Most groups do at least some planning prior to their demonstration. In addition to deciding the choreography of the demonstration, your group should plan whether to obtain a police permit, whether and how to include a “civil disobedience”, and other practical matters. If you are unsure about your rights it’s a good idea to discuss your plans with an attorney.
(Reprinted from Act Up NY.)
Deciding whether to obtain a permit
Permits should be obtained if the demonstration is going to involve a bullhorn or any other electronically amplified sound. A permit should be considered for any demonstration that will be large (more than 100 persons or so) or will move from one place to another. If a permit is not obtained, the police, who will inevitably appear, may drastically curtail the action or prohibit it altogether.
Obviously the issuance of a permit alerts the police to the demonstration and guarantees their presence and usually their advance placement of wooden barricades at the demonstration site (where the police want them). However, even if a permit is not obtained, the police will appear anyway and although they may allow the demonstration to continue, they may be more intolerant than they would otherwise have been.
If a permit is denied, we recommend that the group call an attorney. She or he may be able to obtain the permit either by re-requesting it at the precinct or by going to court.
Bring identification, not contraband
Persons planning on being arrested should have police-acceptible identification. After the arrest the police transport the arrestee to a police precinct for processing. Unless the charge is a felony, the demonstrator will probably be released as long as her or his identification gives the police reasonable assurance that they know who the person is and where she or he lives. The best identification is a picture driver’s license, but most official-looking identifications issued by an agency, organization or company will usually do. The purpose of learning the address is that, in the event that the demonstrator does not appear in court on the scheduled court date, the authorities could find him or her if they tried (which they would probably never do for a demonstration arrest).
Persons planning on being arrested will be at least superficially searched. If the police discover illegal drugs or anything else illegal they will probably not release the person and will add on additional charges.
Civil disobedience and who should avoid it
Originally civil disobedience meant disobeying laws one felt were fundamentally wrong; it has come to mean disobeying any law in protest of something. In planning a civil disobedience it is most important that those planning to be arrested be made aware of the legal and practical consequences of arrest (see below). They should learn the probable arrest charges the police will give and the probable outcomes they will receive in court. Potential arrestees should also be taught how to minimize the risks of extended police custody by avoiding certain charges, carrying reliable identification and having support at the police precinct.
Persons with outstanding warrants are advised not to get arrested because the warrant may cause the police not to release them from the police precinct. Also, arrest presents risks to non-citizens. While the police do not yet specifically screen arrested persons for immigration issues or automatically communicate with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, non-citizens are required to explain arrests (not just convictions) on many INS applications. Similarly, persons who later may want to apply for jobs involving the government, security or child care may be investigated or asked about arrests, not just convictions, and therefore should weigh participation in a CD very carefully.
Usual civil disobedience charges and release from the precinct
The most common charges against demonstrators are Disorderly Conduct and Trespass. Basically Disorderly Conduct means about what it sounds like it means — acting in a manner the police find disorderly — and Trespass means being present on property without the permission of the rightful custodian of the property. These charges are both “violations” meaning they are not crimes and are about as serious as a moving traffic violation. For these offenses the arrestee is almost always released from the police precinct after being given a ticket informing him or her where and when to go to court.
The next most common charge is Resisting Arrest, which means that the arrestee allegedly exerted force to prevent the police from effecting arrest. (A demonstrator might be given this charge if a police officer uses unreasonable force since the officer wants to establish an excuse for using force.) This offense is a crime, an “A” misdemeanor (and therefore affords the demonstrator to the right to a jury trial). A person is usually released from the precinct with this charge but has a greater chance of being held until court than the above charges.
The courts do not agree on whether or not “going limp” and forcing police to pick up a demonstrator constitutes resisting arrest. Therefore, while persons who go limp risk a Resisting Arrest conviction, there is also legal authority that that is not sufficient conduct to prove Resisting Arrest.
The next most common charge is Riot in the second degree which relates to urging 4 or more persons to to cause property damage or personal injury, or participating in the damage or injury. If there are more than 10 persons involved and there is an injury (including injury to the a police person) or damage, the charge will be a felony – Riot in the first degree – and the arrestee will not be released from the precinct.
Be aware of “going through the system”
Those arrested persons not released at the precinct go “through the system”, meaning that they remain in police custody up to the time 24 to 72 hours later when they see a judge in court. The journey involves at least one police precinct, a place called Central Booking (a pre-court clearing house for all the county’s arrestees), a mass pen in the court building, and finally a court “pen” where the arrestee will be allowed to speak to an attorney. (All persons are assigned an attorney unless they already have one.) The judge decides whether to release or detain the arrestee until the next court date; most demonstrator defendants are released.
Designate a civil disobedience monitor
Whenever arrests are expected, the demonstration group should appoint a person to monitor the arrests. This person should make sure the arrestees have good identification, keep of list of the persons arrested and, if possible, go to the police precinct to make sure things go well there. The monitor should bring paper and pencil to the demonstration and be prepared to make notes. If there is police brutality, the monitor should record the incidents, the names of witnesses and the names of the officers involved. A camera is also helpful for such events.