By Vivion Vinson

The Philadelphia Solidarity Forum met this past Saturday at the Arch Street Methodist Church in Center City, Philadelphia for its sixth event.  The session featured the Up Against the Wall legal collective, who provided training on legal rights for activists and protestors. About fifty people representing more than fifteen local activist groups attended.

Kitty Heite, one of the organizers, opened the meeting and described the purpose of the Solidarity Forum as providing “a space for activists to meet face to face, both online and in person, in the Philadelphia area to organize, discuss, share stories, so we can work together.”  She described the group’s organizational effort as originating from the DNC protests last year, when they “noticed a need for logistical support,” and added that the Solidarity Forum is “not organizing actions ourselves, just providing support.”

Nonviolent protest: Know your rights. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Heather Squire from the POWER Coalition next spoke briefly about her work on a map project called “Elections Have Consequences.” With her background as a geographer, Squire is putting together a visual guide to over 200 social justice groups in the city.  She is currently raising money to print it, to ensure that there are copies available to those who do not have easy Internet access.  There will also be an online, interactive version.

Up Against the Wall proceeded next with an extensive, and highly informative session on legal rights of protestors.  Candace McKinley introduced the organization’s services: providing legal support and training to activists and the general public in the Philadelphia area; legally observing during protests and actions; connecting people to attorneys, providing bail, and legal support; and training people on how to observe police actions safely and legally.  She made the point that innocent bystanders are often arrested as an unintended consequence of being physically near a police action, and that everyone needs to know their rights in the event of their being involved.

Jody Dodd reviewed in detail a series of topics, including being a legal observer; things to say (and not to say) if you are arrested; when it is mandatory for you to be carrying valid ID.  In anticipation of the protests in Washington D.C. later this month, she also discussed the structure and behavior of the security forces in the city, and how they differ from other major cities in their enforcement practices.

Some core principles emerged from the discussion.  If, for example, a member of the police appears to be intent on arresting you, do NOT say, “What did I do?”  This will escalate the situation.  Instead, Dodd recommended saying, “Am I being detained?”  If the answer is no, you can feel free to walk away.  If you are being detained, then other phrases that are useful are, “I want a lawyer,” “I do not consent to this search,” and “I wish to remain silent.”  Also, verbally making it clear that, “I am not resisting,” is very helpful.  She noted that if you do say that you wish to remain silent, you really have to do so — and if you do say something, it’s important to say one more time, “I wish to remain silent,” and start over.

Another important point made was that if you decline to give your name, you are at risk for arrest.  However, you do not have to show ID unless you are operating a vehicle, or are not a citizen.  Do NOT lie to the police, as that is a crime.

Dodd also reviewed best practices for filming an arrest.  “Start early,” she said, “and stay several yards away.”  Get the legal name and date of birth of someone if they are hurt, along with any medications and contact information.  Up Against the Law provides a Philadelphia area hotline (484-758-0388), but encouraged those protesting in Washington D.C. to use a similar service from the National Lawyers Guild.  

Philadelphia Solidarity Forum: Know Your Rights when Protesting