legal information & policing

we are not lawyers, and this is not legal advice

arrest: there are four ways to get arrested at protests

jail solidarity: if you get arrested at a protest, particularly if you did not intend to get arrested, it is likely that you will be arrested with a lot of other people. if you want to minimize your charges, the best thing to do in this situation is to participate in some form of jail solidarity. read the Just Cause guide to jail solidarity. the key things to know about jail solidarity are:

  • even if you are not planning to get arrested, do not carry your id (or anything with your name on it). if you are arrested unexpectedly, it is best to participate in "jail solidarity". if you carry your id, you will not have this option; but if you don't carry your id, you will still have the option of giving your name.
  • if you are arrested, you should immediately start using your nickname with other arrestees in the van. when police ask for your name, say you are refusing to give it. then use only your nickname at all times while in custody, including phone calls, in cells, etc.
  • all the group's ids should be stashed together at the house in a spot where the legal support person knows where they are.
  • again, even if you are not planning to get arrested, jail solidarity is an important thing to know about. everyone should be versed in the basics of jail solidarityas it is particularly important in situations of unexpected arrests.

your rights: exist in theory, but not in the streets. protest policing tends to take the form of "clear them out of here and let the courts sort out the legality in a few months." nevertheless it's nice to know what your rights are so that you can be aware of when they are violated. every once in a while, showing that you know your rights will prevent cop misbehavior. sometimes these violations will help your case in court. read Legal Information on Encounters with Police (includes info on Questioning, Detainment, Searches, Arrest).  Here's a shorter version from the National Lawyers Guild and here's a comic-style version

if you witness (or are victimized by) police misconduct, exessive use of force, etc: fill out a Police Misconduct Report as soon as possible (while all the details are fresh) and turn it in to the legal team so they can use it as part of cases and class action suits.

legal support: the legal support structure includes three elements.

[1] on the ground at the action, a legal team provided by the host organizing committee will provide lawyers and jail support for all arrestees. each affinity group (or cluster) traveling to the action provides the other two elements.


[2] a member of the affinity group or cluster is appointed to be on-the-ground legal support. this person needs to stay fairly green during the actions. this person will move into high gear if anyone in the affinity group/cluster is arrested. they will be responsible for tracking their person through the legal system, staying in contact with the action legal team, and communicating with the third element, at-home legal support.

[3] one person needs to be willing to commit to being by the phone and providing legal support for the duration of the action days. this is a great role for someone who really wants to be involved in the action but needs to stay home. it's also a great way to help lovers/partners who are staying home to feel very involved. the person providing at-home legal support has several responsibilities.

common misconceptions: there are a number of aspects of protest policing which are counterintuitive.

  • the police know what they're doing: other than in DC, the police are quite unused to policing protest. they are unfamiliar with the relevant law and they are at least as scared as you are. the situation feels very out-of-control to them. they know there is a lot of hostility to them and they do not feel safe. also multiple contradictory orders may be given. their confusion is a good reason to stick around when things get hot because you may get to see them retreat, stumble, go different directions, or perform many other entertaining blunders.
  • the police have all the power: in some situations, they have a lot of power, but people have used a wide variety of tactics to assert power, evade arrest, de-escalate from imminent attack, interrupt brutality, and rescue people from harm. pretty regularly, activists outwit, outrun, and out-take the cops.
  • the police obey the law: often the police don't know the law. even more often, they are empowered to act in flagrant violation of it and your constitutional rights in service to the higher laws of traffic flow and convenient corporate plunder.
  • the police mean what they say: 99% of police operations at protest are designed to intimidate you. they are working very hard to convince you that they are in control, that they are everywhere, that they are all-seeing, that they will catch you if you do anything sneaky. while police certainly will do sneaky, illegal, and brutal things, the protesters will also manage to do most of the things they came to do. the other side of police misspeak is that they are legally allowed to lie to you. that means even if they have made agreements with protesters to behave in a certain manner, they can (and likely will) do otherwise. since they are totally unreliable, it's best not to worry about them and to focus on doing your thing.

security culture: it's becoming more common for activists to operate in an atmosphere of secrecy and suspicion bordering on paranoia. it's just our [not original] opinion, but we think security culture is very destructive. here are some [not necessarily original] notes, from this perspective:

incriminating other activists: be aware that felony conspiracy is a serious charge which could get some activists some very long jail time. never, ever, ever, ever indicate that you know who organized, planned, or led an action. don't allow yourself to think or feel that it's really "cool" that you know. the "cool" thing to do is be in solidarity with all other activists and treat any information you have as sacred and private, not to be shown off or shared. if anyone (even your mama) asks you whose idea an action was or who organized it, change the subject. it is illegal to lie to a police (even though it's legal for them to lie to you!) it is legal for you to refuse to talk to them. if a policeperson asks you who organized an action, say "i am not going to talk about that." feel free to repeat that line over and over and over until s/he gets bored. also check out the Just Cause guide to talking to the media without causing legal problems for yourself or your friends.