Photography by Nadia Otshudi
In the wake of the filmed murder of George Floyd by police officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao in Minnesota, mass protests and uprisings have occurred across the USA and around the world, calling for justice in the form of the arrest, prosecution and imprisonment of all four of these men. The murder and the global insurrection have shed new light on a long history of specifically anti-black racist murder by police and security officers, systematic and institutional racism and the actions of the state and these forces in the treatment of black people all over the world. People everywhere are hitting the streets in protest, to keep pressure on governments and to let it be known that enough is enough.
A new generation of protestors, some who may have never protested before, are amongst some of the seasoned activists and older people involved. As is normal with prominent protests with a strong media focus, there have been numerous reports of agents infiltrating the crowds to incite violence and mass media companies focusing on small scuffles to condemn the whole event or movement, undermining the important message to suit their own narrative. As we saw in the UK uprisings of 2009–2011 centred on a mix of pro-Palestinian, anti-EDL and anti-austerity protest and the murder of Mark Duggan by the police in London — UK police forces have a history of actively seeking to arrest, detain and imprison protestors for minor offences, or no offence at all (as was the case of Fahim Alam). This can cause hugely detrimental effects on people’s lives, especially those of young people.
It is important that everyone involved knows some fundamental strategies for staying safe and defending themselves and each other from this kind of treatment, especially as laws have now changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to manifest the mantra ‘each one teach one’, we have spoken to some seasoned protestors – all who will remain anonymous – who have helped us to collate a list of advice for anyone attending these protests, or ones in future.
- If possible, leave your phone at home – this could be used to track your movements and link you to events you were close to but not involved in.
- If you do take your phone, do not post on social media – this may be used to incriminate you, or others in your photos/videos later on.
- DO NOT take any form of ID – this can be used to identify you even if you choose not to give your name and details.
- Wear untraceable clothing – police or prosecutors may use logos to falsely identify you.
- Bring a mask, and keep your face covered.
- BRING FOOD, WATER and LAYERS – you may get kettled or blocked in by police and you will need these if you do.
- Verify protest posters and directions are from reliable sources and are accurate – some groups have been known to create false posters to target/attack people.
- DO NOT wear contacts, use your glasses instead – if you get hit, contacts can cause serious damage.
- DO NOT use debit or credit cards, bring cash.
- Walk, bike or use public transport – ideally with an unmarked oyster card.
- DO NOT use Uber
DEALING WITH THE PRESS
- DO NOT talk to the press – they might try to use your voice for their own agenda and this may be used to incriminate you later.
- The press may attempt to film you – they might try to use this for their own agenda and it may be used to incriminate you later. Legally you cannot touch them or their camera/equipment, but you can use your placard to block their filming or to block your face. They might not be happy, they might try to move and keep filming, but they cannot touch you either.
DEALING WITH POLICE
- Police will try to have ‘casual chats’ with you – DO NOT speak to them, they may use this to incriminate you later.
- Under COVID-19 related laws, you can legally gather in groups of 6 or less – travel in groups of less than 6 so they cannot invoke these laws against you.
- If you’re stopped by police, normally you don’t need to tell them your name, what you are doing or where you are going, BUT – some police have used refusal to answer questions as reason to believe you are breaching corona virus rules.
- If you are gathering in a group of more than 6, the police have the power to ask you to disperse or return home, and YOU COULD BE ARRESTED OR FINED if you don’t. Police should give you the chance to go home voluntarily
STOP AND SEARCH
- You DO NOT need to give your name and address under stop and search power.
- Legally police must tell you the reason and the power that you are being searched under. Again, police have been using COVD-19 rules to not adhere to this, so be careful.
IF YOU ARE ARRESTED
- Before arrest, the police should explain that you’re being arrested, what offence you are being arrested for, and why the arrest is necessary
- Say “NO COMMENT” to all police questions including in ‘casual chats’, when booking in and interviews until you have free advice from a solicitor with special knowledge about protests
- You may wish to give your name, address and date of birth to speed up release. If asked your NATIONALITY you DO NOT need to give it. For your own protection and that of other people DO NOT answer any further questions.
- You should say “NO COMMENT” because the language police use, and that is used by prosecutors, is not ‘normal’ language – they can flip this to use against you at a later time.
- In general, for protest related offences, the maximum time you can be detained is 24 hours without charge – don’t be intimidated by police to co-operate, as this is the very maximum they can hold you without charging you, and even then, in most cases (not related to serious violence, or if you have serious previous offences) you will be bailed.
- DO NOT accept a CAUTION without advice from a recommended solicitor
- You have the right to tell someone about your arrest and an interpreter if English is not your first language
- If you are or appear under 18 an appropriate adult should be called
SOLICITORS WITH EXPERIENCE IN DEALING WITH PROTEST CASES
ITN SOLICITORS: 0203 909 8100
HODGE JONES & ALLEN: 0844 848 0222
IF YOU WITNESS AN ARREST OR WANT LEGAL ADVICE ABOUT PROTESTS
Legal observers are independent volunteers who gather evidence on behalf of protesters and act to counter police intimidation and misbehaviour. Read more about your rights and protest legislation: www.greenandblackcross.org
There have been many examples, especially in the 2011 uprisings over the murder of Mark Duggan, of police and prosecutors using CCTV and phone camera footage of small, menial ‘offences’ to pursue serious charges during a protest, such as throwing a plastic bottle as ‘violent disorder’, or taking a packet of chewing gum from an already smashed shop front as ‘looting’. One of the veteran protestors told us: “If people believe they have done anything in self-defence that they feel could be used to incriminate them, they should take steps to avoid this, such as throwing away the clothes they wore that day”. This view does not represent the views of I Am Hip Hop, but we are aware that many, many innocent people have been wrongly accused of crimes through the years, and similar clothing and other falsified evidence has been used to wrongly incriminate them.
So, over the next few days, weeks and months, please read and share this advice, take care, stay safe, have each other’s backs and stay strong. We will update this with any additional advice as it comes in, so please contact us if there are things you think we should add.