2011 and 2012 may go down as the years in American history when political dissent became a criminal activity. The police crackdown began with the mass arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge and police brutality, followed by the evictions of Occupy encampments and the passage of the NDAA, which allows for the indefinite detainment of American citizens. This year has brought FBI raids, grand jury subpoenas, government-manufactured terror plots, surveillance of activists, and protest-related criminal convictions resulting in prison time. Dissenting voices are carrying loud and clear to the ears of the rich and powerful, and in turn, the powerful are waging an all-out assault against any who choose to resist.
Heading into the actions on the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, here are eight ways you can stay safe from police repression.
1. Check your pockets. Bring a Sharpie for writing your area’s legal hotline somewhere on your body. Carry food and extra cigarettes if you will be doing jail support for those who are arrested. Definitely don't bring a weapon or anything that could be construed as a weapon, drugs, or anything valuable including jewlery. Also, to avoid misunderstandings, don't carry a lot of cash; cash over $200 must be vouchered if you are arrested.
2. Speak up if the police stop you. If you are stopped by a cop, resist the impulse to wait around to see what they are planning. Immediately ask “Am I free to go?” If yes, then leave. If not, ask “Am I being detained?” If the answer is no, then you are free to go. If you are searched, say loudly and clearly, “I do not consent to this search." Silence is consent in the system we live in. If you say nothing, anything they find can be used as evidence at trial.
3. Watch face coverings.
There are all kinds of little-known laws that city governments use against protesters. For example, a 150-year-old law
against masked gatherings of more than two people has been resurrected to target Occupy Wall Street protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks or bandanas on their faces. There are countless petty laws that are ignored in daily life but used during protests to pull unsuspecting people out of the action. Ask fellow protesters what type of minor laws are being used to target activists, and be quick to adapt your behavior so that a small thing like wearing a bandana doesn’t land you in jail.
4. Keep the cops at arm’s length. The NYPD, along with many other police departments, has "snatch-squads" it dispatches to protests, making arrests by snatching and arresting protesters. You don't have to be doing anything illegal to be snatched. You just have to be within arms-length of a cop. How do you steer clear of the snatch-squads? Stay out of snatching distance! Keep track of where the cops are and who is between you and the blue shirts.
5. Don’t resist arrest. To escalate punishment for protesting, the police often tack on a resisting-arrest charge when activists are charged for other things like disorderly conduct. Resisting arrest is a much more serious charge, a Class-A misdemeanor in New York, that carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $500 fine. The police will charge you for resisting arrest if you are running away, locking arms, flailing or refusing to be handcuffed. To make sure you don’t get wrongly charged with resisting arrest, make sure to state loudly, “I am not resisting” as you are being arrested. If you are watching someone get arrested and they are yelling, “I am not resisting,” try to film the arrest (without getting in anyone's way) so that it can be used as evidence in a subsequent trial, if necessary.
6. No chit-chatting with the cops. Spending the night in jail after an arrest is an isolating and fear-inducing experience. Talking to fellow detainees and entertaining each other with stories and jokes is the best way to keep your spirits up. But making small talk with the cops can put you and your fellow activists in danger. Police are trained to mine seemingly inconsequential information and use it against people, so stay quiet. No matter what they say, you do not have to speak to the cops beyond giving them your basic information on your ID. If they try to talk to you, say, “I am going to remain silent, and I want to talk to my lawyer.”
7. Be aware of infiltrators.
Police departments sometimes send infiltrators, informants and agent provocateurs into protests to divide people, create chaos and entrap protesters into doing illegal activities. From William O’Neal’s betrayal
of Fred Hampton in the Black Panther Party in 1969, to Brandon Darby’s entrapment
of Bradley Crowder and David McKay, the police will stop at nothing to get convictions—even if it means that the government’s own agents are creating the illegal action and simply convincing people to join in. Entrapment has already happened within the Occupy movement at least three times, in Chicago during NATO,in Cleveland and in Houston, Texas.
If you’re just showing up to a mass day of action like September 17, be wary of people who are advocating for violence or trying to pull you away from the group to do something separate. If you are involved more seriously in a protest movement, take the time to build trust with the people you protest with. Get to know them and make sure they are not working for the government, especially before engaging in any actions that could get you arrested.
8. Make a 72-hour plan, just in case.
The New York Police Department is notorious for its sweeping arrests of massive amounts of protesters. From the more than 1,800 arrested
over four days at the 2004 Republican National Convention to the 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1, 2011, the NYPD has proven it can handle as many protesters as it can catch--even if it means holding them in MTA buses or in warehouses on the Hudson River. The police often use orange netting to "kettle" in large numbers of people in the street, trapping and arresting them, whether they have unlawfully assembled or are residents merely walking to the corner for a carton of milk.
Before heading into a day of mass mobilization, make a list of things that need to get done if you are out of commission for 72 hours, which is the maximum time you can be held in custody before arraignment in New York State. You might need your dog fed and walked or your plants watered. Maybe you need someone to pick up your kids at school, or your husband to call in sick for you at work. Give your plan to someone who isn't attending the protest with a list of people to notify (or not to notify) in the event you get arrested. Agree that if you do not check in with them by a certain time they should put the plan into action.