Arrested at a Protest:
How to Plan for It

Arrested at a Protest:  How to Plan for It
by Sue Basko

If you intend to get arrested at a protest, you should plan in advance.  There are things you can do to make the process safer and easier for yourself.  This blog post tells you simple steps to prepare.

 It is usually very easy not to get arrested at a protest.  If you don't want to get arrested, follow the instructions in the two posts linked below, and you will greatly lessen any chance of arrest.  In most instances at a protest, you have plenty of time to move away from a situation and  not get arrested.  If you do not want to get arrested and do not want to have people pressuring you to stick around to get arrested, tell the people you are with in advance that you are going to leave or opt out rather than get arrested.  Then, if and when the time comes, do that.


If you are planning to get arrested at a protest, usually you know it is going to happen and have ample warning time.   You will usually be warned to leave or move and you plan well in advance that you are going to refuse to do that.  So you can be prepared in advance.  (That is not always the case with Unlawful Assembly and/or  Kettling.)

1) In advance, leave these things with a trusted friend who you will call when you get arrested, or who will be told by others that you have been arrested:

     a) Enough cash to bail you out.  The typical bond might be anywhere from nothing to a few hundred dollars on a simple municipal ordinance such as trespassing  or illegal camping.  If you already have a charge against you from a previous arrest, it can be significantly more.  If you are accused of  resisting arrest, obstructing justice, or damaging property, the bond can be much more.

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IMPORTANT NOTE: the 2011 Los Angeles County Bail Schedule sets bail for "409 Failure to Disperse from a Riot" at $5,000.  Penal Code Section 409 includes riot, rout, and unlawful assembly.  The law treats each of these differently.  But the LA police did not treat these differently and charged $5,000 bail for failing to disperse from a peaceful, unlawful assembly that was supposedly "unlawful" because camping is not allowed in the park.

Further, MANY of those arrested were attempting to leave but were stopped by police and arrested.  Still others were far away from the camp area and attempting to leave the area, but were lied to by police who told them there would be "escorted from the area," waited peacefully, and then were arrested.  (There are various reports of this and it is also seen and heard clearly on videotape.)

All reports I have read of people  who were arrested at the Occupy L.A. raid tell of many long hours of being intentionally physically tortured by police, such as being forced to kneel for hours, a man forced to lie in his own vomit, many being forced to urinate or defecate in their clothing, being denied water for days, not being fed, etc.
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     b) all medicines you need.   

     c) Phone numbers for your lawyer, legal services, your family, your job (to call in your absence).

2) Give the phone number of your trusted friend above to others who are with you at the protest, but who do not plan to get arrested.   Instruct them that when you are arrested, they should call your trusted friend.

Phone App: There is also a phone app that you can set off just before you get arrested and it texts everyone you have it preset to inform them you have been arrested.   If it works, that is pretty handy because help and bail money can be on the way before you even arrive at the jail.  That's presuming you have time to set off an app and that your phone does not get lost, smashed or confiscated before it makes the calls.  During some protest arrests, people have their phones for quite a while, say, during a bus ride (wearing zip-ties or handcuffs, but people sometimes manage to text).  During other arrests, the phones are taken very quickly.  If you are using the app, the best bet is to set it off when an arrest is imminent.

3) Memorize the phone number you will call when arrested.  Some people write this number on their skin.  It can be the number of a lawyer who has agreed to help you.  If you call a lawyer, the police cannot listen in to your call. Or you can call the friend who has agreed in advance to contact the lawyer and to come with money to get you out.   Work this out in advance.  If you call the friend, explain beforehand that you are to discuss nothing extra, since the call will be monitored.

Please note that at some recent arrests in Chicago, protesters have reported that the police did not let them make phone calls.   Later when they demanded phone calls, the officers told them they should have made their calls during booking, which was when they were fingerprinted a few hours after being brought in.  Since you may encounter police who want to toy with you or teach you a lesson by keeping you in jail for a while on petty municipal ordinance violations such as being in a park after closing time, keep repeating during every contact, "I want a lawyer.  I want to make a phone call."  Say this even if you are not being given a chance to say it. 
4) Prepare what you wear and what you will have with you.  Wear comfortable clothes that you can take on and off easily.   You will possibly be strip-searched and you should prepare for that.  Dress warmly because if you are allowed to stay in your own clothes in a lock-up, it will be good to be warm because it is likely to be drafty or cold.  Have your hair in an easy-to-manage hairdo with no metal clips.  Do not wear any jewelry at all, other than possibly a cheap plastic watch that you do not mind losing.  Do not wear any rings, earrings, navel ring, or any studs or any other body jewelry.  These can lead to serious injuries during any tussles or skirmishes.   Remove any eye makeup since it will smear and you won't be able to fix it.  Moisturize your face and skin, since you won't have access to anything for a few hours to a few days. Moisturize your wrists very well, since you will be hand-cuffed or zip-tied and this can chafe and  rub your skin raw.   (Many recent arrestees at Occupy LA have said they were kept in zip-ties for over 7 hours, while their hands turned blue.  They say they were left with welts, bruises, numbness, or serious injury to nerves in their hands.)

5) If you need glasses, wear them.  Don't wear contact lenses, because you won't be allowed to have the solution or containers you need for them.  You don't want to risk corneal injury by keeping contacts in your eyes for too long.  Also, you do not want to wear contacts if there might be mace,  tear gas, or pepper spray.   When in custody, your glasses may also be taken from you.  Say that you need them to see.  They may or may not be given to you. 

6) You will be searched.  Keep absolutely everything you have with you inside of one zip-lock bag in your pocket.  Do not have anything else with you.  Everything will be taken from you.  Do not have any weapons, drugs, or odd items with you.  Do not have anything spread out in other pockets, such as candy or keys.  Carry enough cash to get you home once you are released.   Carry only the exact keys you need with you.  Remove the others from the ring and leave those with the trusted friend.  The best bet is to have copies of your keys made, in case you lose the ones you bring with you.

7) Your phone might be searched.  In advance, remove ALL photos from your phone.  Lock all data on your phone.  You can read how to do this on the internet.  Delete all call logs and messages.   Delete  most contacts.  BETTER YET - Buy a cheap prepaid phone that you carry with you just to use when you plan to get arrested.   Leave your "real" phone with your trusted friend.  

8) When you get arrested, they take everything from you.  If you need medicine or a painkiller, carry just enough with you for the next few days.  It is best to have it inside a real prescription container as proof it is what you say it is. It will be taken from you and you may not be able to take it, even if you direly need it. Just before you are arrested, pop your dose so you have the medicine in you and will not need more till your next dose (Ask your doctor about this before doing it).  It is very hard to get needed medicine while in a jail.  If you have taken what you need immediately, this gives you time to work out getting your medicine for your next dose.   Even if you need medicine for a serious condition, it is almost impossible to get it while in custody.  You should say you need it, but chances of you getting it are slim. They might tell you the only way to get it is to go to an emergency room.  You might be shackled and handcuffed to be transported there.

If you have a medical condition where you may die or get very sick if you do not have your medicine, such as diabetes, please avoid being arrested.  Please - strongly consider staying home from risky protests.   In jail, you will most likely not be given your medicine or fed properly.  There is at least one report of an arrested Occupy protester not being allowed to have the insulin he needs for diabetes.

9) Stay well-hydrated and well-fed.  Once you are arrested, it will likely be a long time before you get anything to drink or eat.  When you are given something to eat, it is likely to be something dreadful, such as a bologna sandwich on white bread.  

10) It's a good idea if your group arranges in advance to have someone videotape the protest, including arrests.  They should do so from a distance, preferably from a position above the crowd and not in anyone's way.  In Illinois, it is illegal to record audio on any person that has not agreed.  If you videotape arrests in Illinois, you are not supposed to be recording audio.  This is being challenged in court, but until it is, be aware of this law.  UPDATE May 2013: This Illinois law is still on the books, but is supposedly not being enforced.   It is most likely legal now to record video and audio on police arrests in Illinois. 

11) Do not resist arrest, or you can be charged with resisting arrest.  Resisting arrest includes laying down, dragging along, screaming, etc.  Resisting arrest or obstructing justice or assaulting an officer can be very serious charges.  If you plan to get arrested because you want to make your political point, don't add any of these extra things to it.   Also, if you are resisting arrest, you are likely to be injured.

12) You have to give your name when asked.   Do not lie.  If you do not want to give your name, refuse to give your name and be a "Doe," but do not give a false name.  

13) You have the right to remain silent and you should state immediately that  you are taking that right.  And then - remain silent.  Do not answer questions.  This is the most important thing.  Anything you say can and will be used against you.  Do not talk.  Do not explain.   Do not make excuses.  Do not ask questions.  Do not offer information.   Just keep quiet, except to say you want to make a phone call and you want a lawyer.   

14) Say that you want a lawyer.  Say this immediately and repeat it as needed. 

15) If any sort of agent tries to talk to you, refuse to answer.   Speak with a lawyer.

16) Call the pre-arranged phone number you have with you - it is either for a lawyer or a legal service that has agreed in advance to help you, or it is for your trusted friend who will call the lawyer.  DO NOT WAIT TO BE INVITED TO MAKE A PHONE CALL.  With each contact you have with an officer, state that you want to make a phone call.  A common time to get to make a call is during booking, which is when you are photographed and fingerprinted.  Again, keep in mind, you are not likely to be invited, you must assert your rights.

Collect Calls from Jails. You are supposed to get one free phone call.  After that, you will be making collect calls, charged at a very high rate.  Most cell phones cannot receive a collect phone call, unless there is ample money on the phone's account or another way of it being billed and accepted.  It is common for a minimum collect charge on a call made from jail to be about $20 and then each minute billed after that.  If you make a 10-minute call, it is likely to cost the person receiving the call about $50.  In many jail locations, the phone calls out are run by a privatized company. So be sure your call is made to a land line number and be sure it is to a person who can be billed about $30 - $50 for a short call.  These rates differ throughout the nation, but one constant is that these privatized collect calls are a rip-off.  If you are planning to be arrested, plan in advance who you will call and have them agree in advance that they will answer all phone calls and agree to accept the charges from you.

17) On the typical protest arrest, you can expect to be in custody for an amount of time from several hours to up to 2 days.  You are more likely to get out sooner if you have your plan in place to call a lawyer, have a friend ready to come with money, and do not cause any extra trouble by resisting arrest or having any questionable items with you.  (Please note that most recent arrestees in Los Angeles were held on trumped-up charges with high bail amounts demanded; some spent 5-6 days or more before being released.)

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have any outstanding warrants on your record, you could  be held for a considerable amount of time and will  meet many complications.  This may include situations where terms of a probation were not completed, situations where you failed to appear on a traffic ticket or citation, or other such things.  Also, if you are on probation or parole, you should not get arrested, because doing so is likely to violate the terms and send you back to jail or prison.

GETTING ARRESTED AT A PROTEST is a huge step and I think you should not intentionally get arrested until and unless you have spoken personally and privately with your own trusted lawyer about this.  Do not be pressured into putting your self at risk until you have considered all factors.  Having an arrest on your record can prevent you from being able to travel out of the country. It can prevent you from being hired for jobs, admitted to schools, or given scholarships.   Being arrested as protest may be worth it to you and it may not be.  This is a personal decision that should be made personally by you in your own best interest.  

18) Have fun!   Remember you are getting arrested because you want to be, and you have planned well in advance.   Enjoy the experience for what it is.    Enjoy experiencing the new and different sights and sounds and smells of the police car or bus and the jail cell or holding place.   Try to remember details so you can write a journal or blog about it later.  

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