STAY STRONG, STAY SAFE: Creating Anti-Repression Strategies for the Movement
So you have an affinity group and you are planning an action… Don’t forget to talk about and plan for contact with law enforcement! It doesn’t matter whether or not your action is intended to lead to symbolic arrests. We know from hard experience that the NYPD is prepared to arrest anyone whether or not they are engaged in civil disobedience or committing a crime.
Getting arrested if you have an open warrant, an immigration detainer, or if you seem to be unconnected to the community (no permanent address, no stable job, no local family) can have serious consequences for you, for your political work, for your friends, and for the movement. As you are planning and carrying out your action, check in about the potential for legal consequences. Here is a rough checklist. Discuss it! Add to it!
Love and Solidarity,
The Anti-Repression Committee of OWS Activist Legal
Know your own criminal history
You can look yourself up on webcrims here: http://iapps.courts.state.ny.u
You MUST investigate and find out
- If there are warrants or open cases and
- If you can rectify it before your action.
You and your group need to know if any of you have something that could enhance the consequences of you getting arrested.
If you have a warrant or could get deported (and even lawful permanent residents can be deported for certain kinds of crimes) you need to take a role in this action that will not involve you getting arrested. Even if you feel prepared to suffer the consequences of an arrest, your arrest does not only have consequences for you. Your arrest can compromise your particular action, your affinity group, and movement resources. It can bring unusually intense scrutiny on your associates.
Avoiding arrest is not cowardly; it is long-term strategy that allows you and your friends to continue to do important work.
Plan for jail support
Identify someone to do legal/jail support.
If there is someone who is unarrestable, this is a good role for them! Understand that the action is not over when the action is over; planning for possible legal fallout is part of planning for the action.
Have a plan for arrest
Everyone should fill out emergency arrest worksheet. Think about how to husband and gather your resources for things like bail, and caring for the pets or families of arrestees.
Download a smartphone app that will notify your group members and other contacts if you are arrested, so they know to activate the arrest plan.
Know what you’re getting into
Identify the possible legal consequences of your action, for each member of the group, and also for people who might somehow be implicated, even if they are not taking a knowing or active role in your action.
This means finding a criminal defense lawyer to talk to about hypothetical situations. Call the National Lawyers Guild for a referral, or your own attorney if you have already been assigned one.
Make sure you practice good security culture. Nobody needs to know more than they need to know. Create a community agreement that nobody will talk to police, FBI, corporate security, or a grand jury – and that you will not talk about the action even after it’s over! (see and adapt model agreement to suit your needs)
A special note: Security does not just apply to actions that are unlawful! If we know anything about the criminal penal system it’s that your innocence does not necessarily protect you. The best way to prevent police and prosecutors from going after you – even for something you factually had nothing to do with – is to make sure they don’t have any information that they can (mis)interpret as tying you to a crime. Likewise, because the system does not protect the innocent, we must protect the innocent. That means not setting a dumpster on fire right next to another affinity group’s non-violent civil disobedience! We are all autonomous, but we are also connected, and our actions affect the world – if they didn’t, why would we bother struggling? So if you are going to engage in conduct that is, ahem, “diverse,” make sure that the only people who have to bear the possible consequences are those who have consented to sign on to the action.
Plan ahead for a political response to arrests, charges, and grand jury subpoenas. Talk to your attorney about the pros and cons of publicity. Pack the courts. There are many historical examples of activists planning ahead and incorporating a political and media strategy for after the action to support their friends throughout arrest, trial, and sentencing. Political pressure can affect legal proceedings.
Have a careful and coherent analysis that works to expose law enforcement misconduct or harassment, without endangering anyone’s criminal case or distracting from your larger agenda.
At every stage of planning an action, ask:
What are the legal and political consequences of my action for myself, my loved ones, my comrades, and my political goals?
Are there strategic alternatives to each part of our plan that will help us to minimize legal fallout? Plan ahead.
Stay strong, and stay safe.