Effective Strategies for Supporting Jailed Activists, Helping the Cause
from No Compromise Issue 4
 

By David Hayden, one of the LA 3's jail support team

Ideally, a support team should be selected before any action which involves the risk of arrest. The role of the support team must not be taken too lightly. In certain situations it can become as important to have a good support team, as it is to have committed activists who are willing to risk arrest. Thus, it is vital that all members of a support team be thoroughly briefed on what is expected from them prior to the action, and that the team be committed to carrying out their roles.

This is not to say that every action where there is a risk of arrest needs a support team. An action where only one individual risks arrest with no support whatsoever can still be extremely effective. In fact, if security is a major issue for a particular action this may be preferable. But, when feasible, having more activists, and a good support team can make an action go much more smoothly and become even more effective.

Support team activities vary from action to action, and the following list is merely meant to serve as a rough guideline for possible roles.

PHASE 1: PRIOR TO AN ACTION WHERE THERE IS A RISK OF ARREST

A support team should be chosen and this team should review the list of activities they may be called upon to perform. This should be done in conjunction with anyone who may risk arrest to determine what they may need to have done for them. Each member of the support team should commit to exactly what role they will play so that nothing will be overlooked.

A contact number for any jailed activists should be decided upon. This would be a number where there will be support team members continuously standing by while activists remain in jail to accept any collect calls from them. Any activists who may risk arrest should memorize this phone number. This phone should have call-waiting so the activists can always get through.

If possible, any activists who are risking arrest should be driven by someone who is not so that the support team will not have to worry about what to do with their cars.

PHASE 2: DURING AN ACTION, PRIOR TO ANY ARRESTS

Support team members may fill a wide variety of roles depending on the nature of a particular action. Some possible roles support team members may play during the course of an action are:

  • assisting individuals to lock down
  • serving as a media contact
  • holding on to the possessions of people who are risking arrest
  • taking keys for people who are locked down
  • videotaping and/or taking photos of the action
  • creating the appropriate mood for the arrest (e.g. somber, or confrontational)
  • distracting security and/or police

helping to protect any arrestees from physical abuse by security and police (by documenting it and pointing it out, e.g. yelling "THAT'S ASSAULT!")

having an activist attorney as a member of the support team can also be helpful to add more credibility to complaints that police or security are violating the law

PHASE 3: ARRESTS HAVE OCCURRED

A support team member should find where any arrestees have been taken. Are they at a police command post at the site of the arrest? Will they be released from there? Or have they been taken to a police station, or jail? If any of the arrestees are minors the police should be notified immediately to speed up their release.

If there are arrests during the course of a protest, it is generally best if the protest continues until the arrestees are either released or taken to jail. Once the arrestees are taken to jail the protesters and support team should go there as well, being sure to bring along any personal property of those who were arrested (e.g. keys, cars, jackets).

The member of the support team who has stayed by the phone becomes crucial at this point. This individual must take the responsibility of keeping the arrestees informed about what is going on outside of jail, as well as letting the other members of the support team know what is happening to the arrestees. Ideally a member of the jail support team should have a pager (or cell-phone if you can afford it) so that any messages the arrestees are able to get out can be passed along immediately.

Remember you can not trust the police. They often will lie to both arrestees and support team. The only reliable means of communication will be directly from the arrestees when they are allowed access to a phone, or when a reliable lawyer can get in to speak to them.

At the jail the support team should apply pressure to get the arrestees released on their own recognizance (OR) as soon as possible, and any minors should simply be released with no charges pending. If an activist-lawyer is a member of the support team this individual may be able to facilitate the release process even more.

Make it clear to the officers that these people are activists, and not people that would normally be considered "real criminals." Keep the pressure on them until the activists are released. If anyone should be in jail in this society it's the vivisectors, furriers and other abusers NOT compassionate activists!

The support team should also notify parents/guardians of minors to come pick them up if the minors have requested this ahead of time and it becomes necessary.

PHASE 4: ACTIVISTS REMAIN IN JAIL FOR EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME

If the arrestees remain in jail for an extended period of time the support team must be prepared to take care of a wider range of responsibilities which may include:

  • working with lawyers to get the activists released through legal channels
  • taking care of the animals and/or children of arrestees
  • contacting the arrestees' employers, friends, and family if required
  • alerting other activists via the internet, phone, mail, etc.
  • keeping the press up to date
  • arranging phone interviews with the arrestees
  • publicizing poor treatment of the activists, and inhumane jail conditions
  • holding protests and/or vigils at the jail
  • going on a sympathetic hunger strike
  • build a mock jail and place the effigy of an animal abuser, judge, or police officer inside with sign suggesting the REAL criminal be put in jail, or put someone on a sympathetic hunger strike inside it
  • burning an effigy
  • holding a protest at the site of the original arrest
  • doing fund-raising to cover any costs incurred by uncompromising activists
  • leafleting/protesting at court

Every action is different, and thus has different needs. This list should not be taken as a complete list of what support needs exist for every action. Instead, it is intended to be a source for generating dialogue within individual groups about what forms of support may be required for individual actions. Treat each action as a learning experience and remember, we can learn as much from our mistakes as from our successes.