No Compromise


Issue 6

Page 19

Police Brutality and You
Helpful Tips for Activists
by an LSARA (Law Student Animal Rights Alliance) Member

This article offers suggestions on how to deal with the ever-increasing problem of being brutalized by our nation's finest Neanderthal thugs, otherwise known as your local police force. It is intended for entertainment purposes only! Anyone who has legal problems should consult an attorney. And, of course, it goes without saying that any suggestion of unethical or law-breaking behavior is not condoned by the author, nor are the views expressed necessarily those of LSARA.

Let's go chronologically: we will start with what to do BEFORE you're beaten senseless, what to do WHILE you're being beaten senseless, and what to do AFTER you've been beaten senseless.

Before You're Beaten Senseless:

"So, what should I bring to my beating?" you might ask. Like the little Nazi Youth Corps (aka the Boy Scouts), always be prepared. My suggestions include the following:

Don't just limit yourselves to my suggestions - think up some others. We AR people are a creative bunch!

Okay, now you have everything you need and you're ready to meet the speciesist, racist, homophobic and otherwise-backwardass-people who are going to beat you. "So, what do I do when I meet these thugs?" The first thing to remember is that you are not yet under arrest and that's important because, as long as you're not under arrest, you still retain some "rights," and the cops haven't started any paperwork on you. If the encounter is fairly casual, a cop's natural desire to avoid work or other trouble works in your favor. Usually, it will be sufficient to obey the guy.

A cop who detains you is allowed to pat you down for weapons. This type of search is limited to a superficial feeling of the outside of your clothing to see if you have a weapon on you. They cannot legally use this search to discover anything else, but they do anyway.

Don't complain or express any emotion and certainly not humor. Let the cop know that he's dealing with somebody who recognizes his authority in the situation. This advice to essentially "kiss ass" is only good advice, since it increases your chances of getting away without much more trouble. It is very possible to be caught breaking some law or other and have the situation not go any further than the cop telling you to stop it. If that's the case, just obey and then get away from the cop as quickly as possible without pissing him off. The majority of times a cop speaks to you, it will be an encounter like the one just described.

Acting cocky or otherwise antagonizing a cop may even serve to nullify your ability to retaliate later. Let's suppose the cop does some serious damage; at that point, the police department will be less willing to sacrifice that cop and admit they hired a psychopath, because the publicity would be so bad. If the cop was merely rude, they might get on his case a little bit. But, if he breaks your neck, they are more likely to rally around him and so will the prosecutor. Normally, in cases of police brutality, prosecutors don't even bring charges and it is never reported in the newspapers. Sometimes a prosecutor will call up his grand jury and get them to refuse to press charges. Plus, why get your head caved in due to multiple billyclub shots if you don't have to?

Avoid conversing with the cop because you may incriminate yourself. Whether it seems likely or not, this is the first phase of an investigation and the cop, by asking you questions, is interrogating you. He is listening carefully to everything you say and you aren't going to outwit him. Cops have been trained for this and have had lots of practice, so don't expose yourself. Plus, you could piss him off and then he'll beat you!

On the other hand, this doesn't mean that you should stand there meekly and take whatever shit the cops give you. You can strike back, but do it in a way that lets them know that you know the rules.

For instance, if a cop tells you to do something you don't have to do (e.g., "You just go on home now," or "Keep moving; there's nothing to see here..."), you can refuse. Even if the cop starts to arrest you, you can read yourself your own rights: "Officer, I haven't done anything wrong, but as long as you're going to act like this, I know I have the right to remain silent and that I have the right to an attorney. Until I have an attorney, I'd prefer to discontinue this conversation." This might give the cop something to think about.

If you're not under arrest but not quite free to go and the cop has, for example, pulled you over for whatever reason, whether the reason is legitimate or not, and now is asking you questions you don't want to answer and don't have to answer - if you don't answer, he may view that as suspicious behavior and use that against you, perhaps placing you under arrest. In this situation, it's best to simply tell the cop outright that you don't want to answer any more questions and ask him if you're free to go. If he says you are, then bid him good day and quickly leave the scene. If you're not free to go, then ask him whether you are under arrest or being investigated for a crime. If he says "yes" to either of those questions, then you ask for an attorney. Just say, "I want an attorney," and nothing more. That's it anyway. You're about to go to jail.

Once again, be polite about it. There's still some chance he'll let you go if he doesn't feel he needs to question you. But remember, if the cop arrests you because you don't want to answer questions that are none of his business, you know he was going to arrest you regardless of whether or not you answered his questions.

While You're Being Beaten Senseless:

Okay, let's say that all of your efforts to diffuse the situation have gotten you nowhere with this Dirty Harry wannabe. He still wants you to make his day by being his personal punching bag or whatever. After all, he probably had a miserable childhood and now needs to take his anger and frustration out on someone. Hell, that's why he signed up to be a cop in the first place, right? Running away is an option if you are trying to avoid serious injury and may give you time to notify the press, authorities, a lawyer, etc. It could also allow you to get away and stay free from punishment (especially if you gave the cop a false name). The drawback here is that you might get shot while attempting to flee.

If running isn't an option, then you are going to have to make do. If they hurt you, YELL and do it loudly, stating something significant like, "You're breaking my arm!" with a follow-up of, "You can break every bone in my body and I still couldn't move if I wanted to because I'm locked to the door!" If the cops whisper threats in your ears, restate them loudly so the public can hear and perhaps with some extra embellishments like, "Stick that baton up your own ass! And I don't appreciate your sexist threats of sexual assault!"

If they are really beating you, drop to the ground into a fetal position covering your head with your hands and start shouting, "I'm not resisting arrest!" If there is anyone nearby, scream for help and ask them to call 911. If your friends call 911 on their rented cellphones, the conversation should be kept on file for at least three months. And, of course, it can demonstrate in court that you were a victim of police brutality. It may also bring more witnesses and/or help to the scene. It almost goes without saying that all of your friends with video cameras, tape recorders, etc. should be documenting every last blow.

After You've Been Beaten Senseless:

Ask for medical treatment from everyone you meet. They may not give it to you but, hopefully, at the very least, there will be a lot of people who knew that you had asked for it but didn't receive it. This helps in court, especially if your lack of treatment causes your health to suffer. That means larger damage awards and more legal culpability. Plus, hospitals are much nicer to spend time in than jails. Make friends with your medical personnel because they might be testifying on your behalf. If you were released after being beaten, get your injuries checked out by a doctor. Besides, tending to your wounds, the medical personnel will examine your injuries before they heal and will be able to testify about them to a jury.

The next thing to do is find a lawyer or two. You will probably need to handle the criminal charges first, so you should try to get a movement lawyer who does criminal cases. They can be found by consulting with your animal rights friends. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Lawyers Guild are two good places to start. Look for your local chapter. Left wing groups may be able to steer you to someone good too. Barring that, there's always the Public Defender's office and if the Public Defender is a schmuck, you can always use him/her for consultation and do the case yourself. You can get assistance from Larry Weiss at the Activist Civil Liberties Committee at 707-576-1415. Actually, Larry should be the first person you call because he can guide you through the whole process as a legal advisor.

You can find your personal injury lawyer the same way you found your criminal attorney except of course by looking in the Public Defender's office. You can also consult your local phone book and check under "Personal injury" in the "Lawyer" or "Attorney" section. Attorneys will work on what is known as a contingency fee basis. This means that they will get a percentage of your damages award (usually no higher than 25 percent) and will get nothing if damages are not awarded. Always call a few different places to find out if they are interested. Just because one place isn't interested, doesn't mean that another won't be.

The best places have private investigators, doctors, years of experience and are "client friendly." If you can't get an attorney, you may be able to file on your own with a little help from your legal friends. Eventually, you may be able to download the legal pleadings from the Rodney King case on the LSARA web page, change it around a little and then file it. This is also good for people who have minor injuries and who want to teach the cops a lesson. If you are broke (like most of us), there is nothing bad that can occur out of your filing a suit for these injuries that you can't get lawyers to file. The worst that can happen is that you are made to pay the other side's legal costs. They won't be able to get blood from a stone, so if you haven't already arranged your assets so that you are technically broke, maybe you should see a lawyer about that as well. Animal Rights America (201-228-7632) may be able to send you to someone who might be able to help remedy that little problem. Minimally, you should go down to the police station and fill out a police misconduct form (or whatever is necessary to file a formal complaint where the incident took place). If you are in New York City, call the Center for Constitutional Rights (800-764-0235) and ask to be included in their class action suit. (That's assuming your case doesn't attract any lawyers who think that there are big bucks to be made from your injuries!)

Also noteworthy is coordinating your criminal case with your civil case. You can use the civil case to get your charges dropped and make money at the same time through a somewhat complex set of legal maneuvers. If you find an attorney who truly understands how something called a ?/Bivens" action works, you have probably found a winner. The police brutality you suffered may allow you to file this civil rights action as part of an aggressive criminal defense. If your attorney is interested in learning more about using a 1983/Bivens action, have him/her call the Law Students Animal Rights Alliance at 619-721-0361.

Lastly, the statute of limitations on a civil rights/personal injury suit may be long enough so that you can graduate from law school and file your own suit! There are law schools that will take anyone. Some don't even require an undergraduate degree. There are also many creative ways to finance your schooling and quite frankly, the movement needs lawyers who will represent activists. So even if you don't get to bring your own suit, there will be (sadly enough) tons more waiting for you when you graduate.

Civil suits must be brought! Otherwise, the violence against activists will only get worse. File your lawsuit today and put an end to police brutality once and for all! 

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