Candace McKinley: Know Your Rights pt. 2

The information in this article came from a recent interview with Candace McKinley, the Executive Director of Roots of Justice, and a legal rights advisor with Up Against the LawPart one outlined the basic rights a person has when interacting with police officers. 

This article contains some basic advice for protesting and also for recording police officers.

In addition to leading Know Your Rights training sessions, the Up Against the Law team works with activist groups who are thinking about protesting.  These training sessions offer advice on how to frame their protests,  and anticipate the legal ramifications that may result from the actions of a demonstration.

During these training sessions, participants can provide Up Against the Law with their personal information in case they will be arrested. In turn, the collective provides a number to call if anyone is arrested. Up Against the Law tracks people through the system, offers legal advice, which is especially important for those who need to post bail within the time allotted, or risk being sent to a county jail.  Through the hotline, Up Against the Law also helps people who have been arrested with legal representation.

Note: this is article is not exhaustive.  It does not replace legal advice. To learn more, contact Up Against the Law and sign up for one of their training sessions.

Recently, the number of demonstrations around the city has increased. Many people who have never taken part in an action are making signs and making their voices heard. McKinley had some basic tips for people new to activism.  Mainly, she said, show solidarity.

First-time protesters who find themselves with protesters who are more experienced and are using more radical tactics: don’t police the protesters.  It is better to simply not participate in a chant or an action than to try and stop fellow protesters from their chants/actions. “The police are there and they’re going to do that, so don’t help them,” said McKinley.

One action in particular that McKinley has observed is called de-arresting. De-arresting is preventing police officers from making an arrest.  McKinley discouraged this action, unless an agreement has previously been made between those being arrested and those preventing arrest, since it can make matters worse, especially for the person being arrested.

In general, McKinley advised protesters not to interfere with police and not to physically prevent them, as much as is possible. “Courts have sometimes found that people are within their rights to defend themselves when a police officer is beating them,” said McKinley. “Still, try your best not to touch a police officer.  You’ll likely be charged with assaulting a police officer.”

“Solidarity is important,” said McKinley, and video recording is no exception. “If you are recording someone being abused by police, say things like, ‘I’m here.  What do you need?  What’s your name?'” especially while recording.

McKinley discouraged saying to the victim things like, “‘Stop resisting,'” or, “‘Calm down,'” which are words, that, in court, can be used to support a police narrative and cast doubt on the victim.

“You have the right to film the police,” said McKinley. “We recommend that people do film the police.  It’s the best evidence against an officer’s story in court.  Video has saved people in the past.”

According to McKinley, those filming the police should follow these tips:

  • Be out of lunging distance from the police.
  • Back up.  Use your zoom
  • Hold the camera in landscape mode. It captures more of the surroundings.
  • Hold the camera with both hands
  • Film as early in the process as possible.
  • If you’re told, “Don’t film,” assert your right. Pennsylvania’s wiretap law says it’s illegal to just audio record the police. Video recording is legal.
  • If you’re with a group of people who are filming, even better.It’s good to get as many people filming as possible.

Between the various live streaming services, and the advanced capabilities of smart phones video recording, it may be difficult to decide how to record.  Think about the following when making a decision:

The advantage to live streaming video platforms is the ability to instantaneously share to notify more people about what’s going on. However, the content does not belong to the videographer.  It can be blocked by the social media site. It can also be turned over as evidence to police by the social media site.

“Police lie, and they’re legally allowed to lie, said McKinley. “We’ve had examples of people filming, and automatically shared it on Youtube. The police also see that video, and they lie, or change their narrative to fit what’s in the video.”

Recording video straight to the camera or smartphone limits the audience, but can protect the content and those whose images have been recorded.  While they are not allowed to do so, law enforcement officers may take a video recording device.

Two additional methods to consider are both smart phone apps, which either back up your video to your personal server, or, like the ACLU Mobile Justice app, send it to a third party for protection.  The Mobile Justice app automatically locks the phone and sends off the video if someone taps the screen.  It also allows the video recorder to add important information and context that the ACLU can use in its case.


Contacting Up Against the Law:

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