Thousands of people in and around Kansas have attended protests, marches and rallies connected with the Black Lives Matter movement that escalated following the death of George Floyd. Wichita’s protest activity has been mostly non-violent and resulted in few arrests. Hundreds were arrested in Kansas City, where buildings were sprayed with graffiti, businesses looted and people injured.
What should you know before you attend a protest to help determine if you really want to run the risk of being charged with a crime and what should you do if you are?
Attorney Lauren Bonds is the legal director of the Kansas office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). While the group does not provide legal support to people who have merely been arrested, they will step in if someone’s rights have been violated.
“Most protesters are arrested on misdemeanor charges such as disturbing the peace or unlawful assembly. But if violence is involved, felony charges can happen, at the discretion of the officer(s) involved,” she says. Also, anything that is illegal on its face is still illegal during a protest. “If you are destroying property, stealing or assaulting someone, you will be charged.”
Getting arrested at a protest can have serious consequences. If you have prior convictions, your arrest may be a violation of your probation directives, and unless you’re squeaky clean, you might end up being held on a prior warrant. Beware, in some cases, law enforcement officers may try to upcharge your violations.
Protesters can be held up to 48 hours, but for minor charges, arresting officers often practice a technique called “catch and release” where protestors are detained, some information is collected, like their name and address and they are released a short time later with no formal charges. Many protesters in Kansas City were released this way.
Bonds says, “Civil disobedience has a storied presence in U.S. history. Some protesters want to be a part of that, literally putting their bodies on the line to draw attention to their cause.” The late Congressman John Lewis was arrested throughout his life in his quest to secure voting rights for people of color.
If you are planning to be arrested as part of a civil disobedience action, Bonds suggests doing the following beforehand:
• Be clear about what you are (and are not) willing to do. How will you respond if the protest becomes violent or if you are facing counter-protestors? Know if protest coordinators will help secure your release.
• Bring identification, if you have it. This makes the arrest go more smoothly and can speed your release.
• Wear comfortable clothing, including slip-on shoes (sometimes laces are taken upon arrest).
• Don’t have anything on your person that you wouldn’t want police to see (weapons, drugs, etc.).
• Bring any medications you might need in case of an overnight stay.
• If needed, make childcare arrangements in advance.
• Have a plan about how long you will remain in jail and how you will be bonded out.
Bonds points out that there are many effective ways to champion a cause without being arrested. “Marches and sit-ins don’t usually lead to arrest.”
Around Kansas, many effective demonstrations used these tactics. Some were coordinated with the advance knowledge and support of local law enforcement officials. This can help protect the safety of protesters, counter-protesters and observers.