Non-violent Civil Disobedience – Dealing with Police


Firstly you do not have to do what police say, until they say you are under arrest.   You can protest outside on the street so long as you are not blocking an entrance and you can be loud and annoying all day if you want to.   Thank you Penny Bright for winning a court case to ensure that right and freedom of speech.

If you are INSIDE A PUBLIC BUILDING, or an organisation contracted to the government (where Bill of Rights laws also apply) if you are quiet and just have signs, they can’t do anything – not that many of them know that, I do because I won a court case guaranteeing it.  I went into ACC office, calmly told the woman at reception I would be there protesting for a couple of hours, then went sat with my back to a wall and a large sign in front of me.   I got arrested that time, but won the case and made case law according to the judgement.

If outside, protest day and night, I have started protests (although I was freaking out cause they had threatened to remove my invalids benefit) at 3.30am in the morning outside Masterton District Court.  Also during the Occupy Wall Street movement, many of the protests went day and night.   If just you, do it as much as you can but don’t over do it and burn yourself out.

If inside a public building your protest should not be prolonged –  I think 2 hours is reasonable but anybody wanting to do longer should.  Protesting is about following your heart, creating a flow then going with it, have a broad idea of what you intend to do but allow for adjustments – OR NOT.  In saying that you also have to be staunch when you do this stuff, don’t let anybody manipulate you and convince you to stop if you heart knows its the wrong thing to do.

Be polite to police, do not swear at them, insult them ONLY if they insult you first (even then think twice about it).  If you are protesting about a worthy cause most of them will be on your side – ‘just doing their jobs’.  Of course you will ALWAYS come across the odd arsehole copper – mostly Sergeants with constables who are trained to do what they are told – whether they like it or not.

I dress up to go protesting, try to blend in, comfortable clothing cause you might be chalking on the footpath, putting up signs or holding them and/or walking.  You will get less hassles from police if you are tidy and well presented – think of what the respected people in their lives look like (that includes hair, jewellery and clothing).  Remember also they get trained in psychology/human behaviour under stress, etc so they’re manipulating you all the time, they know more about how you might behave than you know about them.   Reiterate you are a non-violent activist/protester, you know your rights and quote them (ie learn them directly from law).  Try and do things that are unpredictable – definitely try to do things that are funny (they are trained not to laugh but it will help your entire cause if you can find some irony in serious situations).

There are some awesome police officers out there – wish there were lots more.  Don’t hate them all for what a few have done to you – hard not to I know.

Your arrest does not need to be physical, make sure you tell police there is no need  for handcuffs, you are making a moral and political stand through civil disobedience – as outlined in the United Nations Handbook on Civil Society.  Mostly they will get you for wilful trespass, because the people you holding to account won’t like it and will want you removed and never to come back.

Be prepared for handcuffs to hurt and ask for them to be removed as soon as you are back at the police station being processed.  Sometimes they will let you have them on in front of you, rather than behind your back – if you an abuse victim it will make you feel extremely vulnerable being handcuffed behind your back.

If you are a bigger person handcuffs are going to hurt more, be prepared.  Stretchy bandages etc for your wrists should help – they’ve done a lot of damage to my right wrist so I always were a wrist brace.  Any existing injuries try and cover/protect them – even if you are not expecting to be ‘roughed up’ prepare for it – police do.

You might have to do fingerprints which is freaky, the machines they use are difficult and it takes ages, also remember someone you don’t know is probably going to be touching you – can be really hard if you an abuse victim.  Just keep reassuring yourself and tell the officer you are freaking out, if they a decent cop they’ll understand and make things as quick as possible.

You will have to take off all your jewellery, belts, scarves etc if they put you in a cell – so I don’t wear those things usually.   You will have to sign a form for your things, then get them back when you leave and sign it again.

If at any time you are angry and freaking out and have to sign something you can make an X.   With my Complex PTSD if I am angry and freaking out all my small motor skills go – ie I can’t write.  If deep breathing and trying to calm yourself doesn’t work then signing an X will get you out of police custody – hopefully.

In some cases they won’t ask for all that, you will be let go straight from the processing room – that’s more for us regulars 🙂

Otherwise you will sign for all your stuff – including your phone and be put in a cell.  Usually a one person cell, but sometimes a male or female holding cell for multiple people.

You will have to answer questions about your health – I always say I have a disability, Complex PTSD and beginnings of diabetes so can’t go long periods without food.   I verbalise what’s happening and what freaks me out as much as I can, this is helpful to them (or they can use it against you, but that’s only for real arseholes and Sth African cops).  Beware of police from other cultures, they might be useful with the numbers of foreigners now in New Zealand, but they also can be racist, culturally offensive bigots.   Culturally offensive to New Zealanders who born here and lived here for generations.

When you’ve been arrested you usually got lots of stress hormones on board, best to do physical activity in your cell until you calm down.  Singing, drumming good for that and remembering poetry, song lyrics etc keep your mind occupied.  Something those of us with claustrophobic tendencies need to do, also heightened fight & flight responses – can’t run from a locked cell.

If security or police get rough with you, make a formal complaint to police.  I walked out the back door of Wellington Police Station after being arrested at Bowen House, in the front door to make a complaint about one of John Key’s security guards being unnecessarily violent.  Ended up in him getting into trouble about it and an apology by his boss.  He wasn’t there to protect me Key’s ego, just his physical body, which I was not threatening.

If police take you away from your car or where you been protesting and dump you out on the street at a police station somewhere – if you don’t have a ride, if you can’t use a bus, if you have no money, if you going to be left in a dangerous situation then make sure you tell them that and they will USUALLY take you somewhere so you not put in that position.



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