Should I get arrested?

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Many activists ask the question: should I get arrested?

Arrest has many personal and political implications, and should be considered very carefully.

Some activists choose to disobey or break a law as an act of civil disobedience. Civil Disobedience is the deliberate, open and peaceful violation of particular laws, regulations or instructions which are believed to be morally objectionable or unjust.

Other activists go to great lengths to avoid arrest or see arrest as an unfortunate consequence of taking part in an action. Arrest can effectively remove you from the action, make you vulnerable to police abuse, and tie you up for months in court action.

Whatever your views on getting arrested, two questions are worth considering:

  1. Will getting arrested at this action help to achieve the campaign’s strategic aims? and
  2. Are you willing and able to withstand the personal consequences of being arrested and possibly charged and convicted?

Getting arrested, charged, and/ or convicted doesn’t only impact you. It can have flow on consequences for other activists at your action or future actions including police tactics and likely sentences. You should talk with your group about the pros and cons of risking arrest.

Only you can answer the second question. You should considering the range of possible consequences. See: Impact of a criminal record for more information and possible consequences.

read Activist case studies to find out how other activists have responded to these issues.

The information in this section is based on an article by Robert Burrowes that first appeared in Nonviolence Today No.39, July/August 1994

From a political perspective, there may be many reasons for risking arrest as part of a well-planned action.

  • It might be the only way to achieve an actions aim. For example, locking on to a piece of machinery so that it can’t be used to cut down trees;

  • It can be a clear statement of commitment and the seriousness of the issue that many people will respect;
  • It can enable the arrested activist to engage in dialogue with the police and other officials – many activists use this as an opportunity to challenge, educate and undermine their support for your opponent’s position;
  • Activists can use court appearances as a political forum for continuing the protest or presenting issues and information to audiences who may not ordinarily choose to listen;
  • Court cases may be used to explore ways in which the law can be used to defend civil liberties, social justice or the environment;
  • Overcoming the fear of arrest (as well as trials and imprisonment) is an important step in reducing the state’s ability to control us. If activists no longer fear police or fear arrest, they can’t use fear to control us;
  • Arrests can attract a great deal of attention and may provide the opportunity for activists to present their case via the media/social media.

Whatever the political advantages of arrest, each activist must deal with a range of personal issues that accompany it. Common concerns of activists include:

  • fear of the reaction of family, friends and colleagues;
  • fear of being injured by police during the action itself;
  • fear of being charged with criminal offences; and
  • fear of the implications of these charges (if convicted) in relation to their personal life including employment options, “Australian” visas, and travel overseas.

Some activists may also need to deal with other types of legal threats to silence activists.

The best way to deal with these fears is to discuss them beforehand with other activists, with your affinity group or with the Legal Support Team.

Legal Support Teams, lawyers, and campaign organisers need to be aware of the huge level of fear around arrest.

A pre-action legal briefing should include:

  • a facilitator who is able to assist the group to create a safe space for the expression of personal feelings,
  • an experienced activist who has been arrested several times and who can answer practical questions, and
  • a sympathetic lawyer who can provide a reliable guide to the type of charges which are likely to arise from the arrest (or litigation) as well as explain the legal implications of them (particularly in relation to personal assets, career and travel).

For detailed information go to Impact of a criminal record

Whether you have just been arrested, are in court, or in jail it is valuable for you to emotionally debrief and to evaluate what has happened.

You don’t get arrested or dragged away by police every day so it is expected that you may have some emotional reactions afterwards. These perfectly normal and better shared with your group, friends, family, or other support people.

An experienced facilitator can help you and your group to express and deal with any outstanding feelings. This can help you fully recover and benefit from your interaction with the legal system.

A good debrief and evaluation should also ensure that you integrate any insights and learnings into future work.

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