Police Brutality and
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
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.
"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
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
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
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
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.
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
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!