Exercising Your Rights Of|
Political Protest In Washington, DC
Prepared by the Washington, DC Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild
The Washington, DC Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) has prepared this document to give general legal information to people seeking to press progressive political issues in Washington, DC. The information is intended to assist people who have already independently decided to engage in civil disobedience.
2. Important disclaimer -- do not skim!
3. Special considerations for non-citizens
5. DC Is Different
6. A Few Common Charges Resulting From Protest Activities
7. Know ahead of time what your rights are and how you plan to react to the threat of arrest
8. What happens when you are arrested
9. Precautions for Jail
10. A word on non-cooperation ("jail solidarity")
12. "Forget this! How do I stay out of jail?"
13. The progressive legal community supports you!
14. About us
Washington, DC has a long and full history of political protest. Police and other authorities here are probably more accustomed to demonstrations than in any other city. Still, overreactions are not unknown. We have had a great deal of success in securing permits for demonstrators who want a legal event and in negotiating with police and prosecutors in a reasonable way when demonstrators decide to engage in civil disobedience. The police often try to intimidate protestors into not exercising their First Amendment rights, and arrests are sometimes rougher than necessary.
These materials are offered as a way of disseminating information to anyone considering a demonstration in Washington, DC. They are prepared in preparation for the IMF and World Bank meeting in April, 2000, but we have tried to provide a range of materials that will be useful for most any protest. We try to mention political concerns and choices as they arise, but please keep in mind that often there is a big difference between politics and law. We try to help you understand the legal process to some degree so you can make informed choices, but the most important thing is for you to think through everything ahead of time and decide what you want to do in any given situation before it happens.
- Important disclaimer -- do not skim!
The following overview is not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it intended to substitute for personal legal advice. Each person contemplating exercising his/her political rights in a public forum needs to understand that he/she may have special legal problems. For instance, someone who is on probation or parole for some other offense (perhaps, but not necessarily, political) may have particular legal problems that cannot be covered in this hand-out. Additionally, people who are not U.S. citizens may encounter special legal problems; we do have a section that discusses this topic, but it is by no means exhaustive. Similarly, if there are warrants out for your arrest, you need to be very careful about your contacts with the police -- an arrest here will likely lead to your extradition to whatever jurisdiction wants you. Finally, juveniles under the age of eighteen are dealt with differently than adults. The advice in this manual is geared towards adults.
If you need personal legal advice, you should consult with a lawyer on an individual basis. If you have any doubts about whether you have special circumstances, seek legal assistance.
Additionally, there is a difference between what you are legally entitled to do in a theoretical sense, and what the police on a particular occasion are going to let you do. The police act under the orders of their commanders, who in turn get their orders from others higher up in the government. Accordingly, whether or not a particular police action violates your constitutional rights in an abstract sense (e.g. an order to clear the area), the order may be enforced because someone in control (e.g. a Secret Service officer for the President) orders it.
In such circumstances, remember that the police carry automatic weapons, clubs, tear gas, pepper spray, and other lethal weapons. They are trained in crowd control, are often in good physical shape, may have beat people up in the past, and regularly arrest people and book them into the jail. Personal safety is therefore paramount. Think about it before you insist on vindicating your rights.
- Special considerations for non-citizens
All applicants for admission to the United States have to satisfy the immigration officer who inspects them at the border to see that they are admissible to the United States "beyond a doubt." This requires satisfying both the documentary and substantive requirements. Except for Canadians, most people need a passport and a visa. It is generally permissible to travel to the U.S. as a "visitor for pleasure," for "legitimate activities of a recreational character, including tourism, amusement, visits with green.portaec.net or relatives, rest, medical treatment and activities of a fraternal, social or service nature." Employment is not permitted even where the only remuneration is room, board and pocket change.
All applicants for admission, including those with visas, can be interrogated at the border about their admissibility. A friendly attitude will improve your chances for admission. The most common reason for refusal is vagueness about the purpose and duration of your itinerary, or a lack of firm ties to your home country (like residence, job, family, property) that would convince the officer you will return home within the time allowed.
Confessions of prior illegal activity, like drug use, or past criminal record will also lead to refusal of admission, as would announcing plans to violate the law in the U.S. Even evidence that raises a suspicion in the mind of the officer may be enough, as the burden of proof is on the applicant. Thus a van full of picket signs, banners, and leaflets will likely lead to refusal of admission -- perhaps without a legal basis, but a remedy might come too late to accomplish the visitors' purpose to participate in legal expressions of opinion at a specific event in the U.S. In this regard, it is important not to lie to an immigration officer about your purposes in the United States. Lying to gain admission to the U.S. may lead to very serious sanctions.
The Supreme Court has recently held that the government may target non-citizens because of their lawful First Amendment activities. A conviction in the United States for protest activities can have serious consequences for non-citizens, including deportation or exclusion the next time the person wants to enter the United States. It can also harm your chances of obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident status or citizenship. In short, we believe that all activists need to recognize that the US government is very hostile to non-citizens, who are particularly vulnerable and should be extremely cautious.
If you have further questions or specific concerns in regards to immigration, you should speak with an immigration lawyer. There is also a great deal of information compiled by the National Immigration Law Center,
www.nilc.org, and especially www.nilc.org/immlawpolicy/removcrim/removcrimindex.htm
People under the age of 18 years are treated differently than adults. Those who are obviously under the age of 18 are usually separated from the adults upon arrest. Juveniles are often released at the arrest site or processing facility. Police may be gentler with juveniles but there are no guarantees.
If the youth is not going to be picked up by a parent or legal guardian, he or she may be able to use a permission slip stating that he or she is not a runaway, that he or she has parental permission to be at the demonstration and providing the names, addresses, and phone numbers of one or two people who can pick up the youth. Obviously, this will take some advance planning and is not a legally binding guarantee of the youth's release. The officer may still require a legal guardian to be present. Make sure that a parent or guardian may be reached by telephone for contact by the officer or the legal support person.
Juveniles who are charged with crimes usually (with the exception of serious offenses) are charged in juvenile court. Juvenile court differs from adult court because juveniles do not have the right to a jury trial. In many (but not all) cases, the sentences are not as severe as in adult court.
All juveniles have the right to a lawyer just as any adult has that right.
- DC Is Different
For some reason, many activists coming to Washington for the first time have heard about the many different police forces we have here and are concerned about that factor. There is no reason to be. You will see a broader variety of uniforms here than in other cities, but thats about all there is to it. Here is what to expect.
The Metropolitan Police Department is the primary city police force, responsible for the public streets and non-federal buildings. Most of the parks, monuments, and the grounds surrounding some federal buildings are protected by the United States Park Police. Federal Protective Services, through the General Services Administration, protects federal buildings for agencies that do not have their own police forces, although many do. A Washington protestor is likely to encounter Metro Police, US Park Police, US Capitol Police, Uniformed Secret Service, Defense Protective Services, and the FBI. There are many more, too numerous to list. Although they all have defined jurisdictions, during a protest the lines will blur. Officers can and will make arrests even outside their primary area of responsibility. Processing can be done at any number of local or federal facilities. Charges are usually possible under the DC Code or under federal laws. Trials for charges under the DC Code and even for many minor federal charges are conducted in the DC courts, although serious federal crimes can be tried in the US District Court. In other words, it is entirely possible to be arrested by a Park Police officer, taken to a Metro district to be processed, charged with a federal crime, and tried in the DC courts.
Strange as this may seem at first, it really is nothing to be concerned about. Attorneys and legal observers trained by the National Lawyers Guild and the National Conference of Black Lawyers will be on site, documenting what jurisdictions are making the arrests and trying to find out where protestors are being taken. Additionally, the designated support person in your affinity group should make contact with the legal team after the others are arrested. And you should have an outside support telephone number written on your arm so you can let someone know where you are. With an action the size of A16, we can expect lots of jurisdictions and processing facilities to be involved. The bottom line is that arrests will be conducted by people with the physical ability to do so, regardless of jurisdictional niceities, and prosecutors will decide how to charge you. We will work with whatever specifics work themselves out in the end.
- A Few Common Charges Resulting From Protest Activities
The promise of capitalism is choice, and the police and prosecutors have the resources to select from a vast menu of criminal charges. The same action often can result in very mild or severe charges, at the discretion of the prosecutor. We cannot know in advance what route they will take. However, here are some of the most common charges arising from protest activities that we expect to see again. Remember that the fines and jail time listed are the maximum possible penalty for each offense. The judge has the discretion to give any sentence up to the maximum -- and we can never predict what each judge will do.
A. DC Charges
Incommoding. This is blocking vehicle or pedestrian traffic on the streets, sidewalks, and other walkways. This is by far the most common charge we see when protestors sit down in the street. Sidewalks are trickier because you generally have a right to engage in free speech activities on the public sidewalks; but if you so clog them that no one else can use the sidewalks, you might be charged with incommoding. Maximum penalty is a $250 fine and/or 90 days in jail. DC Code § 22-1107. The charge of disorderly conduct is essentially the same. DC Code § 22-1121.
Note that Obstructing bridges connecting DC and Virginia is punishable by an additional fine of at least $1,000 and up to $5,000, and/or up to 30 days in jail. DC Code § 22-1123.
Failure to obey a Police Officer. Often called "failure to disperse," this charge is possible when the police decide to close a street or clear a path and you refuse to move. The order they give you must be "lawful," which means that if the police issue an unconstitutional order, there is no offense in ignoring it. But police authority is very broad and we wont know if the order was unconstitutional until trial. If the order turns out to have been lawful and you failed to obey it, you can be fined $100-$1,000. DC Muni. Reg. §§ 18-2000.2 & 2000.10.
Unlawful entry on property (trespassing). Remaining on private property after being told to leave is punishable by a fine up to $100 and/or up to 6 months in jail. For government buildings and the surrounding land, there must be some reason that you have been asked to leave, such as to prevent disruption or to maintain security. DC Code § 22-3102.
Resisting or interfering with a police officer is a violation of the same law as assault on a police officer (below). You may not stand in the path of an officer (especially if they are trying to make an arrest) or pull away from them or help another person to pull away from an officer trying to make an arrest. In addition to violating this law (which is quite serious in itself -- up to 5 years), you may be charged with aiding and abetting (below). Resisting arrest is unlawful even if the officer has no rightful basis for arresting you.
Failure to appear. If you have ever been arrested before and did not come to court when instructed to do so, there is a possibility that a warrant will have been issued for your arrest for "failure to appear." Outstanding warrants of this kind from other parts of the country may or may not show up during processing, depending on how thoroughly the jurisdiction where you were arrested has sought the assistance of other jurisdictions. It is best, and probably likeliest, to assume that the authorities here will know if you skipped a court date anywhere else in the country. Failure to appear for a DC court date is a separate offense, so beyond the penalties for whatever you were first arrested for, you can be fined up to the maximum for that offense, and/or an additional 180 days in jail. If you were originally booked on a felony charge, failure to appear is punishable by up to 5 years. DC Code § 22-1110(3)-(4).
False statement. This can come up with forms you are asked to complete before being released. If you put something untrue on a form that says making a false statement is punishable by criminal penalties, you can be fined $1,000 and/or be sentenced to 180 days in jail. DC Code § 22-2514.
The following charges are inconsistent with compliance with the Nonviolence Code of Conduct that everyone involved in the A16 action has agreed to follow. We therefore do not expect to see these, but mention them in case of overcharging by the police.
All participants in this particular action are asked to agree to these action guidelines. Having this basic agreement allows people from many backgrounds, movements, and beliefs to work together. They are not philosophical or political requirements or judgments about the validity of some tactics over others. These guidelines are basic agreements that create a basis for trust so that we can work together for this action and know what to expect from each other.
1) We will use no violence, physical or verbal, towards any person
2) We will carry no weapons
3) We will not bring or use any alcohol or illegal drugs
4) We will not destroy property
Assault on a Police Officer. Any unwanted touching of a police officer is an assault. Touching anything they are holding (nightstick, bullhorn, etc.) is the same as touching the officer. Same for throwing anything at an officer, even if you only accidentally hit them. This is a serious offense, a felony, with a possible $5,000 fine and/or 5 years in prison. DC Code § 22-505.
Destruction of property. Less than $250 in damage is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and/or 180 days in jail. More than $250 in damage is a felony, with a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine and/or 10 years in prison. DC Code § 22-403. Even if there is no "destruction," there is a separate crime of defacing public or private property. DC Code § 22-3112.1.
Also, you should know that these charges exist, although it would be very unusual to see them brought against protestors:
Kidnapping. It is possible to be convicted of kidnapping for confining someone against their will, even without transporting them anywhere. Be very careful about blocking all the exits of hotels and offices. It is an extremely serious offense -- you can be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Rioting or inciting to riot. A group that acts violently and creates "grave danger" of injury or property damage can be fined up to $1,000 and/or sentenced to 180 days in jail. If anyone is harmed or if more than $5,000 in damage occurs, everyone to urged others to take part can receive up to 10 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
Aiding and Abetting. We have not seen this charge used much, but it is possible that if you help someone commit a crime, you can be charged even if you do not take any actions personally. If you assist them before the crime is committed, you can be charged with the same offense. DC Code § 22-105. If you assist the person after they have committed the crime, you can receive a penalty up to half of the maximum they are subject to. DC Code § 22-106.
Conspiracy. Similar to aiding and abetting, when two or more people work together to do something illegal, they can both be charged with the additional offense of conspiracy. Maximum punishment is a $10,000 fine and/or 5 years in prison. DC Code § 22-105a.
Unlawful assembly; profane and indecent language. Most jurisdictions have laws like this on the books. As applied to political protest and speech, they are generally unconstitutional and unenforceable. Only individuals in the crowd who become violent or threatening can be convicted under this law. Maximum punishment is $250 fine or 90 days in jail. DC Code § 22-1107.
Obstruction of justice. Interfering with a police officer is illegal. Please see resisting or interfering with a police officer above, as the conduct described there is a serious crime. However, bad television has confused some people as to what "obstruction of justice" means. It is not illegal to tell someone being arrested to keep quiet, to ask for a lawyer, etc. It only becomes obstruction of justice if you threaten a witness, intending to intimidate them into refusing to testify truthfully, or if you destroy evidence. DC Code § 22-722(a) & 723.
You never have to talk to the police. Sometimes a prosecutor might be able to subpoena you, but then you will have an official document ordering you to answer questions, and you will have time to get legal assistance before doing so. Absent an arrest, you do not even have to identify yourself to the police.
B. Possible federal charges
Finally, there are various federal laws that might come into play in a city like Washington. Demonstrations in most parks in this city are regulated by 36 C.F.R. § 7.96(g), which specifies when permits are required and what types of activity are prohibited. Violating any of those rules is punishable by fines and up to six months in jail, under 36 C.F.R. § 1.3.
Destruction of federal property is a serious crime. If you do anything less than $1,000 in damage it is punishable by a fine and/or up to 1 year in prison; more serious damage can lead to up to 10 years in prison.
Assault on a foreign official (maximum 3 years for simple assault and up to 10 years if a weapon is used; 18 U.S.C. § 112(a)) and intimidation or harassment of a foreign official (up to 6 months in jail; 18 U.S.C. § 112(b)) protect the person, accommodation, and car of any "official guest."
Some people have expressed concern that the government may designate the IMF and World Bank buildings "foreign missions." Please know that this changes nothing. You have the same First Amendment rights when protesting outside an embassy or foreign mission as you do anywhere else. It is still lawful to peaceably congregate and express your political views. During the apartheid era, some people were arrested under laws specific to embassies and foreign missions. Many parts of those laws were declared unconstitutional in 1988 in Boos v. Barry and have since been repealed. The sections regarding congregations were not struck down, but were severely limited. The US Supreme Court ruled that police authority to order such a gathering to disperse when "is limited to groups posing a security threat." When a group is posing a security threat, the police can order it to disperse whether its a foreign mission or a supermarket or anything else. There might be different laws that come into play here, but what you can and cannot do lawfully is not altered by the designation of an area as a foreign mission. A few people have speculated that the government may use the foreign mission designation as an excuse for creating a "secured zone" around the building, but the truth is that they have the same authority and constitutional limits on authority to do this regardless of whether or not it is a foreign mission or just private property. If the designation "foreign mission" is used, its purpose is probably to cause confusion and discomfort -- it cant do much more.
Assaulting, resisting or impeding a federal official is similar to the DC laws discussed above, except there are maximum punishments of 1 to 10 years, depending on whether a weapon was used. 18 U.S.C. § 111.
Finally, the constitutional limitations and exceptions for violating the rules or regulations of a federal building (maximum 30 days and/or a $50 fine) are the same as the similar charges under DC laws listed above.
- Know ahead of time what your rights are and how you plan to react to the threat of arrest
This is one of those personal political decisions we mentioned. You have to make a decision about whether you are prepared to be arrested. Do you see being arrested as part of a political statement that you are committed to making? Would you prefer not to be arrested but are willing if the police try to prevent you from expressing your political views? What are you going to do when the police start arresting protestors?
Read the other materials, talk with other activists, attend trainings, and decide what you believe now. On the street in the thick of a demonstration is not the time to consider these sorts of major personal political choices for the first time. Here are a few legal tips to keep in mind as well.
When a police officer states that you are under arrest, it is serious. Do not run away -- this is a separate crime. Resistance (even of the passive variety) could lead to other charges.
DEMAND TO SPEAK TO A LAWYER! Ask to talk to one immediately if you are being questioned by the police or if you are at all confused by what the authorities are doing. In any case, you may not be given access to a lawyer, but demanding one will often make the cops stop bothering you.
Upon arrest, do not say anything to the police except "I want to remain silent. I want to speak to an attorney." Anything else that is said to the police may be recorded, turned, twisted and manipulated to make you look guilty. Do not say anything to the police. You have a constitutional right to remain silent and to have a lawyer --exercise this right.
If you decide not to give your name and address to the police, as a practical matter you will likely be held in jail pending trial, booked as a "John/Jane Doe." Giving your name may allow you to either be released on your own recognizance or post bail, but doing either of these will be difficult if you refuse to give your name.
CAUTION: It may be the crime of false statement to give a phony name to the police.
Similarly, if you are asked to waive any rights -- i.e. consent to a search of your person or car -- do not agree to anything without consulting with a lawyer first. Tell the officer that you are not consenting to anything and want to speak to a lawyer immediately. Do not sign anything until you talk to a lawyer.
On the other hand, if you feel you are being physically mistreated (i.e. handcuffs on too tight), you should inform the arresting officer of that fact and ask him or her to note your complaint in his/her report. Request that the arresting officer identify him or herself to you, and ask to speak to a commanding officer if the situation is not rectified.
Resist the temptation to try to argue with the police or convince the officer of the error of his or her ways. This will likely only annoy the officer, and can also be used against you at trial.
Two other bits of information:
The police do not have to say anything to you upon arrest, including telling you your "rights" or what you are being arrested for.
Absent an arrest situation, if a police officer approaches you (on the street, for instance) and asks you to identify yourself, you do not have to do so. There is no requirement generally that individuals identify themselves to police officers or carry identification cards (except while driving). If this happens to you, politely decline to identify yourself and ask the officer if you are under arrest or if you are free to leave. If he/she responds that you are free to leave, do so.
- What happens when you are arrested
As we mentioned above, in DC you might be arrested by any number of police forces, federal and local. There are also many processing facilities, again both federal and local, and who arrests you does not necessarily indicate where you will be processed.
During processing, you will be asked for identification. If you provide it, the police will check for any outstanding warrants for your arrest. At some point, the police and prosecutors will decide which of the following options to exercise. If you refuse to give your name, their options are limited to releasing you without charge or booking you into jail (as Jane/John Doe).
Release without charge
In some cases, the police will arrest demonstrators, transport them away from the scene of the protest (sometimes many miles away), get personal information, and then release them onto the street without charge. This might occur if the police are unsure if any crime was really committed and just wanted to clear the area. Prosecutors may then be consulted to see what, if any, charges will be filed. The prosecutors can then take anywhere from a few days to a few months to decide to file charges against you.
If this happens to you, you will be asked to give an address -- giving a false address is a separate crime. If the prosecutors decide to charge you later, they will likely mail notice of your court date to the address you give the police. If notice is mailed to a bad address, it will be returned and you won't get notice of the court date. A warrant for your arrest will then issue.
Citation release ("cite out")
Sometimes, the police will write you a citation to return to court and release you from custody. This option will not be used if you do not give the police your name and address. Also, you are obliged by law to sign the citation, acknowledging only that you received it and promise to appear in court in the future. You are not waiving any rights or admitting guilt by signing the ticket. If you do not sign the citation, you will be booked into jail.
Again, giving a false address can lead to further charges. The ticket should have information on the back about how to find out when the court date is. While officers are required to file citations within 48 hours, they don't always do so and it may require several phone calls to find out when court will be.
Post and forfeit
DC has the option of "post and forfeit," where you pay ("post") a set amount of money (a small amount) and forfeit the right to ever get the money back. You are then released, and you never have to return to court. It is not the same as a guilty plea, and does not become part of your record. It is not a criminal conviction. It is considered an administrative adjudication of your arrest, and is akin to receiving and paying a traffic ticket. If this option appeals to you, you may want to have at least $50 in cash. (In certain circumstances, you can post a small amount of money and request a court hearing to determine the outcome of the arrest. We do not expect this option to be available however on April 16.)
Booked into jail
Finally, the police can decide to hold you. Jails in DC are crowded, and you can be held at Central Holding, any of the six Metro Police District Headquarters, various federal facilities, or an ad hoc facility such as Andrews Air Force Base if the number arrested and held is very large.
If held in jail, you must be brought before a judge within 48 hours, at which time the prosecutor must state why you are being held and provide a very small amount of evidence to show that there is a sound basis for thinking you may have violated the law. It is a very low standard and can usually be satisfied with a police report, but is required by the Constitution.
If they follow normal procedures, sometime before then you will be interviewed to determine whether you can be released on your "Personal Recognizance," which means without bail. Be sure to have the telephone number of your support person or someone else who will verify the information you are giving to the screener. There is no way to be sure who will be denied release PR, which is based on the seriousness of the charge and the perceived risk that you will flee or harm someone. Being released on your own recognizance means that you don't have to pay anything to get out of jail. You will, however, have to return for your arraignment, or you will have committed the crime of Failure to Appear.
Bail is very unusual in DC. If the defendant cannot afford to pay, the courts may not use bail as a way of keeping them in jail. Defendants are generally released either PR or with conditions. If you are required to post bail, it will usually be at least $1,000 and the judge will specify whether it must be paid in cash or by "surety," which is through a bail bondsperson.
- Precautions for Jail
a. Support Person
If you know you will likely be arrested, be sure someone who isn't going to risk arrest knows what you are doing. You don't want to get swallowed up by the system without someone on the outside looking out for you.
b. Local Address
Be able to supply a permanent local address, the name of your employer, if any, other contacts in the DC area, and the phone number of someone on the outside (usually your support person) who can verify all this information. This information may allow you to be released from police custody earlier than otherwise would be the case.
c. Picture ID
If you are planning to cooperate with the police, bring convincing picture identification. If you may not want to cooperate, don't carry I.D., but make sure your support person has your I.D.
d. Illegal Drugs and Weapons
DO NOT have any illegal drugs in your pockets, in your backpack, or anywhere else. (People have been charged for possessing Tylenol 3 without a prescription.) Also, do not have any weapons, which includes folding knives with blades over 3 1/2 inches, any fixed-blade knife -- and even such things as nail files. Do not carry any valuables with you, as these will likely disappear in the jail.
e. Prescription Medications and Medical Needs
When someone is booked into jail, most prescription medications are confiscated and placed into your "property" which is inaccessible to you while in jail, and (possibly) returned to you upon release. For a variety of reasons (security, lawsuits), the jail has a policy of using their own medications for prisoners. The exception to this policy is if the medications are rare and expensive, in which case they will use your prescription.
In the event you are taking medications that are vitally necessary (i.e. for HIV, high blood pressure medicine, etc.), it is very important that (1) you tell the booking officers that you need these medications to live; (2) you have the medications in their original containers (actually, it is a crime to carry prescription medications outside of their original containers); and (3) you have a copy of the prescription from your doctor. The booking officer will then contact a nurse in the jail who will examine your medications and ask you questions, and make the decision (after contacting an on-call doctor if required) as to what happens with your medications.
If you have specific medical needs, be prepared to not have them met. The quality of medical care at the jail has been the subject of lawsuits. Although the authorities must provide "adequate" medical care, their idea of adequate may not be satisfactory.
Phone calls from your support people to the jail can also be effective in improving your access to medical care. It is also wise to leave a bottle of your medicine with your support people in case your bottle is confiscated, which is likely. Having your doctor call the jail infirmary may lead to some medical attention, but it may not. For A16, the legal and medical teams will be working together to pressure the jail into meeting peoples medical needs, although we of course can offer no guarantees. You should contact medical team (firstname.lastname@example.org) to document your medication needs ahead of time.
- A word on non-cooperation ("jail solidarity")
Some activists opt not to cooperate with the legal system. Non-cooperation, or jail solidarity, means that activists as a group refuse to cooperate unless the authorities agree to their demands. These demands include things like equal treatment for everyone in jail, no one isolated from the rest of the group, no probation or fines, and mass court appearances in the largest group possible. There are many types of non-cooperation, include refusing to give names or fingerprints, the refusal sign citations for release from custody, the refusal to be arraigned or otherwise cooperate with the court process. Fundamentally, it means making decisions as a group, acting in harmony with other activists, and committing to safeguard everyones wellbeing. What, if any, jail solidarity tactics to use is a decision you will have to make after discussions with other activists. Please consult the Direct Action Packet and attend non-violence trainings if you are considering participating in jail solidarity.
When you appear in court, a lawyer will be appointed for you. This lawyer may be affiliated with the a16 legal working group, or may not. Whether or not your appointed lawyer is a member of the legal working group, we are making every effort to ensure that all lawyers appointed to represent a16 demonstrators are familiar with the strategies, tactics and goals and are prepared to work in a coordinated way with activists and the legal team. When you are asked, it is important that you request that a lawyer be appointed for you.
- "Forget this! How do I stay out of jail?"
People are wrongfully arrested every day in this country, and no one can tell you that anything is absolutely guaranteed not to result in arrest. We can, however, tell you what the law officially does and does not permit. Generally, if you stick to legal activities and do what the police tell you, you can attend a protest without being arrested. People in vulnerable situations (non-citizens, people with serious illnesses, etc.) will need to be very careful if they decide they do not want to be arrested during the A16 events.
There will be demonstrations surrounding A16 that have obtained permits and follow all the rules. At these events, you can hold signs, make speeches through loud speakers, chant slogans, call politicians whatever name appeals to you at the moment, and generally peaceably express yourself however you wish. You probably will not be allowed to attach signs to trees, light posts, etc. The right of free speech does not include threats or attempts to provoke violence.
Activities outside these permitted areas will be tricky. As a general matter, you have the right to use the public sidewalks to express your views in any way that does not prevent others from using the sidewalk. So you can hand out flyers, hold picket signs, and make speeches. You do not need a permit for this. However, if there is so large a group doing this that others cannot use the sidewalks, you might be asked to move along. More importantly, the police are likely to set up "secure zones" for the IMF and World Bank meetings by closing the streets to the public, including protestors.
There are complex constitutional issues when the police close a street. The right to protest in a non-violent manner in public places is protected by the Constitution, as well as by international law. Although the government can impose reasonable "time, place, and manner" restrictions on public protest, the government may not consider the content of your message, must have a good reason for imposing restrictions, and the restrictions must do no more than absolutely necessary to satisfy those legitimate concerns. Moreover, the government may not channel speech to areas where the speakers are ignored. For example, if someone wants to protest against the IMF, the police cannot compel the protestor to stand five miles away from the meetings in a "free speech zone," as some government officials have attempted to do in the past (notably in Seattle!). In the end, we may get a court to declare street closings unlawful, and anyone arrested for violating those unconstitutional rules will be declared not guilty, and there may be other remedies as well. But if your concern is with staying out of jail all together, the unfortunate truth is that in the short run the police have the power (if not the rightful authority) to close streets any time they want. The same goes for parks and other public places.
Federal buildings often have special rules. Increasingly in recent years, the government has begun constructing barricades around federal buildings that may enclose much or all of the sidewalk. We are unaware of any prosecutions to date for demonstrating within these barriers, and the constitutionality of limiting speech there is highly questionable. Recently, two courts declared a law banning expressive activity in front of the US Capitol without a permit unconstitutional, refusing to convict a protestor and issuing an injunction against enforcing that law. Still, the government justifies impositions on protest and other activity as needed to combat terrorism, and the courts have often looked the other way when the First Amendment gets trod on by "national security."
Sometimes businesses own the walkways immediately surrounding the buildings. If picketing takes place on private, rather than public property, it may not be constitutionally protected. The First Amendment only protects us from government actions -- not the actions of private parties. T Usually if it looks like a public sidewalk, you have a great deal of free speech rights there. Still, if you picket plazas outside office buildings and shopping malls, you run the risk being charged with trespassing.
Marches in the streets (but not on the sidewalks) require a permit. The police in DC have dealt with unpermitted marches in the past by: (1) allowing them to go on, and even offering an ad-hoc police escort; (2) physically blocking off the street and not allowing the protestors to pass; (3) arresting people. Again, if you have decided that you cannot be arrested, you should avoid unpermitted marches and demonstrations and obey police commands.
- The progressive legal community supports you!
You will notice a lot of lawyers, law students, and others with legal skills and experience at meetings, running trainings, and in the streets with you. We are happy to try to help you make an informed decision about what actions to take.
During the protests, you will notice people with "legal observer" ID badges. They are there to document everything -- exactly what happens, what warnings the police give, and how rough they are being -- and to be witnesses for protestors at trial. The police are trained to record information for use later in court, and while the police report may be slanted and biased, the officers are usually trained to make it sound objective. You need your own trained witnesses. If someone is being arrested or harassed by the police and you do not see any legal observers, please try to find one and direct them towards the activity.
Lawyers will be trying to reach you as soon as you are arrested. We anticipate having enough lawyers licensed to practice in DC that we will have complete teams in the streets, at the courthouse, and at all the processing facilities. However, the police may not let them in to talk with you. Please know that, no matter what the police tell you, we are trying to reach you. Keep insisting on speaking with an attorney. Even if you decide not to use the assistance of an attorney at trial, they can be helpful in passing messages between groups of protestors and providing information you cannot otherwise get.
In the week before the A16 protests, you will be provided with a phone number for a legal support center where you should call after being arrested. Before and during the actions, you will see members of the Midnight Special Law Collective (formerly DAN legal- Direct Action Network Legal), National Conference of Black Lawyers, National Lawyers Guild, Public Defender Service, and independent lawyers, law students, and legal support people. We are all working together and committed to assisting you in exercising your constitutional rights and coming out of the legal process able to continue your work. However, you may or may not be represented by one of these lawyers or legal groups at any subsequent court hearings or trials. Jail solidarity (and any trials or negotiations to come later) are being coordinated by the Midnight Special Law Collective, many members of which bring with them the Seattle WTO experience, which they will share with activists in trainings and jailhouse meetings. It is very important that you learn the legal contact number, give it to your support person, keep it in a safe place, and write it on your arm during the protests. If you are unable to find this number or contact the legal team, you may leave a message on (202) 318-0855 -- but this is not the contact number, only a last resort.
- About us
-Preamble to the NLG Constitution, adopted 1937
- The National Lawyers Guild is an association dedicated to the need for basic change in the structure of our political and economic system. We seek to unite the lawyers, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers of America in an organization which shall function as an effective political and social force in the service of the people, to the ends that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property rights. Our aim is to bring together all those who regard adjustments to new conditions as more important than the veneration of precedent; who recognize the importance of safeguarding and extending the rights of workers, women, farmers, and minority groups upon whom the welfare of the entire nation depends; who seek actively to eliminate racism; who work to maintain and protect our civil rights and liberties in the face of persistent attacks upon them; and who look upon the law as an instrument for the protection of the people, rather than for their repression.
If you are interested in more information about this pamphlet or about the National Lawyers Guild, contact us at:
National Lawyers Guild, DC
C/O Alisa Wilkins
1666 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20009
National Lawyers Guild
126 University Place
New York, NY 10003
Permission is hereby granted to duplicate and distribute this document, provided that it is reproduced in its entirety.
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