Information on the Use of Legal Solidarity by Occupy and Others?
December 14, 2011 1:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for information and resources regarding legal solidarity and court solidarity with an eye towards its practical application, specifically how it has been used so far by Occupy protesters and how it has been used successfully by other groups.

I have seen some news articles that hint that after some mass arrests at Occupy protests, the arrestees have been engaging in legal solidarity tactics. For example, in Sacramento and New York (one and two).

I am looking for more information about how Occupy protesters have engaged in legal solidarity tactics and strategies if anyone has seen anything that goes into more detail.

Second, I would like to research how other groups that have engaged in civil disobedience or mass arrests have successfully used legal solidarity. Does anyone have any links to detailed articles about this subject from recent history (say the last five to ten years) or a lead about groups that I could contact to get more information?

I already have plenty of information about legal solidarity as a principle and generic guides about how to apply it, such as this from the Midnight Special Law Collective.

Thanks!
posted by andoatnp to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
What is this for? I may have some information.
posted by Frowner at 1:57 PM on December 14, 2011


It's part of the preparation for the upcoming trials for the mass arrests at Occupy Atlanta.
posted by andoatnp at 2:07 PM on December 14, 2011


Okay, check your memail in a minute.
posted by Frowner at 2:09 PM on December 14, 2011


I haven't heard tell of a lot of use of this, but I would check with Occupy Oakland--in some ways, I feel like they're most in touch with historical precedents of activism.

I don't know if there's much documented literature on this topic (likely none) but ACT UP usually or at least often practiced legal solidarity--down to refusing to give any information to arresting officers beyond name and ID, and not answering questions about nationality, immigration status, HIV status, etc., and agreeing on choices for disposition of charges. (I remember getting yelled at by others when I mistakenly answered a question from a cop because I wasn't paying attention!)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 2:19 PM on December 14, 2011


There are lots of ways to engage in solidarity with folks who've been arrested.

I can tell you what I know about New York, and you can see what's applicable to Atlanta When people are first arrested, they're brought to the precinct house, which is a short-term holding facility, and often folks in prison can hear a crowd outside chanting for their release, or making supportive noise. Some people try to send food to the arrestees, though New York cops just steal the food. At some point, prisoners are transferred to central booking, where they're "processed and assigned docket numbers, which are then put on schedule for arraignment. At the arraignment, they appear in court, and it's really nice to see a whole bunch of supportive faces when you walk into that room. Most of the time, the case is dismissed at arraignment, because the charges on which they were arrested are bullshit. If the cops have found a way to make the charges not look as flimsy, then a court date is determined and bail is set. Either way, the prisoners are then released to the waiting crowds.

When there is a trial, it's important to pack the courtroom, and if possible, have a mass demonstration of support and solidarity outside as the involved parties walk up the steps of the courthouse. I like to have signs reminding folks that our tax dollars are being wasted on excessive use of force, clogging up the legal systems, and pulling officers from their regular beats to intimidate non-violent, law-abiding people.
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:47 PM on December 14, 2011


This may be of use: http://www.reclaimingquarterly.org/web/da/DA-7-Appendices-lo.pdf. The Livermore Action Group's Direct Action Handbook is in there...
posted by lathrop at 2:52 PM on December 14, 2011


I highly recommend talking to the National Lawyer's Guild.
posted by gingerbeer at 6:19 PM on December 14, 2011


Just a heads up: the kind of "tactics" described in your link are at least as likely to get you all thrown in jail for contempt as they are to get your charges dismissed. And "jail solidarity" tactics are just as likely to get your group shuttled to different jails as they are to get you what you want.

In essence, responding to criminal charges with additional criminal behavior is not particularly likely to get you a positive outcome. Judges and corrections officers do not respond kindly to having their authority challenged, generally speaking.
posted by valkyryn at 5:16 AM on December 15, 2011


Just a heads up: the kind of "tactics" described in your link are at least as likely to get you all thrown in jail for contempt as they are to get your charges dismissed. And "jail solidarity" tactics are just as likely to get your group shuttled to different jails as they are to get you what you want.

In essence, responding to criminal charges with additional criminal behavior is not particularly likely to get you a positive outcome. Judges and corrections officers do not respond kindly to having their authority challenged, generally speaking.


This actually isn't true. I wasn't going to talk about jail/court solidarity here because it's contentious and because I think stuff like this should be an intra-movement conversation since it's about tactics, solidarity and long-term goals and there's no reason to share those with random right-wingers or with people who have no experience with activism and don't have (or want) the context.

However - I've been on the periphery of - jesus god, this is so depressing - maybe five large-scale dumb-ass prosecutions of radicals and a bunch more small ones. (And by "dumb-ass" I mean charging people as terrorists for planning an ordinary street demonstration, saying that people "assaulted police officers" when there is a TON of video footage showing that nothing like this ever happened, claiming that cases of very ordinary vegetarian pamphlets were anti-government terrorist propaganda, breaking into houses and holding people at gunpoint during perfectly ordinary meetings, etc - cases where it is very clear that the charges are politically motivated and intended to fuck with people, tie up activist resources, break up movements - real COINTELPRO stuff.)

In the short term, jail and court solidarity pisses off the cops and the judges, yes.

These are my observations, though:

Everyone I've ever known who has stuck with court/legal solidarity and refused to plead down has beaten their charges. (Because those charges were bullshit charges intended to intimidate). The people who have accepted separate trials and deals got it in the neck.

I know for a sure and certain fact that calling in to the jail, creating publicity and packing the courtroom has stopped the racist, violent abuse of someone in my community and brought her bail down from a farcical level out of all proportion to the issue to something that could be paid, while the people around her continued to be assaulted and harassed by guards.

Embarrassing the prosecutors, holding up the case and making noise DOES work when the case is bullshit, because after a certain point it becomes more expensive and embarrassing to prosecute you than to try to make the noise go away and there is a general unspoken understanding that - because the charges are bullshit and you're not really a terrorist, etc - there is no public danger in dropping the case.

Never, never, never believe what cops and prosecutors tell you - especially now. Our legal system has changed in the last 20 years to where far fewer cases actually go to trial. There's a huge reliance on inflated charges to secure plea bargains, telling people that if they don't plead to a lesser charge they will go to jail. Look, I have been afraid that several friends were going to jail on terrorism charges because they helped plan large protests (at the level of "we're going to have a march on this date - how can we publicize this march and recruit people to attend"). Those charges were lies, 100%, and they went away because my friends stayed strong and stayed plugged in to their community.

Fear, solitude and secrecy are what get you. And all these giant arrests are ALWAYS bullshit - any time there's a mass arrest, it's a huge sweep of people who almost all weren't even doing anything that could be a misdemeanor, never mind doing anything that is meaningfully illegal. What inevitably happens is that video evidence and witness evidence surface, the police charges fall apart because they're lies....I know three people who recently won large judgments against the cops for lying bullshit. It took three years, and those were all people who the courts pushed to plead to things they didn't do - and in one case to something that there was ample video evidence of the guy not doing.

It's very hard for regular Americans - who don't encounter the courts or the cops except in neutral or positive circumstances - to really believe how corrupt and vindictive they can be around political cases. It took me years and years as an activist to understand this and really internalize that it was intentional and not just some kind of confusion or mistake, and that America today was not that different from America in the 1920s or 1930s on this score.

Don't give up, don't give in. You WILL ABSOLUTELY beat bullshit charges. It will take time and it will be super stressful. In fact, I will try to memail you later about community-building stuff we did during the run up to a couple of big trials.
posted by Frowner at 8:28 AM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


You WILL ABSOLUTELY beat bullshit charges.

True. But only if the charges are bullshit. A lot of OWS-type demonstrators have been abused, to be sure, but plenty of them are also committing real, actual offenses that, if charged properly, have a very high chance of resulting in convictions. Acting out in the face of charges like that will only make things worse for you.
posted by valkyryn at 7:09 PM on December 23, 2011


« Older Help me use my iPhone to take ...   |  How do I effectively tutor som... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.