Taking It To The Streets: How To Handle Trouble with The Police as a Protester
Written by Josh Wattles
My function here is to write about the arts and the law. It is to provide artists who make up the primary audience on this platform with helpful information on the kinds of legal issues they may run into during their practice.
Two developments, the Covid pandemic and the police murder of George Floyd (and other black men and women) interrupt us all and distract us from our focus in the arts. Those of us living in America are watching its leadership dis-assemble and its values trampled by federal and local authorities.
It seems completely appropriate to me for everyone’s focus to be disrupted with a reassessment of each of our personal roles in correcting inequities, in changing the behaviors of virulent and endemic racism in our society and in our culture. Most urgently (and this is a matter of law and of survival) we must radically reform the police forces.
I’ve been called for jury duty a number of times and three of those times were for criminal cases. They give you a questionnaire so the lawyers and the Judge can review if you have any obvious biases before putting you on the actual jury. One of the common questions asks if you trust police officers and, if not, why.
My response has been uniform (no pun intended but, groan) although the words I used may have been different: “Almost all of the people who decide to join a police force have the very best intentions to serve and if necessary protect other people. Unfortunately, urban police forces, in general, train their officers to be part of a domestic paramilitary organization in which the people in the city are designated as opponents, at best, and as the enemy in the worst case. Their function as officers is to “take down” people who they suspect of wrongdoing. I believe to accomplish that mission they are likely not to provide fully truthful testimony to the Court.”
And this is the remarkable thing. They don’t automatically take me out of the jury pool for saying that because, I suspect, they can see the truth in it. I haven’t ever been seated on a jury more because I am a lawyer, clearly liberal and also a professor seen as capable of shifting the opinions of others. I wouldn’t want me on a jury either.
I write this with the news today that with the protest marches taking place across the country Trump’s secretary of defense was put on a call with all 50 governors and described their cites and towns as “the battlespace” that must be “dominated” so that “we can return to the right normal.” This while Trump has amassed the real army, not the National Guard but the famed 82nd Airborne, right outside Washington D.C. presumably in case he and Melania need to get dug out of his bunker.
What To Do If You Run Into Trouble As A Protester
Artists have always contributed to protest and revolt in ways that capture the dialogue and propel people forward. But Artists may need to do things now as protest that maybe they don’t see as art. So what follows are links to guides prepared by good, solid sources about what to do if you run into trouble as a protester:
- Your Rights in A Law Enforcement Encounter (National Lawyer’s Guild)
- Your Rights to Protest (American Civil Liberties Union)
- Your Rights When Stopped By The Police (American Civil Liberties Union)
- The Bail Project – – city by city list of lawyer groups to bail you out. (Legal Defense Fund, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)***
- Your Rights During The Pandemic (National Lawyers Guild)
- Legal Context For Dealing With Discrimination (American Civil Liberties Union)
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