Activist Resources On De-Escalating Interactions With Police?
October 18, 2018 12:01 PM   Subscribe

My maddening daughter, who's in college far from home, just called and asked "You're a lawyer, do you have anything to point me to on dealing with the police?" And on questioning it seems like she wants mostly practical tips for de-escalating interactions with the police in a confrontational activisty kind of situation (which she didn't want to talk about over the phone. I'm sure I approve generally of anything she's likely to be doing, but I'm also deeply worried.) Anyway, anyone got good online resources for her?
posted by LizardBreath to Law & Government (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If she’s looking for legal advice or assistance (or if she might end up needing it), the National Lawyers Guild has resources available that are aimed at facilitating leftist protest. In some areas they have legal assistance available for emergencies or to act as witnesses/advocates/monitors for protest actions.

The one thing I’d get across to her is that the police are fundamentally outside of the law. They rarely to never face real personal consequences for violating human rights, eg by commiting assault or sexual assault. They face even fewer consequences for false arrest, perjury, and similar. And even if they do face consequences eventually, the harm from police abuse can affect her for a lifetime. They can range from physical injury, and potentially permanent disability, even to death. Legally, an arrest makes it harder to do a lot of things, even if it never ends in her being charged or convicted of a crime. If she might want to work as an attorney some day, she needs to be even more aware of the potential lifelong consequences of involvement with the criminal justice system.

Good luck to her — she sounds like a good egg with a great parent.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 12:26 PM on October 18, 2018 [14 favorites]

Best answer: The ACLU's page on Know Your Rights: What to do if you're stopped by police, immigration agents, or the FBI is a concise and easily-consumed reference. They also have wallet cards to purchase and hand out.
posted by artificialard at 12:26 PM on October 18, 2018 [16 favorites]

Best answer: #1 tip for (white) college students considering a little direct action: if you're arrested, they will take away your cell, so make sure you have a contact number written on you somewhere.
posted by praemunire at 1:00 PM on October 18, 2018 [12 favorites]

Youtubve has some good resources like this law professor explaining why you should never talk to the police. Short translation: to open your mouth and speak to cops during a criminal investigation is to lose. The cops have all the marbles and you have none.
posted by diode at 1:21 PM on October 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

three words only, yes sir & no sir, not worth the argument, let the police do there job & then let the courts settle it. That's the way the system works........ (I'm not a cop but i have friends that are & I'm not stupid).
posted by patnok at 1:26 PM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: As others have said, writing the phone number of a lawyer or contact person on your arm is a good idea. If there is an organization that is sponsoring an action or providing assistance with a protest, make sure to follow their directions, especially if they provide on-call legal aid. They will be able to step in to make sure anyone who's registered with them is accounted for, is able to make bail, or is at the very least tracked if they're in police custody. Make sure to take advantage of that, in case you're separated from friends.
posted by mikeh at 2:42 PM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is strange, is she going by herself or with a group of people? As someone who got majorly fucked up in police brutality, I hope she is making friends with experienced activists and organizers who know how to get the fuck out of situations.

My recommendation is to stay on the perimeter and look for cops and them looking to kettle and then doing crowd mics to pass the info.
posted by yueliang at 7:58 PM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

In addition to all the good stuff mentioned above (NLG FTW!) it's a good idea for anyone engaged in protest/direct action to mentally, and even physically, rehearse their plans and boundaries before they end up in any confrontational situations. Any activist group worth its salt should be doing this already--running info and training sessions, even doing role-plays, etc, and making it clear to everyone involved what the different thresholds of participation are and encouraging people to be aware of their limits and plan how and when they will tap out if necessary. For example, some folks may be planning to be arrested at a civil disobedience action, while others will know ahead of time that they will stay on the sidelines and document the proceedings (while being aware this can also put them at risk of arrest or police violence; cops often get hostile around cameras), or show up later to do jail support, etc. This is something she should expect at the group level, but also plan/rehearse for herself individually: i.e. decide beforehand "I'm going to participate in the sit-in that will block the intersection but I'll retreat to the sidewalk if we are ordered to disperse, and I'll leave altogether if people start throwing stuff at police or smashing windows." As with many things in life, rehearsing your boundaries ahead of time makes it easier to stick to them in emotionally intense and volatile situations.

No matter how well you plan, though, it's important to be aware of the fact that you have limited control over what's happening around you in any large crowd situation, especially when police are involved, and monitor your surroundings accordingly. It's a very good idea to listen to people with protest experience in whatever particular context she's in (how police departments handle protests varies both according to place and who's doing the protesting) and to start slow, limiting herself to lower-risk activities until she gains more experience. When it comes to more confrontational kinds of protest or direct action, it's usually best to begin by taking support roles rather than putting yourself on the front lines. She should also be aware that the police usually film protests and monitor social media and surveillance cameras, so she may be on camera at any given point.
posted by karayel at 10:44 PM on October 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

Also tear gas/pepper spray hurts like a motherfucker (and many of the remedies touted online are pretty useless) but if you get hit with it, stay calm, keep breathing, and don't stumble around blindly when you can't see where you're going. It sucks, but it will pass. If she has asthma or any medical conditions she should be very careful about getting close to any kind of action where chemical agents may be used.
posted by karayel at 10:52 PM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As others have said, writing the phone number of a lawyer or contact person on your arm is a good idea.

I would recommend NOT writing any phone numbers on your arm but instead someplace covered that she can access easily (e.g. I write numbers on my calf in sharpie and wear yoga pants) because sometimes numbers get smeared either accidentally or intentionally (e.g. police will rub hand sanitizer over someone's arm) and also you don't want the number visible to parties with bad intent (this matters less for public numbers, e.g. I'll write the number for the National Lawyer's Guild on my arm but emergency contact numbers of friends somewhere hidden).

Best practices for interacting with the police will also vary a lot by jurisdiction and there will be local activists who have more information for her area (if she is in or near DC she's welcome to contact me -- I don't know how helpful I can actually be but it's always good to build networks of support!). It also depends on her priorities, like how important it is to her that she not be arrested (and it is totally fine to want not to get arrested! I have never been arrested and keeping it that way is a priority for me because of family responsibilities. Not wanting to get arrested doesn't make someone a bad activist), but mostly I think best practice for interacting with the police is "try not to".
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:39 AM on October 19, 2018 [9 favorites]

For de-escalation, she likely wants skills that are taught to restorative justice, community conferencing, mediation, and circle dialogues. I would see where there is a community mediation center in her area and look up who in the community is facilitating police-based dialogue. These are skills that need to be developed and role-played. It’s unlikely that a single read of anything will have staying power when emotions are in full bloom. On the flip side, some of her peers likely have peer mediation skills from high school, she can ask after them.
posted by childofTethys at 4:31 AM on October 20, 2018

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