Facilitators: Samantha Miller at DC Action Lab, Kaajal Shah at Train the Movement: A Trainers of Color Collaborative, Caleb Medearis at the DC National Lawyers Guild, and Marques Banks from Black Movement-Law Project
II. Why is it important to know your rights as a protester?
- The major themes are as follows:
a. It’s frightening to deal with officers without knowing one’s rights. Fear of police brutality and repression prevents individuals from protesting. Being informed about one’s rights is empowering.
b. It is helpful to know how to deal and manage cops during protests.
c. For organizers and planners of these protests, it’s important to be prepared since one is responsible for the lives of others.
d. One individual brought up that in her experience protesting in Ferguson, she saw that when protesters weren’t aware of their rights, it was easier to take advantage of them.
e. Other POCs in the room, however, stated that when they assert their rights to officers, the cops are meaner.
f. Another reason organizers should know their rights is to maintain the safety of individuals.
g. Ensure the safety of others
h. Cops lie
i. Cops are also misinformed about protesters’ rights
III. Know Your Rights in DC (Laws)
a. DC is a very unique city. It is relatively better in handling protests than other cities, because DC has so much experience with it and has been sued by protesters in the past a lot. DC also has dozens of law enforcement agencies. Some are local, federal, international, and private entities.
b. Depending upon the jurisdiction and land, there are different law enforcement agencies that have jurisdiction.
IV. Categories of Laws that are used against protesters:
a. Assault - Assault is a broad category in DC. Assaulting a police officer is a serious offense. Even if the initial search or stop was illegal, in DC one cannot resist arrest.
b. Trespassing laws are used against protesters
V. Facts about MPD
- MPD is the main police agency in DC. They have a ten page guide, including information on assemblies that are protected under the First Amendment. The booklet is available online and covers the types of activities and actions that are allowed.
- In DC, it’s easier to shut down streets and intersections. MPD has a hands off approach but this may differ for BLM protesters.
-Protesters aren’t allowed to block freeways.
- IN DC, there are specialized statutes that deal with the Supreme Court grounds, the capitol grounds, and the DOJ/FBI buildings.
- Different federal agencies, including the White House have their own distinct law enforcement agency
- DC has over 25 police agencies – We have the Secret Service, Park Police, MPD, DHS, FBI, and other law enforcement agencies.
VI. Legal Observation
a. It’s important to have legal observers to document and be mindful of what’s happening. Legal observers aren’t the ones who get arrested but observe and take notes if there are any police violations.
b. Some of the laws that are used against protesters include trespassing laws.
c. With different groups, MPD will respond differently
d. If you have a permitted protest, the police will give you more preference over unpermitted protests.
e. Counter – Protest – Police might be more sympathetic to one group over another and that plays a role in how they enforce the laws.
f. In some cases they have will a hands off approach. However, that is dependent on the group.
VI. Protest Law
a. Police haven’t mass arrested in DC for years, and as a policy don’t do that anymore. If that happens, you may get a settlement. MPD will give you 3 warnings.
- Exception to that rule is property destruction/perceived violence/ escalating violence. There are no warnings in place in those cases.
- Blocking passages - MPD is the only police agency that follows their general orders and protocol. Capitol and Park Police have their own order/protocol. At this point, they haven’t released how they are being governed.
- When you are out there in the streets protesting, please make sure to listen.
- Protesters can take one lane in the street for marches.
MPD will offer three warnings. Then, they will read out a violation code.
b. How much time is there between warnings?
o It is arbitrary and the MPD has to organize themselves, and it could be 2 minutes/and they will say “this is your only warning” – (this could change depending on the person)
o Cops lie and it’s important to pay attention
What are the things they can’t do as police? (Central Rights)
o There are laws on the books but cops can do as they please
Some things to note include:
- In general, if its less than 25 people then you don’t need a permit.
- You are entitled to get a permit and you can take a lane of traffic. You need a minimum of 10 people to take a lane for a march.
g. Being on a sidewalk – You can block the sidewalk if you are under 25 people.
NOTE: While these are general guidelines, law enforcement can arrest at any moment.
Police Liaison: Someone who engages with police, communicates between the protesters and the law enforcement, and buys more time. Police are hierarchal agencies. Choosing who the police liaison is someone who should have more privilege, and typically be a White man or a person who has the least chances of being criminalized. That person does not make decisions for the group, but is just a communication conduit. A police liaison should also be able to deescalate a situation.
VII. Legal Support
Some of the materials to use for legal support:
a. Legal Support Forms - You need their legal name, Birthday, Name
b More information - Who would they like called or talked to regarding the arrest ? Call their mom
c. Support them on how it relates to their arrest
d. Medical History /Issues
e. If there is any additional information, such as does the person have a criminal record? Is the person trans or undocumented, and what types of support does this type of individual need.
f. Consulting with a lawyer can give you a pretty good understanding.
g. MPD/Park police/Secret Service – nuanced area in terms of who has authority and jurisdiction
VIII. Legal Support Structure
a. Legal Support includes someone who serves as the support system and doesn’t get arrested
b. Most of the time if you get arrested in DC, you aren’t going to get locked up on serious charges
c. You will be out for about 12 hours and may not be transferred to Central Cellblock. There will never be a point you can make a phone call.
d. Legal support will include an offsite person who is sharing information and tracking where the person arrested is as they are going through the process.
e. MPD /Park Police (ware house) – typically the police will tell everyone where the arrestees are
f. Legal Observers – Make sure the legal observers are asking where people are being taken.
a. People are waiting and supporting the individual from the outside – They will have metro cards/and rides. They can debrief and provide support.
b. It’s important to have a friendly support network after someone is released. Familiar voices are helpful.
c. Court Support – Making sure there are friends/comrades who are supporters and are sitting within the courts. This is important and serves as a boost.
- In DC we don’t use bail money. People get arrested in DC, and the judge will make an assessment. There will be restrictive conditions. 90% of individuals are released back out. DC is more progressive and you should get a lawyer before arraignment.
- Always state you have a right to remain silent and that you would like to talk to a lawyer. Don’t make decisions without a lawyer.
- If you get arrested, then it will show up on your record. There are ways to work with Caleb to get one’s record sealed.
a. Legal Observers are there to document what goes wrong
b. They are typically law students, lawyers, and they observe what’s happening, and it can curtail the action of the police. Presence of observers means there are more restraints. They can also talk to lawyers.
c. It’s key to have someone work on legal observations.
d. Typically Law Enforcement have their own marshals. NLG works with grassroots organizers and trains anyone interested in being trained.