What are our rights when it comes to protesting? How do we protest safely and effectively during this pandemic? We answer these questions and more this week with help from activists L.A. Kauffman and Charlene Carruthers. L.A. is a veteran grassroots organiser with over 35 years of experience in political activism and has written two books on the topic including her most recent, How to Read a Protest: The Art of Organising and Resistance. Charlene was a founding national director of the Black Youth Project 100, and is now a part of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL). She is also the author of Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements.
We also speak with Maryanne Kaishian, Senior Staff Attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, about rights in the U.S., and how Americans protect themselves legally in the event of arrest.
Highlights from this week’s episode
From the L.A. Kauffman interview
On the unique impact the current Black Lives Matter protests have right now:
I’m struck. You know, I’ve lived through many moments where people have been moved in large numbers to suddenly take to the streets. That’s something that’s happened many times in our country’s history. But the fact that it’s happening now when going out on the streets is such a risky thing to do, gives it added power and I think reflects what extreme circumstances we’re experiencing.
On keeping yourself and your fellow protestors safe at a rally:
I particularly want to put out a call to people who are going to these protests who are either white or nonblack people of colour, to be aware of the heightened risk that black participants in every protest are taking and the ways in which you can help buffer those risks with your bodies. A lot of moments when there have been escalation at protests, people will call for white people to the front because we know it’s part of the racist society that we live in, that when there’s a line of white people at the front of a protest, the police are less likely to shoot tear gas of less likely to attack them. So think about what’s going on. Be very alert, what’s going around you, and think about how you can at all times be acting, not just to keep yourself safe, but to keep those with whom you’re standing in solidarity safe.
From the Maryanne Kaishian interview
On the importance of remaining silent when being arrested in the U.S.:
You have the right to remain silent, which everyone knows, but in the moment when you’re confronted by an officer, even lawyers tend to speak to the police…And I feel like we don’t talk enough about the social dynamics and the power dynamics are at play during a confrontation with the police. So it is critical that you invoke your right to remain silent…and say, “I do not want to speak with you. I want to call an attorney and I want an attorney present with me if I’m going to speak with the police.” It’s important to reiterate that to yourself before going to a protest, because, as I said, many people [who] know their rights, find themselves in that situation and do end up speaking. And it’s important that you do not do that. It’s critical that you maintain your right to remain silent.
On the limit to which knowing rights will actually protect you:
We also know that knowing your rights is not a bulletproof vest. It will not save your life. And in certain instances, I’ve also seen people who correctly invoke their rights, anger the police officers to the extent that they are then physically injured or harassed or any other number of things that can be can happen to them. So I just want to acknowledge that knowing your rights is always a good idea. It’s you know, it’s a smart way to prepare for a protest. But there’s only and there’s an extent to which the law can help. And the law is not the answer here. It is a tool in a toolbox of things that we need to use to protect ourselves, to protect others and ultimately to reform the country that we live in. But it certainly isn’t the entire answer.
From the Charlene Carruthers interview
On how to support the Movement for Black Lives beyond protesting:
There are so many ways to support. People have been building mutual aid networks to supply first aid, food, actual cash, monetary support, housing, medication, all types of things, connecting people, rideshares, supporting those things, organising mutual aid, local mutual aid networks. You can donate money to an organisation. You can also donate any technical skills that you have to an organisation. And for white people in particular, you can talk to and organise other white people around anti-racism to be anti-racist and to support policies that are being called for in this particular moment and actually flank our organisations and our demands.
On the importance of defunding the police:
The truth is that every day in the United States, black and brown and indigenous people are extremely nervous about the police. Many of us live lives where we are surveilled. We are harassed. And frankly, far too many black people and brown people and indigenous people are killed by law enforcement in this country…And so we’re living under the heel of an institution that has the power and the money or resources to actually [end] our lives. And we envision a world that’s radically transformed in which how we deal with conflict, violence and harm happens radically different. And that means community-based safety solutions, the resources that we need in our communities, such as quality public schools and health care and housing and also environmental justice. We actually know they have vast impact on the amount of violence that can happen in any given neighbourhood and actually create real safety beyond policing.