Protesters Have Rights: Here’s What To Do If You Get Arrested

Photo: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images.
In New York City, police slammed people to the ground, shot pepper spray indiscriminately, and wielded nightsticks during a chaotic weekend of protests ignited by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 
Nearly 1,000 arrests were made in three days alone, with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own daughter among those who had been apprehended by police. Outside of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, police officers in many cases tackled protestors, using zip-ties to bind their hands and eventually loading people onto MTA buses and other vehicles that had been converted into makeshift police vans. Once onboard, those who had been detained were forced in many cases to wait hours before finally being transported to a processing facility where — in the best-case scenario — they would receive a desk appearance ticket for "unlawful assembly" and released.
CNN commentator Keith Boykin, who tweeted about his arrest at 96th street and West Side Highway in Manhattan on Friday, said that police “took my photo but they never read me my Miranda rights and never charged me with any serious crime. After 6 hours in police custody, they finally let me out of jail with a summons to appear in court.” Boykin’s charges ultimately included “walking on the highway” and “disorderly conduct — blocking vehicular traffic.”
But what Boykins pointed out here is important — he was never read his Miranda rights, and he knew it. As thousands continue to participate in protests that will surely face police violence, that knowledge is imminent. If you are planning to take part in the nationwide demonstrations in support of Black lives but are worried about the possibility of arrest, it’s important to remember that protestors have rights — even if they’re not always made immediately clear by the police. Read on for more information about what to do if you’re arrested for protesting.

Know your rights.

Protests are often put in disorganised, frenzied environments where police officers may or may not be willing to respect your rights. But even in the fog of war, your right to assembly is still constitutionally enshrined, and communicating that fact clearly to the officer arresting you — and questioning what law you’ve violated and why you’re being arrested in the first place — is the first and most basic way to guarantee your rights.
If an officer can’t or won’t provide you with a reason for apprehending you, ask clearly if you are free to walk away. If the officer is applying force and doesn’t seem up for a conversation, remain calm and do not resist. Know that you do not have to consent to a search of your belongings, and that you do not, under any circumstances, have to delete photos or videos from your phone.
If you’re able to, record or remember the arresting officer’s badge number or identifying information, or make plans beforehand with the people you’re attending the protest with to have someone else record or document your arrest, in the event that it should happen. This information could be helpful later on down the road during any legal proceedings, or for any written complaints you plan to file with the agency’s internal affairs division or your city’s civilian complaint board.

Be prepared with the right supplies.

If you’re anticipating a high volume of arrests at the demonstration you’re attending and are worried about accessing a daily medication that you’re prescribed, many organisers recommend bringing a one or two day supply with you in its pharmacy-issued prescription bottle. Although it will be confiscated from you during processing, the medication itself will still be held with you at the precinct along with your other confiscated belongings, and will be available to you in the event of an emergency. 
Prior to attending the protest, it’s also a good idea to have open communication with friends and emergency contacts about the possibility of your arrest. Do research beforehand, and let them know which police facility you are likely to be processed at so they’ll have a better idea of how to find or reconnect with you.

Have a lawyer’s number ready.

Finally, have the number of a lawyer or legal group readily available (writing it on your arm or elsewhere on your person is a good way to ensure that you won’t lose it in a scrum and will still have it even if your phone is confiscated). 
During a time of mass protest, many progressive legal groups, including the National Lawyers Guild, strive to provide legal assistance to activists, including pro bono or low cost lawyers. Community bail funds — many of which have been overwhelmed by charitable donations in recent days — are also positioned to help antiracism activists by providing money for legal support, bail, court fines and fees.
While being arrested is no picnic, there are many resources at the disposal of those who oppose white supremacy and police brutality. Remain calm, stay informed, and remember that anything that happens now is in service of a better future.

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