Yes, I was a cop. I worked for the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina from 1999 to 2006, as a jailer and later as a sworn deputy. I received basic riot control training from Gaston College’s Criminal Justice program and advanced riot control training from the North Carolina Army National Guard. As such, I have a good idea what’s in a cop’s head when he or she is called to a protest, and I’d like to offer some advice to my fellow demonstrators on how to keep things safe and peaceful.
That’s right, I said “fellow demonstrators” as I am now on the other side of the equation. I attended my first street protest in Portland, Oregon shortly after the disastrous election of 2016. It would not be my last, and I intend to continue to protest until Trump the fascist is unemployed. That being said, I do not want to see anybody hurt…on either side of the equation.
Now, I will admit that my anti-Trump feelings run strong.I too feel rage and frustration at the thought of this racist ignoramus in the role of commander-in-chief. And, I wish my feelings to be known from the streets of my city to the highest halls of my government. But I’ve also been to war and seen folks grievously injured, and I got to tell you, it ain’t pretty. Every cop knows that once they
I too feel rage and frustration at the thought of this racist ignoramus in the role of commander-in-chief. And, I wish my feelings to be known from the streets of my city to the highest halls of my government. However, I’ve also been to the Iraq war and I’ve seen folks grievously injured, and I got to tell you, it ain’t pretty. Every cop knows that once they pull a trigger that bullet can’t be called back…no matter how badly they wish it could. So, in a similar line, I want every protester to understand that once you throw a rock, what’s done cannot be undone. And when you’re rock bounces off the cop’s plastic shield and bashes in a little girl’s head, you will have to live with that for a very long time.
So, let’s get down to cases. Here are some practical rules for safely interacting with the police at a demonstration:
- 1. Know the local laws and abide by them.
If you need a permit, get a permit. The purpose of a permit is to ensure that adequate safety measures are in place—not to restrict your free speech. Face it, if you’re doing a ten-mile long protest march with hundreds of people, it would be a good idea if the city had an ambulance standing by in case somebody suffers a heart attack. That being said, certain demonstrations do not need a permit. Generally speaking, if you’re on public property and stay on the sidewalks you don’t need a permit. But like I said, do some checking and know the local laws.
- 2. Do not make threats of violence in your speech.
Yes, free speech is guaranteed in the First Amendment. However, the courts have ruled that certain speech is not protected. Threatening to impeach Trump is fine. Threatening to cut off his head and stick it on a pike is not. Not only are you likely committing a crime by making violent threats, but you may also be encouraging some unhinged individual to actually hurt somebody else. So don’t threaten violence!
- 3. Do not destroy other people’s property.
Naturally, if you’ve brought an effigy of Trump, I have a lighter you can brow (and a fire extinguisher ready just in case). However, smashing up somebody’s car or spray painting a public building doesn’t hurt Trump in the least. Think of it this way; a hypothetical teenager is mad at his high school principal so he takes a dump in the boy’s room sink. Has said teenager hurt his principal? No, he has only hurt the poor janitor who now has to clean up the nasty. Therefore, not only is vandalism a crime, it does nothing to hurt our foe—just some ordinary shmuck who now has to clean up the mess…not good.
- 4. Whenever possible, obey “the twenty-one foot rule.”
Never heard of the twenty-one foot rule? Don’t feel bad. It’s not a law and it’s not in any city ordinance I know of. It’s a rule of thumb that cops learn in police academies. Basically, the FBI did a study, years ago, and found that a perpetrator with a knife can run up and stab a policeman before the cop can draw his gun–if the perpetrator is within twenty-one feet of the officer. Therefore, cops are trained to be extra alert when within twenty-one feet of a citizen whose intentions are suspicious. Does this give cops the right to smack you with a nightstick if you get too close? No! The policeman is as bound by the law just as you are and can’t beat people up willy-nilly (if you have experience to the contrary, I will address that in Rule 5). However, what I am saying is that the closer your angry protest crowd gets to the police, the more on edge the cops will be. To decrease the opportunity for stupidity on either side of the police line, try to give the cops their twenty-one feet.
- 5. The boss isn’t always right, but he’s always the boss.
Do you hate this rule? Good, you should. I hate it too. But to ignore it is to ignore reality and open yourself up for a world of hurt. If a cop gives you an order, obey it. If he or she is in the right, there is a public safety reason for the order, and it’s best for all parties that you obey. However, if the police officer is in the wrong, SUE THE CRAP OUT OF ‘EM! That’s right, don’t try to win this battle on the street, win it in court instead. Get out your cell phone, and document how this thuggish cop infringed on your basic American rights, then take the matter to court. Do you like money? Would you like to use the settlement to fund Planned Parenthood or some other worthy cause? Then don’t disobey the police, just sue ’em!
- 6. Do not tolerate rioters in your midst.
If you’re out to have a peaceful protest, don’t let some jerk turn your crowd into an angry mob. Violent agitators can be a lot like Donald Trump in that they don’t actually build anything they just show up later and slap their name on it. To win, we must create a large, unified front to bring down The Donald. This means tolerating dissent within our own ranks and being as inclusive as possible in our protests. However, violent agitators should be seen as traitors to the cause. They discredit the thousands of decent human beings who are out there standing up for change by converting our unity into their chaos. If the cops try to arrest such a person, let them.
- 7. Whenever possible, create a climate of mutual respect with the police.
I know this can be a hard one. In my years of badge wearing experience, I can flatly state that most police officers are personally on the conservative side of politics. Many of them strongly disagree with liberal causes and dislike protesters on principal. However, a few things must also be understood. Firstly, just because many are opposed to us does not mean all of them are, I was once a liberal cop, and I had friends. And secondly, good police are by definition professionals whose primary concern is public safety, and public safety should be our concern too. Remember, the cop you see in the police line is not actually Donald Trump himself (the cop has to work for a living). Our enemy is a pompous, racist with bad hair, and the police don’t actually work for him. They work for our local governments and live in our communities, so surely, we can find some common ground.
Well, folks, that’s it. Seven simple rules to keep your protests safe. Notice, I did not say you can’t be loud, I did not say you can’t be passionate, and I did not say you should stop. And we will not be quiet! We will not lose our focus. We also will not quit until that abomination is out of office! And we will also not play into our foe’s hands by rioting.
By the way, nothing I have said in this post constitutes “legal advice.” I am not a lawyer and don’t pretend to be. This is, however, practical advice for those patriotic Americans who would resist tyranny in this dark time.
See you on the street.
By Clayton J. Callahan