Occupy Safely: Jail

The Occupy Movement has spread now to over 100 countries, and the total number jailed has now surpassed 3500. There are a few safety tips I guess we should discuss. One thing we all have to remember is this: Some of us are going to get hurt. It is tragic, but it is true. However, there are ways we can reduce the risks. I’ll be dividing this into four main sections: Jail, Police Brutality, Weather Exposure, and Tear Gas. Today let’s talk about jail.

For those of you who have never been to jail: It sucks. You will be cold. You will sit on “benches” made of concrete or cinder block or metal – for hours. You may sit in a police transport vehicle for hours before being booked into a jail. You will be bored, uncomfortable, and quite possibly scared. It may be more than 12 hours between your arrest and your next opportunity to have food, water, or a visit to the bathroom, much less your phone call. (So eat before the raid.)

“Food” will also be the most cost-effective substandard fare your area’s for-profit prison system can legally get away with serving. Your dietary restrictions – including legitimate fatal food allergies – may very well be ignored. There is no vegan alternative, so don’t expect it.

You will almost certainly not have access to your prescription medications, no matter how vital it is you take them at a certain time. This is incredibly important. If you need medication to maintain healthy body functioning, jail may be a potentially fatal risk for you.

You may be vaccinated against your will. In Florida, for example, all inmates are required to receive a Tuberculosis vaccine. Exemptions for health conditions that result in lowered immunity are not provided. If you refuse the vaccination, you will be placed in solitary confinement until you are released from jail. So again, if you have lowered immunity or cannot receive a jail-administered vaccination for other health reasons (like you’re on the organ transplant waiting list) try not to get arrested.

If you are female, you will likely be subjected to a urine test (possibly while someone watches you pee: more on this later) to determine if you are pregnant. If you are pregnant, you may be moved to another jail or to another section within the jail. The urine test may also be used to determine if you are guilty of “internal possession” (having evidence of prior drug use in your urine) which is a crime in some states like Hawaii.  Please be aware many perfectly legal substances such as poppy seed muffins and Ibuprofin can result in false positives for drug use (heroin and marijuana, respectively) so check to see if there are internal possession laws in your state. If you are falsely accused of a drug possession charge, get an attorney not a public defender.

Back to people watching you pee though: It’s going to happen. There is no such thing as “privacy” in jail. Your body will be examined and touched by strangers (guards) and there are no guarantees your cell mate or mates will be fellow protesters. If you’re there long enough, eventually you’ll need to defecate and for that as well you will not have privacy. If this is something you don’t think you’ll be able to handle for any reason, you may want to also consider avoiding arrest.

If you’ve decided you can be arrested in defense of your encampment (or for “failing to disperse” or whatever charge they come up with) plan ahead.

  • Eat and use the bathroom before an expected raid or camp eviction.
  • Leave your cell phone with a trusted fellow Occupier or someone who won’t be present when the police arrive. Alternatively, make sure you put a passcode on your phone so the police can’t delete videos and photos of arrests or police brutality. (It happens.)
  • Write the phone number for the National Lawyers Guild office in your city on your arm in permanent marker.
  • Whenever possible, have a non-arrested Occupy member get a list of the names and birthdates of each arrested person, and keep your Facebook and Twitter pages updated with their status. (For this using simply numbers is fine like “12 arrested last night, 7 released already, 4 getting out on bail later today, but one being held on possession.”)
  • Leave non-emergency prescription medications at home or with a fellow Occupier and for everyone’s sake please keep illegal drugs out of the encampments.

All of these points are made to encourage you to Occupy Safely, not to discourage you from Occupying. Our first amendment rights to freedom of the press, of speech, of assembly and the right to bring grievances to our government are all clearly under attack and we will not ensure by failing to fight for them.

10 Ways You Can Help the Occupy Movement

Out of the 99% who have fared worse under 30 years of bad economic policy in the United States, very few can actually go live in makeshift tent cities to protest the government in a real and personal way. So how can the rest of us, who may be limited in our ability to participate on such a level, help? Here are 10 easy ways you can help support the Occupy Movement in your community, nationally, or globally.

  1. Bring power. After days and sometimes weeks living outdoors, many of the protesters have absolutely no battery life left in their cell phones, video cameras, and computers. Being able to connect through social media has been a huge boon to protesters globally over the past several years, and this is a small way you can help. You may even be able to do so from your car without owning any special equipment, using the power adapter (or cigarette lighter outlet, if you’ve got an older model.)
  2. Bring supplies. While it may technically still be Autumn, winter weather has hit many of the Occupy encampments. In Denver, there have been a few hypothermia victims. Bring heaters, tents, sleeping bags, blankets, jackets, scarves, gloves, hats and any other winter-weather supplies you can spare to help people stay safe as they exercise their rights. Gas masks, bandanas, and medical supplies to reduce the devastation of police response are also critically needed in some areas.
  3. Buy or bring food. You can do this to help an Occupy community near you or far away. Call local delivery places and order food to be sent to the protesters; pay with your credit card. Voila! You helped feed a movement. Alternatively, you can bring food directly to an Occupy encampment. Clean water is always needed, so please bring this if you can, too. Water filtering pitchers or canteens make a great gift for the protester near you.
  4. Educate yourself & others on First Aid – particularly first aid for battling chemical agents such as pepper spray and teargas, as well as shrapnel wounds, cuts, abrasions, and basic splints. If you cannot personally go to an Occupy event to help tend the wounded, you can make sure information stays at the top of the relevant Twitter streams by sending out this information regularly. (Here’s a link to get you started.) Read this BEFORE you go out, not while you’ve got tear gas in your eyes.
  5. Contact local mayors and police chiefs. Remind them of the protesters’ Constitutional rights and ask them to keep things non-violent. Albany PD and New York State PD are both to be commended for refusing to carry out unconstitutional orders. (You can also send them a thank you for taking “to protect and serve” seriously.) Oakland PD (and the multiple other agencies working with them) and New York City PD should be ashamed of their violent actions against unarmed citizens.
  6. Contact media outlets. The American news media are not adequately covering these events, nor the sometimes violent police response. Urge them to do so, and do so continuously.
  7. Show court room solidarity. People ARE getting arrested at these events, and their court appearances can be tracked on local Occupy movement websites as well as the #OSW hashtag on Twitter. Show your support in a very real way by attending their court appearances, so that no one has to stand before a judge completely alone and without allies.
  8. Support the General Strike. On Wednesday November 2, 2011 the citizens of Oakland, California will be participating in a general strike. All workers and students will be encouraged to walk out of their usual spaces and go join Occupy Oakland at Oscar Grant Plaza. If you can join the strike for that one day in your own life – do so. Do not go to work or school. Do not buy any products or services. Shut down the 1% for one day, if you can. Solidarity marches in support of the General Strike are planned globally. (Yes, you read that right: GLOBALLY.)
  9. Speak, blog, Tweet. Our media does pay attention to something when enough of us are talking about it, loudly enough, and especially when we do so on social media (so says the Abortion Tweeter from personal experience.) Do not let this story get buried under a dozen vacuous celebrity “news” tales. The Occupy Movement represents the 99% of us who are NOT benefiting from trickle down economics. There’s a 99% chance that includes you.
  10. Educate yourself and others on the facts. If all 99% of us who are harmed by modern US economic policy banded together, we would get the massive reforms we desperately need. Unfortunately, there are plenty among us 99%ers under the mistaken impression that economic reform would hurt them (it would help them.) Let me say it clearly for you:Unless you are making $360,000 or more annually, you are not in the 1%.
    You are in the 99% for whom economic policies are not written. Come join us. Together we can take back the stolen American Dream.