From a member of the legal working group, here are guidelines that were distributed at Burnside Park October 17. Please contact email@example.com with questions!
Forming a Support Group in Case of Arrest — Occupy Providence 10/17/2011
As the General Assembly decided, we want people to form support groups (“affinity groups”) to help ensure that as many people as possible have support in case they’re arrested. Such groups also are really important when the large group is under attack and can no long make decisions. Small groups can decide things can make decisions quickly and are effective both in supporting those who get arrested and in keeping safe those who do not want to get arrested.
What is an affinity group?
Affinity groups form the basic decision-making bodies of mass actions. Every group decides for itself who will be in it, how they will make decisions (voting, consensus, etc) and how they will respond in different situations. There are clear roles for everyone. Doing non-violence trainings where you have the opportunity to role-play different scenarios is a really good idea.
- The group should ideally have 8-12 people. This includes some who will risk arrest, and some to support them.
- You are responsible for finding these people and putting the group together, or joining an existing group.
- You’ll be relying on each other in the group, so pick people you trust.
- Try not to include disrupters, undercover people, provocateurs, etc. in the group. It helps if a group shares beliefs and goals.
- Know and remember everyone’s name and physical description.
- The group should meet several times before any large action so that they have experience working as a group.
- People who are on probation or parole, and people who are not US citizens, may be at serious risk even if they only act as supporters. No one should feel pressured about what level of risk to take. Each role is important.
Roles in Affinity Groups
- Some roles can be rotated: facilitator, vibes-watchers, spokesperson (to larger group meetings or in collaboration with Occupy Providence’s media team), photographers.
- Know how far each person will risk arrest. Group 1: people who will leave our camp if police say we can’t stay. Group 2: people who will stay even if police forbid it, but will comply with police if they say “you have X minutes to leave.” Group 3: people who will stay regardless. Be aware that police may give little or no notice before arrests.
- It’s conceivable that people who are in Group 1 or Group 2 may be arrested if they’re near the park and unexpected things happen. People in Group 1 are unlikely to be arrested, but the group should be prepared just in case.
- All people in the group, including support people, should preferably get civil disobedience training if possible. This doesn’t have to mean full Gandhian nonviolence training. But it does help to know some things about dealing with the authorities in situations relating to arrest and custody.
Before the Action:
- For each potential arrestee, record (1) any special medical info; (2) other special needs info (pets needing care, etc); (3) whether they’re under 18; (4) whether they plan to cooperate with police, and in what ways; (5) whether they want/need a lawyer; (6) if they’re willing to post bail, and when; (7) who they want contacted (friends, job, personal lawyer, family, etc.) and under what circumstances; (8) phone numbers etc. for these contact people.
- Keep a list of everyone’s contact info and how far they’ll risk arrest.
- Sometimes a person will plan not to give police his/her real names, although this can be risky. If someone in your group isn’t going to give their real names to police, make a confidential list with potential arrestees’ real names and names they’ll give police.
- Give Occupy Providence’s Legal working group the contact info for someone in your group, so that Legal can keep track of what groups exist. Also, each member of the group should know how to contact Legal.
- Those not risking arrest should know where arrested people are likely to be taken, and help out with legal and other support for them after arrest as needed. Legal will help too, but someone in the affinity group needs to pass info on.
- It can be cold in police custody, so make plans. Sometimes police require you to wear only one layer of clothing while you’re being held. Consider wearing longjohns under your regular clothes – then you can keep warm wearing just the longjohns if you have to take the other layers off.
- Even if police release arrestees, this may not happen immediately. If you are arrested late at night, it is certainly possible you will be late to work or miss the whole day.
- Police may take and permanently keep all belongings, including keys, money, phones, and everything in your pocket. Give things you don’t want to lose to your support person if arrests look likely to happen.
- If you are a support person and have to be out of town for a day or more, let everyone in your group know you will be away and make arrangements for someone in your group to cover for you.
During an Action:
- Once you take on the responsibility of being a support person, you should see it through. This doesn’t have to mean paying bail, hiring lawyers, etc. It DOES mean being there for people.
- Be aware that people may get separated from the group before or after arrests.
- Keep paper and pen with you at the park in case arrests happen.
- Anyone at risk of arrest needs to memorize the phone number for a support person in the group. (You can write it on your arm.) If you’re doing support for people who have your number, you should be close to a phone to get the call while they’re in jail.
- At least one support person should stay at the place of arrest until all the arrestees are taken away, and at least one support person should go to where the arrestees are being taken as soon as the first person is arrested.
- As arrests happen, a support person should record names of arrestees, time and nature of each person’s arrest, activity of person arrested before and after arrest, and the treatment by the arresting officer (with badge number if possible). Be specific in recording exactly which people are non-cooperating.
- Document as much as you can within what you are willing to risk. Take photos or videos if possible. These have been critical in documenting excessive force or entrapment and more. If you don’t have a camera, write down what you saw as soon as you can.
Once arrests have happened:
- For each person arrested, there should be at least one support person who follows to wherever arrested people are taken.
- Make calls to whoever needs to be informed of the arrest. The person being arrested should have provided information beforehand about who shouldn’t be contacted, who should, and under what circumstances (for example, “Contact my parents only if I’m jailed more than 24 hours, otherwise don’t tell them”).
- Bring medication to jail for whoever needs it, and follow up on whether it’s been administered.
- Visit group members in jail, and pass on messages. Take care of plants, pets, cars, etc. for them. (We don’t expect anyone will be in jail for long, but you never know….)
- Be present during arraignments and try to keep track of the following info for each person in your group: 1) name of judge or magistrate, 2) charge, 3) plea, 4)if found guilty what sentence is imposed, 5) amount of bail and whether it is paid, 6) date, time and place of trial, and 7) name of lawyer, if relevant.
- The affinity group should keep in touch, and perhaps continue to meet, after the arrests happen.
- After everything’s over or people are released, the affinity group can meet again to evaluate and share experiences.
Remember, support each other! Together we are strong.