New Pocket ‘Zine: Film the Police & Know Your Rights
This info below is compiled from a range of sources and our personal experiences. @nti-copyright.
Download a PDF (1.3MB) of the pocket ‘zine here: www.indigenousaction.org/wp-content/uploads/Film-the-Police-zine-know-your-rights-SMALL.pdf
Having active witnesses with video documentation can prevent a bad situation from potentially being a whole lot worse (either on the street or in the courtroom). It also really helps to either know their laws (your “rights”) or have someone who knows them have your back. Groups like Copwatch and Copblock are organized just for that.
What is Copwatch?
Copwatch is a movement of individuals or groups that observe and document police activity to prevent police misconduct and police brutality. The Berkeley Copwatch handbook states, “We have joined together to fight for our rights and the rights of our community by taking on the task of directly monitoring police conduct. That’s right. We walk the streets and watch the police. Although it is important to resist police brutality by taking cops to court, filing complaints and having demonstrations, we believe that it is crucial to be in the streets letting the police know that THE PEOPLE will hold them accountable for their behavior in the community.”
While Berkeley, CA community members and students are credited with initiating the first Copwatch in 1990, groups like the American Indian Movement and Black Panther Party for Self-Defense have their radical roots in patrolling their communities to address police violence since the 1970s.
Some copwatches like LA Copwatch (Guerrilla Chapter) are more focused on community organizing while others on accountability. Jose Martin of Chicago Copwatch states, “It’s not about individuals filming the police, it’s all of our responsibility. And if we care about our community and love our neighbors then we have to have their backs. We copwatch to organize communities, not just to be social workers or the police’s police.”
Copwatches can include:
Consistent patrols, maintaining an independent database of racial profiling, community Know Your Rights workshops/trainings & info dissemination, and ICE raid response/intervention. They can be centralized or totally autonomous. Anyone with a “smartphone” can be Copwatch.
Tips for Recording the Cops:
Anytime you see police harassing someone (or even yourself!) record the interaction.
Cameras can be a good defense against the police. If they know they are being recorded they may be less tempted to violate your rights.
Police can arrest someone they believe is “interfering” with their actions. Maintain a reasonable distance, and if cops threaten to arrest you for recording, explain that you
“Don’t intent to interfere, but have the right to observe their actions.”
If the issue becomes diffused you can simply delete the video or ask if the person or group being harassed would like the video.
If the incident results in arrest then you can contact that person or their lawyer and provide the video as potential evidence. It’s also good practice to ask (while recording) for the cop’s badge numbers.
You can also collect their cards for certain ID as some cops refuse to identify themselves. Some folks take citizen complaint forms while on patrol to make sure folks could easily report harassment by cops.
If the issue is extreme most folks upload it to social media (some apps are designed to ensure your video is immediately uploaded and not deleted by cops) and/or send it to local media.
Film the cops not your friends.
This primarily relates to large protest milieu but can apply in other situations as well. With the ubiquity of smartphones and live streaming, police can and have weaponized socially shared video to further repress movements and individuals. (www.wecopwatch.org/live-streamers-make-great-informants/)
Tips for dealing with cops if you are stopped for questioning:
Stay calm. Don’t run. Don’t argue, resist or obstruct the police, even if you are innocent or police are violating your rights. Keep your hands where police can see them.
Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly & silently walk away. If you are under arrest, you have a right to know why. Ask “Am I being detained?” If you are not, leave. You do not have to provide ID if you are in a “casual conversation” with police. Ask to leave often.
Do not talk to the police or answer questions. You are never required to talk to police. Anything you say can be used against you. If requested to do anything, clarify you will if it’s “an order.”
You have the right to remain silent and cannot be punished for refusing to answer questions. If you wish to remain silent, tell the officer out loud.
Never consent to searches. A cop can only search you, or your property, without your consent if they have a warrant or a “reasonable suspicion” of a crime. Even if they search you, be sure to make them aware you do not consent.
IF YOU ARE ARRESTED:
Do not resist arrest, even if you believe the arrest is unfair.
Say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Don’t give any explanations or excuses. If you can’t pay for a lawyer, you have the right to a free one. Don’t say anything, sign anything or make any decisions without
a lawyer. You have the right to make a local phone call. The police cannot listen if you call
Prepare yourself and your family in case you are arrested. Memorize the phone numbers of your family and your lawyer. Make emergency plans if you have children or take medication.
IF YOU FEEL YOUR RIGHTS HAVE BEEN VIOLATED:
Remember: police misconduct cannot be challenged on the street. Don’t physically resist officers or threaten to file a complaint.
Write down everything you remember, including officers’ badge and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details. Get contact information for witnesses. If you are injured, take photographs of your injuries (but seek medical attention first).
File a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. In most cases, you can file a complaint anonymously if you wish.