Police Advice for Teenagers
October 4, 2011 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Seeking advice on what to tell teenagers about dealing with the police at a protest.

I am taking my son and three other 15- and 16-year-old boys from San Antonio to Occupy Austin on Thursday. He and I were watching an inspiring youtube clip of protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge when he suggested: you need to give us a talk on the way up there...tell us what we should do if we get arrested or hassled by the police or that kind of thing. "That's a good idea," I agreed, but after considering what I would actually say, I realized I don't know how to deal with situations myself.

What do you thnk should I tell them about how to deal with the police?
posted by iconjack to Law & Government (15 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Print out the ACLU's Know Your Rights: What To Do If You're Stopped By Police, Immigration Agents or the FBI webpage and take copies with you.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:09 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would say that behavior is contagious. Be very aware of what you're doing, and why. If you're nervous, be careful to avoid acting jumpy - you can make others around you jumpy and you can make the police jumpy.

If the police single you out, give them no reason to feel threatened. Police don't react well when they're threatened.

Police aren't your friends, but they're not your enemies, either.
posted by entropone at 6:12 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

They don't have to talk to the police. In fact, it's probably better if they keep their mouths shut, even if (especially if) they haven't done anything wrong.

They don't have to let the police search them or their belongings. In fact, it's probably better if they don't give consent for a search, even if (especially if) they don't (think they) have anything incriminating on their person.

If they get arrested, don't try to resist arrest, even a little bit. Be compliant. Don't even jostle your hands a little bit, because an errant elbow tap could be construed as assault by a pissed off cop.

Again, they really shouldn't talk to the police. If they get arrested, they should shut up until a lawyer arrives.

Disclaimer: I have never been arrested or even so much as hassled by a cop, but I like to know my rights.

Maybe give them all a pocket copy of the Constitution before you drop them off. It's a nice welcome-to-being-an-adult-in-America gesture.
posted by phunniemee at 6:14 AM on October 4, 2011

The National Lawyers' Guild guide is here. There's also a lot of other stuff on that site. The NLG will probably have legal observers at the protest. The ones here in the Midwest wear ugly fluorescent green baseball hats.

To minimize hassle in an arrest situation (there are ways to resist/go limp/maximize hassle/de-arrest/etc, but it sounds like y'all are not looking for that):

1. Do exactly what the police tell you if you're near them. 100%. Unless there is a a giant tidal move away from/through police lines - if that happens, you're better off with the crowd or else moving backward through the crowd away from the police if possible.
2. Carry current ID. If you're showing your ID to police, make sure there are witnesses and preferably a couple of officers - I saw a cop "lose" someone's ID at my first protest, had no idea what to do.
3. Do not carry anything sharp - no pocket knives, scissors, etc. Do not carry sharpies. Do not carry protest literature that isn't being handed out at the event. (the last is a little paranoid and probably not neccessary if you aren't on the cops' bad list)
4. Bring a bottle of water and some small dry snacks - just in case you get kettled and stuck for hours. Don't drink the water too fast - who knows when you'll find a bathroom?
5. This won't happen because you're not super involved, but just FYI - if the cops ask who is a leader of the protest, who organized it, etc, you don't know. Don't point anyone out. "There are no leaders" is the classic reply.
6. If the cops start asking questions about what you did or what you saw, don't answer. Tell them that you need to talk to a lawyer.

7. Magic questions for cops if you're in a one-on-one: "Am I being detained?" If they say no, you can go. "Am I being arrested?" If they say no....They won't always let you leave, but using those words can pressure them a bit.

8. Tell them you do not consent to be searched if they start to search you - this has legal ramifications.

The most important part for you, I bet, based on big protest situations: If there's a big unpermitted march, stay with the march as long as it's big. But try to find a time to leave safely before the bitter end. Don't just split off at random, because the cops often pick off people who are alone - choose a time when you can peel off and go into a store or somewhere with witnesses and wait for the cops/march to go away.

Use your judgment. If you watch carefully, you can usually tell when things are going to get bad. Try not to go somewhere where you can't see a way out. Stay away from the front line of cops if you're on a march; you're much less likely to be beaten or seriously gassed. I've been in a variety of beating/gassing situations and was able, when I really wanted, to stay away from the worst.

Oh, and stay together if the situation seems intense. The kids have the protection of a parent - I'm older than some of my activist buddies and I always feel like they get treated a bit better with me because I am so old.

Honestly, I think this is a low-risk situation.
posted by Frowner at 6:16 AM on October 4, 2011 [13 favorites]

And lastly - watch for undercovers. You probably don't know enough to be of interest to them since you're not already heavily involved, but one never knows. Undercovers will ask a lot of questions that sound intrusive/off about you, why you're there, who else is there, what you think will happen, do you think there will be lawbreaking, etc etc. They will often be big, beefy white dudes with puffy shoes in generic "casual" clothes - not only will they not look like hippies/anarchists, but they will look very much like cops.

If there are better-placed undercovers, you won't be able to spot them and they won't be interested in most attendees, so don't worry about them.

Never, never agree to do something significantly illegal with a stranger who proposes this. If everyone is rushing the police cordon, that's fine; if a stranger is all "hey, I'm going to sharpie the cop car, hold my bag okay?" tell them you're sorry but you can't. That stranger is a provocateur.

I don't think this will happen either, but again an FYI - if there's something overt and illegal and singular (not like disobeying a disperse order or something that's clearly a spontaneous mass action) going on - people are locking down or a window is being broken or whatever, just step back. Either those people have planned what they're doing and are in an affinity group together or they are agents trying to make the protest look bad. I've seen both. Let them do their thing.
posted by Frowner at 6:24 AM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

If they grab you, be passive and do what they say. Don't do anything that some cop could pretend was a threat or action against a police officer, not even a nudge or a push or a sudden motion, because four giant weight-lifting cops will leap on you and then claim that they just had to spray you with pepper spray and beat the living crap out of skinny little you to protect themselves, and some judge will automatically agree with the cops because that's what judges do unless you have super strong evidence to the contrary, and nothing will happen to the cops for what they've done to you.

By the way:
I am taking my son and three other 15- and 16-year-old boys
Do the other parents know what you're doing?
posted by pracowity at 6:28 AM on October 4, 2011

Looking back at my posts, I felt like saying that in general, I think you're going to be fine. At worst, a peaceful mass arrest is a big nuisance and it will take a while to process but you'll get to talk to all kinds of fellow protesters in jail. Most often, most charges get dropped - even if by some misfortune you get arrested and charged with something unusual, it will probably be dropped. (That happened to me.)

Tell the kids to keep their heads if they get arrested and separated from you. The other protestors will be glad to help them figure stuff out. There will almost certainly be jail support outside the jail when they get let go, and if you're still inside then they can either wait for you with the jail support (who will probably have food, etc) or the jail support folks can help them get home. Just tell them to concentrate on finding safe transportation or else sitting tight with other protesters. No one is going to ditch some teenagers who can't find their ride. And that's the worst case scenario.

(Remember to have someone at home who can pick you up from the jail, or have cab fare back to your car/to a mass transit station - cops like to take protesters to the most remote jail they can find, usually right on the edge of the suburbs, and turn them lose after the buses stop running so that they're marooned, or at least in Chicago they do.)
posted by Frowner at 6:34 AM on October 4, 2011

Yeah, I would get some kind of written note from the other parents which says you have the right to take those kids with you across state lines, etc.
posted by empath at 6:35 AM on October 4, 2011

Having been witness to the G20 wringer here (That's the park where I walked my dog as usual during the protest, and worked at Queen and Caroline that day): above all, be polite.

And be aware that cel phones and cameras may go "missing" if detained or get knocked "accidentally" and "broken", so don't bring anything you care about and be careful what you snap pictures of if you do.

A pocketful of quarters, and someone to check in with is perhaps a good idea rather than counting on cel phones - here, at that time, if you were making a phone call in the wrong place, it was an excuse to detain; and have a place and time to meet up if you get separated. A pen and paper to write down details, be they badge numbers or phone numbers (kids these days don't dial numbers - they push buttons).

And this is another thing to consider: Appearance. You're certainly not going to wear ski masks, but also, no bandanas (though they're good for tear gas, they also are good for disguise and showing that you planned for things to escalate - just pull up your shirt as best you can). No controversial slogans on tee shirts either - not bands, not rude humor, and nothing political. Comb your hair. Wear closed-toe shoes. Don't wear all black, if that's a thing there. Don't dress like the people you're protesting, but you want to look at least clean. I saw the same young man questioned, detained and asked to show ID at three different points as I ran around the neighbourhood that day. Of course they're going to stop the smelly looking guy with with dreadlocks and a toque, saggy cargo pants and a shirt with profanity on it - because that's how it goes - but they let lots of neighbourhood friends that I know were actually protesting walk right on by.
posted by peagood at 7:01 AM on October 4, 2011

Oh, yeah, someone will probably be giving out the legal support hotline number - borrow a sharpie (don't worry, someone will have one) and write it on your arm. Again, I bet that all of this is totally overkill - in most mass protest situations, consider that there are far, far more people at the event than the several hundred who get arrested.

And wear layers! And bring sunscreen!
posted by Frowner at 7:07 AM on October 4, 2011

Remember that protesting is an inherently unstable situation between people with guns and, and people without.

Be aware of your personal boundaries and act accordingly. If you don't want to be arrested, don't go to the front of the line. If you do not want to be teargassed, don't climb the fence. On the other hand, if you want to call attention to yourself, by all means do. Point being that there is a scale of action within the larger sense of 'protesting'

Realise that the police are going to do their jobs and at least enforce the law, if not make examples out of a few protestors. Remember, you are protesting for a reason and it's not because everything is working the way you think it should.

Be aware of cause and effect. The police are increasingly going after people with cameras, regardless of legality. Just because it's legal doesn't mean you are going to be harassed or worse. Again, know your limits.

Shout 'fuck the police'.

Anything that is illegal on its own basis (carrying marijuana, drinking in the street, etc.)

Be afraid of the police. Fear is the primary weapon of that which you are protesting. If everything was working correctly, you would be in a park, playing football and having a lemonade. Besides, being arrested sounds far worse than it is. And protesting is about the only 'good' reason to be arrested.

Rock on. I protested the DNC in my teens in Los Angeles, got sprayed with tear gas, shot with a beanbag, and kicked by a police horse. I learned more about myself and my country in that moment than in the other 364 days of that year. That and other protests were amongst the most formative experiences of my teens, and I always encourage people to have a go.

The bruise from the beanbag faded quickly; the sense of empowerment via civil action has remained as permanent.
posted by nickrussell at 7:24 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

The only thing I would say to a police officer were I involved in a protest: "Am I free to go?"

Once asked, they have 2 choices: Say "No" and arrest you, or say "Yes" and you can be on your way.

Also, videotape everything.
posted by coolguymichael at 7:31 AM on October 4, 2011

Wear comfortable clothes with pockets. Wear sneakers in case you have to run. Do not wear pierced jewelry, even in your ears. Don't bring a fancy expensive camera.
posted by mareli at 10:41 AM on October 4, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for all the good advice! I'm going to process all of it over the next 36 hours and give the boys a combination pep talk and warning in the car on the way to Austin. This has been very helpful.
posted by iconjack at 2:45 PM on October 4, 2011

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