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Should We Just Follow Orders? Rules of Engagement for Resisting the Police State

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The perils of resisting the police state grow more costly with each passing day, especially if you hope to escape with your life and property intact. The thing you must remember is that we've entered an age of militarized police in which we're no longer viewed as civilians but as enemy combatants.

Indeed, anything short of compliance will now get you charged with any of the growing number of contempt charges (ranging from resisting arrest and interference to disorderly conduct, obstruction, and failure to obey a police order) that get trotted out anytime a citizen voices discontent with the government or challenges or even questions the authority of the powers that be--and that's the best case scenario. The worst case scenario involves getting probed, poked, pinched, tasered, tackled, searched, seized, stripped, manhandled, arrested, shot, or killed.

So what can you really do when you find yourself at the mercy of law enforcement officers who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to "serve and protect"? In other words, what are the rules of engagement when it comes to interacting with the police?

If you want to play it safe, comply and do whatever a police officer tells you to do. Don't talk back. Don't threaten. And don't walk away. In other words, don't do anything that even hints at resistance.

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Keep in mind, however, that this is not a fail-safe plan, especially not in an age where police officers tend to shoot first and ask questions later, oftentimes based only on their highly subjective "feeling" of being threatened.

If compliance isn't quite your cup of tea--and we'd be far better off as a nation if we were far less compliant--then you've got a few more options ranging from legal-but-sure-to-annoy-an-officer to legal-but-it-could-get-you-arrested to legal-but-it-could-get-you-shot.

If this is war--and a good case could be made for the fact that the government is indeed waging a war on the American citizenry--then the tactics I'm about to outline could be considered nonviolent guerilla warfare, using whatever strategic, legal, creative and nonviolent means are available.

To begin with, and most importantly, Americans need to know their rights when it comes to interactions with the police, bearing in mind that many law enforcement officials are largely ignorant of the law themselves. In a nutshell, here are your basic rights when it comes to interactions with the police as outlined in the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution:

You have the right under the First Amendment to ask questions and express yourself. You have the right under the Fourth Amendment to not have your person or your property searched by police or any government agent unless they have a search warrant authorizing them to do so. You have the right under the Fifth Amendment to remain silent and not incriminate yourself.

You have the right under the Sixth Amendment to request an attorney. Depending on which state you live in and whether your encounter with police is consensual as opposed to your being temporarily detained or arrested, you may have the right to refuse to identify yourself. Presently, 26 states do not require citizens to show their ID to an officer (drivers in all states must do so, however).

Knowing your rights is only part of the battle, unfortunately. The hard part comes in when you have to exercise those rights in order to hold government officials accountable to respecting those rights.

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As a rule of thumb, you should always be sure to clarify in any police encounter whether or not you are being detained, i.e., whether you have the right to walk away. That holds true whether it's a casual "show your ID" request on a boardwalk, a stop-and-frisk search on a city street, or a traffic stop for speeding or just to check your insurance.

As I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, if you feel like you can't walk away from a police encounter of your own volition--and more often than not you can't, especially when you're being confronted by someone armed to the hilt with all manner of militarized weaponry and gear--then for all intents and purposes, you're essentially under arrest from the moment a cop stops you.

Still, it doesn't hurt to clarify that distinction by specifically asking whether you are being detained or not and on what grounds. And whenever possible, record your encounter with police.

While technology is always going to be a double-edged sword, with the gadgets that are the most useful to us in our daily lives--GPS devices, cell phones, the internet--being the very tools used by the government to track us, monitor our activities, and generally spy on us, cell phones are particularly useful for recording encounters with the police and have proven to be increasingly powerful reminders to police that they are not all powerful. That said, while members of the public have a First Amendment right to record police interactions, doing so could still get you charged with any number of trumped up "contempt of cop" charges.

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John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's aggressive, pioneering approach to civil liberties has earned him numerous accolades and (more...)
 

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