as non-protesters. in this case, dividing up into what look like hetero couples (or pairs of couples) works well. (feel free to hold hands and kiss for good measure.)

  • consider disguising yourself. think of this in the tradition of carnival, in which costume facilitated subversion of the social order. you're not giving up who you are, you're using a costume to transgress, which oppressed people have been doing for centuries! (and even fought for the right to do against persistent mask laws -- the U.S. forbid masking for mardi gras for the first 25 years of its rule over New Orleans!)

    • when you're packing, drag out those khaki pants and sweaters that grandma keeps giving you.

    • think of dressing like a tourist if you're in a touristy place.

    • sports gear makes you look very "ordinary". (you might even want to learn who coaches your team.)

    • check out thrift stores for supercheap business attire. don't go 70s vintage, just go for USED. don't just buy a blazer, that isn't going to do it. ladies, think secretary: tight skirt, slightly revealing satin blouse, stockings, sneakers, lots of makeup, any kind of jacket will be ok over this. men, think intern. lots of you are not going to be able to pass in a suit! try dress pants (not too loose!), button down shirt, and pull over sweater.

    • also think of dressing as a blue-collar worker who would be in this area. maybe clean overalls, shirt with somebody's name on it, appropriate hat. or a painter! (don't forget the paint -- making that costume should be fun!)

    • simplest disguise for either gender (<$5 at any thrift store): fairly tight, clean, tapered blue-jeans; tucked-in polo shirt with a corporate logo; and, if it's cold, a windbreaker or short parka, preferably with sports theme or name of a business on it.

    • no backpack! no backpack! no backpack! check out cheap briefcases and purses at thrift stores. if you gotta carry stuff, gym bags are very believable for anyone, anywhere, anytime. carry a vinyl foldover clipboard!

    • the more out of fashion you look, the better, unless you are trying to pull off an upscale urban look (in which case, you better know what you're doing).

documentation procedures
  • it's likely that you will get harassed anyway

  • police harassment is a violation of your constitutional rights

  • document every incident of harassment and turn this documentation in to the action legal team.

  • carry notebook and pen for this purpose at all times!!!!

  • focusing on documentation can help you stay calm and focused during an incident.

  • if you are not the target of the police attention but you are nearby, do something useful! document! don't just watch! you will NOT remember, so get out your notebook and write stuff down!

  • if you are a witness, your documentation is as important as the victim(s)'. write it down and give it to the legal team!

  • harassment includes:

    • police surveillance of any kind

    • police drive-bys and walk-bys (note vehicles, costumes, and equipment)

    • police asking questions

    • stop-and-search (say repeatedly "i do not consent to this search")

    • searches by officer of a different gender than the person being searched

    • detention

    • arrest

    • jaywalking tickets, harassment of people sitting on the sidewalk, using the parkā€¦

    • stopping your car for no apparent reason or for very trivial reasons

    • searching your vehicle (say repeatedly and loudly "i do not consent to this search")

    • confiscation of materials, signage, equipment

  • documentation includes as much of the following as possible:

    • date and time of the incident

    • location of the incident (nearest actual street address)

    • which agency or agencies were involved (if officers are wearing different uniforms, or their cars are painted differently you've got more than one agency involved.)

    • number of officers involved and distances from incident (look behind you for the backup.)

    • equipment involved (vehicles, weapons, wearing riotgear?)

    • commanding officer: you have the right to know who is in charge of the operation and you can spontaneously appoint a police liaison to talk with that person (talking with the others will not get you anywhere). write down this person's name right away.

    • identify the officers and vehicles: names, badge numbers, car numbers

    • as soon as possible after the incident, write down every detail about what the police said and did before you forget. note any threats they made, laying people down on the ground, pointing weapons at people, blocking observers' cameras, confiscating things, grabbing leaflets and signs out of peoples' hands, abusive language, etc. you do not need to write down everything you and the other activists said. focus on what the cops said, get it down verbatim asap.

    • get this documentation to a safe place (off your person) as soon as possible, in case you are grabbed later.

    • re-write it neatly and deliver the documentation to the legal team along with any photos, video, or audio recordings you managed to make of the incident. make sure that each item you give is marked with the incident date, time, location (closest intersection) and long-term contact information for you (how to contact you in 1-6 months when lawsuits are being filed).


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[an error occurred while processing this directive] table of contents

Table of Contents

  1. introduction/home page
  2. get ready! what you need to know to make your participation effective
  3. becoming an affinity group & living the world you want to see
  4. putting on a teach-in
  5. outreach is something that everyone does!
  6. trip logistics
  7. legal
  8. media
  9. at home, while the mass action is happening
  10. when you get to protest-town
  11. back home, after the action

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links you need:

international listing of major protests.


Video Activist Network,
Big Noise Films, Whispered Media, Cascadia Media, indymedia videos



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