Community / workplace civil disobedience.
August 10, 2018 11:22 AM   Subscribe

Help me MeFi legal wonks! What are my actual legal repercussions and exposure if I stage (or simply allow) a sit in to protest the closing of a community center?

The unique details:

I am a legally authorized employee and keyholder and manager. The community center I work for is being indefinitely closed. People are upset.

On the last open day I wondered what would happen if we threw a party and then when it was time to close, everyone simple sat down and refused to leave, and/or deployed sleeping bags and pillows on the floor for a sleepover and all-nighter.

Tactics/game-theory wise I may actually be the last person on site with a key anyway, and I am not finding much opposition or adversarialness due to simply being awesome and main force and "No, we're going to party and keep our spirits up!" and my last 48 hours have been a whirlwind of community support and networking.

It would be something that would actually go over well in this culture and community and if I was arrested over it it would actually be scandalous and totally against the grain of this center and program's anarchic roots.

My goals for the sit in and sleep over aren't necessarily to save the program, nor my job, but to support the community and go out with a good message and a high note.

I'm trying to mull over what I might actually be charged with beyond trespassing or breaking and entering, if even that because I am a keyholder. I am willing to be peaceably arrested. The community is small and I know most of our officers. I'm not likely to be abused or hurt beyond the peaceful arrest.

Help me think of many more problems, especially personal legal repercussions.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking as someone who has been involved in my share of organized civil disobedience and direct action: this is impossible for us to answer without knowing the jurisdiction. I'm going to assume this is the U.S., though. In theory, you could be charged with a variety of things, including disturbing the peace, trespassing, or resisting arrest. As for civil suits, you could theoretically be held liable for any damage done to the facility, including by the police. Depending on your employer, you should not expect to get any severance you have been promised. You might also turn a layoff into a firing with cause, which could impact your ability to collect unemployment.

What's most likely to happen is you get arrested and either 1. booked, released after a few hours or the next morning, and charged with a misdemeanor or 2. booked, charged with a felony, and then later take a misdemeanor plea deal.

When you say you are confident you'll be treated well by the police, is that based on knowledge of how other protesters in your community have been treated? Sometimes protesters are treated better than other arrestees (because they are seen as peaceful) and sometimes they are treated worse (because police aren't used to dealing with them and that freaks them out).

But you need to talk to a lawyer before you do this. Contact the local chapter of the Lawyer's Guild - they'll be able to refer you to someone. They'll be able to tell you the risks in your state/county/city, and they'll be the one you can call when you get arrested. Don't do this without legal support, I beg you.
posted by lunasol at 12:08 PM on August 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

You cannot promise that the other people at the party won’t also be arrested, so keep that in mind.
posted by rtha at 12:25 PM on August 10, 2018

I appreciate your spirit but don't understand this. What is the goal? Is it just to have a going away party? Would you get better press by publicizing it as an official late night party? Is it to let the community opposition vent? In that case, could you get decision makers (which I'm not clear who those even are) on board with this as the best way to avoid something worse? If you think this is a good idea, I'd try to get suport for it from whoever it is that would be sending the police to arrest you.

I think the thing to watch out for in addition to the legal stuff is damage to your reputation. Siding with protesters against the people who are paying you could interfere with your ability to get your next job, maybe?
posted by salvia at 12:50 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

It would be something that would actually go over well in this culture and community and if I was arrested over it it would actually be scandalous and totally against the grain of this center and program's anarchic roots.

This has the potential to make you internet famous assuming pretty easily that people will pull out their phones and record an arrest. Honestly, I'm not convinced that it isn't something you're aiming for with this stunt.

If you are a keyholder, who is going to tell you to close down exactly at midnight? The landlord? The organization? Is the building being foreclosed on and you're expecting the bank to be there at 12:01?

You're clearly stoked about having a confrontation, when an organized lawful going away party would be better for everyone involved.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 2:32 PM on August 10, 2018

to support the community and go out with a good message and a high note.

Then do the sleepover the night before and give your entire community a chance to enjoy the place and be together and then lawfully go home safely. I'm wondering if you left a word out because this

if I was arrested over it it would actually be scandalous and totally against the grain of this center and program's anarchic roots.

seems to conflict with this

I am willing to be peaceably arrested.

I mean I get that you are ok with it but it seems like you know the community would NOT be okay with it (if there is a missing word, let me know) and so I think that is why people are calling it a stunt rather than a plan.

The other answers have a lot more to do with who you are relative to this community and who the community is relative to the cops and who is closing the place relative to the cops and the community and to you? Like... did you lose your lease? Or was there an issue? Did a building get sold? Did your funding run out? Has there been some "You must be out of here by midnight" posturing? Do you have any reason to believe there will be someone who notices that you are still there at 1 am after the center supposedly closes? These are all things that would affect both how this situation is perceived but also how feasible it is for you to do something civilly disobedient that has some sort of impact beyond a you-centered situation. Because really you should be talking to the other stakeholders here and not be going lone wolf here.

If you do decide to go this direction (and I am not suggesting you don't, necessarily) be prepared with the name of a lawyer and maybe some social media stuff like "What can I do now?" for the community. Because the loss of a community center can sometimes be a really fragmenting time for a community and some don't recover. So it's worth trying to make plans NOW while you have the place, of where people can gather and, possibly, get access to some of the same community and resources that they did at the last place.
posted by jessamyn at 2:55 PM on August 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hi! I am a union organizer these days so have lots of answers on some of these questions but would need to know both your formal title and who is actually closing the center. Have you received instructions about it?
posted by corb at 3:52 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Or just memail me if you don’t want it to be public.
posted by corb at 3:53 PM on August 10, 2018

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