Protect Yourself against Militarized Police
What the Occupy Evictions Brought to Light
The militarization of our police forces has been shoved into the spotlight, first, by the evictions of the Occupy protests, and more recently, by the actions of police at other protests. The police show up in riot gear, on horseback, and with SWAT teams, to oust people who are sleeping peacefully. The police show up in the dead of night, and block media teams from reporting on what is happening during the evictions. The police use pepper spray even on people who are not resisting, as well as freely using teargas, batons, rubber bullets, tasers, and other "less-lethal" methods of "crowd control." Some of the equipment was intended for military use only, but has been bought by local police forces to suppress civilian rights.
People are being arrested on such charges as "private use of a public sidewalk" or "improper use of a sidewalk." Often protesters were held in jail or detention centers, sometimes without charges, for days. So it is clear that ordinary civilians must learn to protect themselves against the police, as their experience in the Occupy evictions has helped the police become more bold in their actions against ordinary people, even those who are not breaking the law.
The number of police shootings of civilians has escalated dramatically since this article was first written, and the Black Lives Matter movement brought this to the forefront. The lack of video in the Michael Brown shooting, and the video in the Walter Scott shooting, reinforce the need for civilians to record everything the police do.
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One of the best ways to protect yourself in any encounter with the police is to record everything. Despite attempts to suppress video recording the police, a federal court has just ruled that the police may be filmed in any public setting. However, usually the police will try to tell you that it is illegal to record them. So the best way to record an encounter with the police is by recording events in the most unobtrusive way possible. Thanks to the "nanny cam" revolution, originally designed for people to spy on their employees, these tiny video recorders are now being hidden in just about anything you can think of: pens, watches, key fobs, glasses, sunglasses, alarm clocks, flashlights, cigarette lighters, and everything else. The police are now becoming aware of the video capabilities of mobile phones, and while mobile phone video is useful, an officer can "accidentally" knock your phone to the ground and possibly break the camera and mobile phone. Recently, police have been arresting anyone who is obviously recording video of their actions from a cell phone, or visibly tweeting events. In addition, police have been caught attempting to delete cell phone videos. However, the police will be much less likely to suspect a pen, a watch, or a car keyring of having a video camera going. Even the video cameras without audio may be useful, especially if you are (or someone else is) also recording an encounter on a mobile phone. This will give you two different camera angles with a soundtrack. Having video with two different camera angles is much harder to disprove than a single camera angle. If you are at a protest or demonstration, multiple recordings are extremely useful in capturing different segments of the action.
If you drive, get a dashcam for your car. Dashcams are inexpensive, and able to record yet another viewpoint. If you are stopped, and a police officer tells you to turn off your car, turn the key so that the engine is off, but the dashcam is still powered, and before you come to a stop, change the angle of your dashcam so that it is recording a different angle than the police officer's dashcam. You may or may not get the whole incident on video, but again, multiple camera angles are everything when it comes to evidence.
The Whole World is Watching
The Occupy protesters often chanted "The Whole World is Watching!" to deter police from misusing their authority. With multiple recordings and the ability to upload video to YouTube and Facebook almost instantaneously, this is now becoming a reality very quickly. Most police departments still have not adjusted to modern technology and social media, and for a while yet, police who misuse their authority are still going to be forced into good behavior. The police learned this at the University of California-Davis pepper-spray incident, but it will be a while before all police departments learn this lesson.
Safety in Numbers
As horrible as it sounds, if you want to protect yourself against overly aggressive police officers, try not to go anywhere alone, but always try to take someone with you, even if you just have a quick errand. You never know when you are going to get caught up in something you have nothing to do with; even just being in a nearby parking lot when a crime is committed might make you the target of unwanted police attention. Make sure everyone with you has some way to record any encounter with police that you have and knows how to use their recording device and post it online. The only way to keep overly aggressive police forces in check is with the court of public opinion.
Don't Be Conspicuous
Again, this is repressive, but if you need to protect yourself, try to dress and act as much like a member of the establishment as it is possible to do. If you are a non-Caucasian, dressing in business attire is highly recommended, because studies show that police officers are more likely to be aggressive with non-Caucasian civilians. Drive an ordinary car and keep the stereo down (switch to a classical station if you can)! Try in no way to call attention to yourself.
Speak in quiet, polite, respectful tone if you are worried about getting hurt. In every case, try to record the officer's name and badge number, and ask exactly what it is that you are being singled out for. Aggressive officers will often make up something plausible-sounding, and if they do, that may enable your case to get thrown out of court, because anything that happens after that is often inadmissible.
Memorize your lawyer's phone number. Repeat it to yourself a million times until you are sure you will be able to remember it when you are upset and can't think straight. If you can't do that, dial someone you trust on your cell phone and have them pay attention to what is going on so they can help you.
It's Who You Know
When you have your recordings posted online, it's time to let the whole world know. Don't alert only your friends, but also the Twitter accounts of local news stations and local bloggers. If you have already cultivated a relationship with them, so much the better. The faster and more widely spread your recordings can move through multiple channels, the less time police departments have to "cook up a story" to defend their positions. The more of a jump you can get on them, and get your point of view out ahead of theirs, the more favorably you will be treated.
Go to your local city council meetings, if you can, to protest against any police misconduct. Write letters and start a phone bank to pressure your local authorities into de-escalating police situations. Pressure any elected official to stop authorizing budgets for riot gear and expanded use of "less lethal" weapons. Film every police encounter, as much as possible, even if you are not directly involved, and show those films at your local town halls or city council meetings. Keep logs and statistics, and above all, publish those anecdotes on the internet. Above all, register to vote, help others register to vote, and show up at the polls. You can elect better sheriffs, better constables, better district attorneys, and better judges.