Guide To Dealing With Police Harassment
AMER the Alliance for Magical and Earth Religions
Here in the United States, the freedom to think and believe as you choose are protected by law. Unfortunately, our legal system is not perfect; there are some few people out there who would use it against those who believe differently from themselves.
It is important to remember that religious belief is not a crime. If you are ever harassed for your religious beliefs, whether by corrupt police following their own agendas or by honest police misled by dishonest citizens, you must bear in mind that the legal system is designed to protect you. This pamphlet will show you how to use the system to your own advantage: what to do, and especially what not to do.
It is assumed that you are, in fact, not guilty of committing a crime. While it is true that the system works as well for the guilty as for the innocent, our purpose here is to address only the issue of harassment on the basis of religion or personal beliefs. If there is an actual crime involved, even if it is religious in nature or motivation, AMER will not endorse it or support its perpetrators.
There are several types of action available to law enforcement officers which can be used to harass the ordinary citizen. Some of these are questioning, search and seizure, arrest, and accusation. We will touch on each of these, with information about what the police have to do, and what they cannot do. This knowledge can help you to steer your own course through difficult times.
One thing you must never, never do:DO NOT, under any circumstances, physically resist the police. To do so justifies their use of force to compel you; don’t give a police officer an opportunity to misjudge the level of force required. If he is honest and unwise, or corrupt and out to get you, the result will be the same: you will be injured (or even killed!), and he will be free to continue to harass citizens. Your resistance must be passive – in what you don’t do – to be effective. If you feel that you are being mistreated by the police, accept it and go along with it; you will still be alive and free to obtain redress later, through the Courts.
Law Enforcement Officers have the right and the duty to stop and question any citizen, whenever a felony has been committed and they have reasonable grounds to believe that the citizen may have been involved in that felony. If this should happen to you, your first reaction should be to cooperate fully with the officer. This is not harassment, unless the questions asked do not or cannot pertain to any real crime.
At your first opportunity, when you suspect that you are being harassed, you should ask, “Am I under arrest?” This forces the officer to inform you of your official status. If he or she does not formally arrest you at that point, then you are still a “private citizen” with all the civil rights thereof. You do not have to answer any questions, or allow the officer into any premises for which he or she does not have a warrant. Ask the officer, “What crime is under investigation?” The answer to this question should allow you to decide whether the officers questions are legitimate. Only then, if you are being harassed, should you use any of the following tactics.
You should not volunteer information about any persons or incidents, no matter what is promised to you. Anything you say can be used against you and others, and could be used out of context to mean something you had never intended. You will not clear yourself by naming others or describing events. It is best not to say a word until you have legal representation present.
Sometimes you could be subjected to bigotry, insult, or epithets from police who feel that intimidation will get them results from otherwise reticent subjects. Do not go into shock, do not lose your temper and do not respond in kind; it will only serve to pour more fuel on the fire and make matters worse. If you can remember exact words and details, write them down at the first opportunity and talk with a lawyer about whether you have adequate grounds for a civil rights complaint.
The police may take you to the station to talk. If this happens, ask to have an attorney present. Then, shut up. Don’t say anything until the lawyer is there with you, and speak only if he advises it.
If you are in a public place with a multitude of neutral witnesses, like an event in a public park, you can speak a little more freely. Just remember, witnesses can work against you, too, so watch what you say and keep your temper.
If you are at another’s home when the police come in, you should keep quiet also. Avoid incriminating your host. You really don’t know what grounds are being used for the raid, and you probably don’t know they are innocent of whatever it is; so avoid incriminating yourself or others. In this case, the time to act is afterwards; see an attorney.
In your own home, if the police ask permission to come in, the answer should be “NO.” You should step outside and talk with them. If the weather is too inclement for that, or if they don’t like this approach, offer to go to McDonald’s or to the police station. You don’t have to let them in without a warrant. If you are asked, “What do you have to hide?” turn it around and ask “What kind of question is that?” If they are not asking to come in, but breaking down your door, give way and let them in. Don’t fight them or make any insults or threats, but remember all that is said and done, make notes, and get a lawyer.
If the officer looks frightened or angry, take extreme precautions not to do anything to startle him or make him think you are about to do him harm. This is a time of maximum risk to yourself, so be very polite and don’t do anything that may be interpreted as a threat.
If the worst happens and you are injured during the course of an improper police action, go to the nearest Emergency Room for treatment. Even if the injury appears to be superficial, the hospital is required by law to notify the police in the case of an assault. This will begin the process of documentation for your eventual complaint or lawsuit. The hospital’s report will be instrumental in substantiating such a complaint.
While the law recognizes many different circumstances under which the police may conduct a search of persons or property, only a few are relevant to this discussion. Of course, you are perfectly within your rights to ask the officer why he is searching you; his answer will help you to determine whether you have grounds for a complaint. (You always submit to the search; if the officer is acting improperly, you may file a complaint later.)
The Limited Protection Search is most easily used for harassment purposes. The law enforcement officer is permitted, if he has cause to suspect that a person is armed, to “frisk” that person for weapons. While this may be undignified, it is no more than that; if you are armed, surrender the weapon voluntarily before the search begins. This establishes that you are willing to cooperate with the officer, and limits the scope of further harassment. (Of course, if the weapon you carry is illegal, there are other consequences.) If you are not armed, it doesn’t matter; even if he were to find contraband on your person, he probably could do no more than confiscate it, because it might not be admissible evidence.
If you are a female, you have the right to have a female witness present during the search. Another harassment tactic involves the “Plain View” search, which is not a search at all. This involves the officer’s simply seeing some item which he defines as contraband; he has the right to confiscate it, as well as to take any further action as appropriate. Though this can be a major inconvenience, you can file a complaint against the officer through his department’s Internal Affairs division, and you may be able to recover your property.
If you are actually arrested, then the officer may search your person and all of the surrounding area within your reach. This “Search Incident to Arrest” is permitted to insure that the arrested person cannot obtain a weapon or destroy evidence; any contraband or evidence relating to the reason for the arrest is admissible. You can do nothing about this, so relax. (It may be a tactic to rattle you. Don’t let it.)
when the property to be searched is an automobile, the requirement for a search warrant is waived. The officer must still be able to prove to the Court that his search is “reasonable,” but he does not have to obtain a warrant to make the search. This is because the vehicle is mobile, and could be gone by the time a warrant could be obtained.
Once again, we cannot make the warning strong enough: DO NOT resist a police officer or other law enforcement officer when he insists on making a search! Better to submit to the search than to the arrest or other consequences that could result from resistance! If you believe that the search was not reasonable, take notes as soon as you can. See an attorney. If you have a case, your attorney will deal with it.
“You are under arrest.” These are words that the common, upstanding citizen never expects to hear. However, as a Pagan or magical practitioner, you must be realistic. As the world stands, Pagans, Satanists, Witches and others deemed “radical,” “non-conformist,” or (in extreme cases) “dangerous to society”, face the very real possibility that they may be harassed, arrested, charged with supposed crimes, or actually prosecuted for those “crimes.” Whether your arrest is the end of a long series of harassments, or happens abruptly and surprisingly, there are certain procedures that the police are required by law to follow if they don’t want the arrest to be deemed invalid in any future court proceedings. This section deals with that process, and hopefully, will include some useful advice on how to deal with being arrested.
You have probably already been stopped and questioned. The officer has informed you that you are under arrest, and your situation has radically changed. You are no longer a private citizen, but rather a ward of the State until such a time as you are released. You are protected under Criminal Code from certain indignities or atrocities (you may not be questioned without an attorney present, for example, and you cannot be physically abused), but your civil rights are severely limited. Let’s examine what rights you do have, and how you should exercise them.
Most people have heard the almost ritual language of the Miranda Warning, mandated by the United States Supreme Court; but many do not know what those words mean. It is important to understand this warning; its provisions will govern your behavior from this point on:YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT.This means what it says. You do not have to say anything from this point on, even to give your name or social security number. It is strongly recommended that you exercise this right. ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU IN A COURT OF LAW.
Again, this means exactly what it says. Every word you utter may be used against you or others in a future Court proceeding. Before you say anything, to anybody, you should examine it from all angles to see that it cannot be used to incriminate you or others in the commission of some crime. Anyone, including fellow prisoners or jailers, can be called as witnesses in a courtroom; they can testify as to conversations you had with them, or to those which they merely overheard.
Also, many prisons and detention facilities are equipped with video and audio recording devices; be careful not only of what you say, but how you act in these facilities. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY, AND TO HAVE THAT ATTORNEY PRESENT DURING QUESTIONING. It is strongly suggested that you exercise this right as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to signal your captors that you cannot be mistreated with impunity. Further, it is strongly suggested that you have your attorney present during any questioning, by police, prosecutors, or anyone else. Your attorney will know what questions may and may not be legally asked, and will advise you as to which questions you should or should not answer. Also, remember that the police will take anything that they can get; if your attorney is not present, you may be subject to more badgering from them than otherwise.
Until you have been physically transported to a detention facility, the police do not have to let you do anything. (Even if you were skyclad when they interrupted your ritual, they do not have to let you get dressed. They might simply hand you a blanket to drape around yourself.) Be prepared for this. Also, be prepared to have all of your personal belongings (purse or wallet, wristwatch, jewelry, belt and shoes, even eyeglasses) taken from you. If you wear contact lenses, you do have the right to ask to remove them and put them in their wetting solution. (This is because the State is now responsible for your property, and is required to take reasonable action to keep it from harm.) You will be given an inventory and a receipt for everything confiscated, and it must be returned to you when you are released. The only exception to this is property seized as evidence. (Your attorney can advise you as to how to recover this property, after your case is closed.)
Once you reach the police station, you will be fingerprinted. Your name, the reason for your detention, and the date and exact time of your arrest will be noted in a log book, and your picture will be taken. Take careful note of the date and time of your arrest; the law states that you may only be held for a maximum of 72 hours (less in some states) before the police have to either formally charge you with a crime (and take you before a judge for a hearing to set bail) or release you. If you are held longer than that without a bail hearing, your attorney can file a writ of habeas corpus (wrongful detention) and have you released immediately.
During this 72-hour period, you must be allowed one telephone call. Use it wisely! It is the one and only one you will get. It might be wise, if you think it likely that you will be arrested or detained, to make arrangements with some trusted friend or relative beforehand. That way, you can call this person, who can act freely in your behalf. He or she can make as many phone calls as necessary to secure you a good attorney, a bail bondsman, or whatever is needed.
As a ward of the State, you are under the State’s care. Police and prison officials can be held personally liable if you are mistreated, and they know it. You will be given the basics of sustenance; do not expect more. If, for example, you are under a physician’s care and are taking prescribed medicine for a medical condition, they must continue that medication. If you are injured in the course of the arrest, you have the right to receive medical treatment from a physician. You will be fed and clothed. If you wear corrective eyewear or a hearing aid, you will have them when you see your attorney or when you appear in Court.
If you haven’t done so by now, you can’t put it off any longer. Get an attorney! A public defender just won’t do; most of the time, he would try to persuade you to accept a plea bargain (you plead Guilty to a lesser offense in exchange for the prosecutor dropping the greater charge). Almost 80% of publicly defended cases are disposed of in this manner. Having retained a good attorney, take his advice; it’s what you pay him for.
One other thing you can do: to the extent permissible by law, make sure that your case is made public. The glaring light of public attention is a potent weapon; it forces the legal system to operate as it should. Make sure that the media is informed of the injustice being done. AMER may be able to help you with this.
We don’t want to make you think that there is no hope for fair treatment from the police. A new member of AMER recently told us a story which illustrates that innocence and persistence can be your best defense. The member (let’s call him Zack for convenience) was spending a quiet evening at home when someone suddenly began beating on his front door. Zack’s neighborhood is a little rough, and there had been a number of robberies there recently. When he opened his door a crack to see who was there and the muzzle of a handgun was shoved into his face, Zack decided to cooperate to save his life from what he thought were robbers. Several poorly-dressed men shoved their way into his apartment and began to threaten him.
With a gun barrel shoved into his mouth, Zack begged the men to take anything they wanted but to let him live. They ransacked his apartment, apparently looking for drugs. Zack’s religious beliefs forbid him to use drugs, and the searchers evidently did not find anything to satisfy them, until one man found Zack’s altar! At that point, religious epithets joined the other threats and insults.
One of the men then produced an official-looking form, and held it in front of Zack and demanded that he sign it. Zack looked at the paper, and was astonished to discover that it was an official police “Consent to Search” form. Mindful of the gun then pressed to his temple, Zack reached for a pen, but his hands shook so badly that he could not sign his name. When the man threatened him with the pistol, Zack managed to sign the form shakily, and the man lowered the gun.
The leader of the group identified himself as a police officer, but did not produce a badge or search warrant. He seized one of Zack’s occult books and his membership card from an occult organization, and the group left.
Zack was shaken and in pain, and decided to visit a hospital emergency room. When he told a doctor how he was injured, the hospital called the police, as is mandatory in assault cases. An officer took his statement, and told him that his story would be followed up officially. The next day, Zack was visited by a police investigator, who told him that the raid on his apartment was part of a “drug sweep” through his neighborhood, but could not indicate whether or when his property would be returned. At this point, Zack contacted AMER. On our advice, he wrote a detailed account of his experiences, and began to work on an official complaint. When Zack contacted Police Headquarters and asked to speak to someone in Internal Affairs, he was granted an interview. He showed his written statement to a Police Lieutenant, who indicated that he was not going to be charged with any crime, since no drugs were found in his home. Zack asked that his property be returned, and indicated that he would pursue legal action if needed to obtain its return. A few days later, Zack received a call from a police officer who told him to come and pick up his property. Although he was treated somewhat brusquely on his final visit to the police department, his property was returned without comment on his religious beliefs.
Zack has had no further difficulty with the police, and has come to the conclusion that the “raid” was the result of a complaint by neighbors who wished to harass him. He has no plans to file suit against the police department.
Though Zack’s experience is unfortunate, it shows the value of a prompt visit to a hospital, a careful written record of his experience, and his persistent insistence on his rights as a citizen. This story also shows that the system, though misused by some corrupt police officers, was designed to protect the innocent; Zack’s property was returned to him and he was not falsely charged with a crime he did not commit.