by Garret Ean
May 12, 2011
Today at around 5:00pm I was near Everett Arena where the annual Kiwanis Spring Fair was being set up. Knowing there would be a good amount of foot traffic for the weekend festival, I decided to chalk “FreeConcord.org” on the sidewalk by Loudon Road.
I was approached by two officers who came from inside the arena. If it had not been for the violent reaction of authorities at the federal compound to a peaceful chalking demonstration in November, I likely would have been more conversational with the two men. Upon seeing them, I pulled out my phone and dialed Porcupine 411, an activist hotline which streams audio to the internet and was designed to hold police (or anyone) accountable given such a situation. This is the same phone which, in July, Michael Pearl, a sergeant with Concord PD, had ripped out of my hand as I recorded his friends and him during an unconstitutional detention to determine my age. To remedy that situation, I cordially asked Concord PD to educate their officers on the specifics of wiretapping statute in New Hampshire, which does not give police the right to prevent you from recording them. After filing a complaint, the response I got from the chief of police was “No comment”. Based on the actions of the officers today, it seems in ten months the institution has done nothing to improve.
One officer did the majority of the talking. They approached me as I stood by my completed chalking, and asked, “Are you giving something away for free?” The question seemed queer given the circumstance, as the message was clearly a URL promotion. I suspect there was an ulterior motive to asking such a silly question, perhaps to gauge my response. I stated, “You’re being audio recorded,” though the recording had not yet begun. There is at least a 10-20 second delay from the time when you hit dial to when the stream begins.
From my memory, the officers immediately took issue with the recording, informing me that it was a felony to record them without their permission, though never directly threatening arrest. If they were telling the truth, then they need not say more and should have put the handcuffs on me at that moment. Given the situation, the officers were either confused/misinformed about the reality of RSA 570:A, or they were lying. I like to believe when I encounter officers alleging this that the former is true, but given the amount of press coverage on this issue in the past year, I believe that the latter may unfortunately be the case. Whether ignorant or deceitful, this is the sort of professionalism that results when an organization is granted a monopoly privilege. Whether you appreciate their services or not, you are forced to pay their salaries.
I asked if I was being detained, which caused the two to look at each other and laugh. They knew that this was a legal question and that answering it would require them to respond in the negative, as I had done nothing warranting detention. Laughter is neither an affirmation nor a denial. I believe it was about this time that the recording comes in.
The original call in .mp3 format is linked, as well as transcribed below. The first three seconds are inaudible. Inaudible words or segments are denoted with (?).
P1: Are you leaving? Are you leaving or you staying?
P2: (?) You cannot record us. You (?) you can’t record us.
P1: You’re recording, you’re recording that’s a felony, you can’t record us. You have to have my consent to record.
G: What RSA…
P1: Are you telling me, are you telling me you’re recording me?
P1: No, you didn’t ask me for my permission, I said no.
G: I did not ask you for your permission.
P1: Yes you did, he said ‘(?) could I record you?’ [To the other officer] (That what?) he said?
G: I informed you I was recording.
P2: Okay, we don’t want to be recorded.
G: We can check the recording later and figure it out. You’re being streamed live right now. I’m not doing anything illegal so I wouldn’t expect that I’m being detained.
P1: You’re writing on the sidewalk and I asked if you’re giving away stuff free. That’s all I asked you. I asked you if you’re giving away stuff for free, that’s all I asked you. Yes or no, is a common answer.
G: Okay. I’m under no obligation to answer, respectfully.
[Officers begin walking away]
G: You guys have a nice day.
P1: Don’t tell us what to do.*
*The officer’s last snippet is barely audible in the recording, but fortunately comes out just enough to pick it out. At the end of the action, I leave some situation information, so that activists receiving the message have a frame of reference for what they’ve just heard.
Normally when out and about, I have a video camera on me, and it is likely that the addition of video would have changed the dynamics of the encounter, both in how I would have responded and how the officers may have responded. In my camera case I also keep 570-A cards, as it would have been nice to show the officers the actual law which they were claiming that I was violating. Because of the encounter, I decided to also make a chalking which read, “Police Accountability, CopBlock.org”. If the officers who oppose civilian recording give serious thought to the fact that they work on the record and should have nothing to hide, then they would realize that as moral beings it is their obligation to stop lying to and threatening individuals who want nothing more than to retain their rights and have the ability to hold their armed “servants” accountable.
Improving Communication Skills
Anyone who has ever found themselves involved in a police encounter can attest to how unnerving the situation can be. As an activist, with each encounter one gains confidence, and with reflection, one considers where they could improve their responses to similar situations in the future. My mistake was not noting the name and badge numbers of the officers, as at this point, they could have been any two members of the Concord Police. I only responded when I felt it appropriate given the circumstances, though listening over the recording again, one can see how well the police work together in firing off questions and dropping information. They are trained to become increasingly authoritative, albeit subtlety, when their alpha-male status in a given scenario is threatened. You can’t hear how cordially the encounter began since the beginning of the dialogue was not recorded, but you can notice the gradual increase in the tempo and tone of the officer’s speech, and how one officer plays the dominant role while the other the supporting.
A More Human Approach
As satisfied as I can feel about having retained my rights during an encounter in which two men with guns told me that I was committing a felony, there is something subtly saddening about the human relations aspect of the encounter today. Had anyone else approached me to inquire about my chalking, I would have been delighted to engage them in conversation. Though the reality of the world that we live in is that people with badges and guns have more rights than you and I. Out of protection for myself, and out of protest of the harm that police do every day when enforcing bad laws, I limit my cooperation with them, and respectfully decline to answer certain questions. I would have liked to have said all of the reasons why I was not interested in answering their questions, but even this explanation itself prolongs the encounter and gives the officer more ‘evidence’ to use against you. With the little bit of information that I did give them, (informing them that I was recording) only seconds later the officer was trying to twist my words around. Creating self-doubt in the individual’s mind is an effective way to exert a mental dominance over them. Knowing the tactics police use, and knowing exactly which words that I had chosen, this tactic was ineffective against me. This is why it is important for anyone to be aware of what you should and should not say during a police encounter (and for this reason, I will be doing a blog in the near future on how I believe one can best handle themselves in a police encounter. There are a variety of resources on this matter, from attorneys to former law enforcement officers, who offer valuable yet diverse perspectives which you can research in the meantime).
When an officer talks to a civilian, the officer may be approaching him as a human being, engaging in lighthearted conversation, or the officer may be approaching him under the guise of investigating a crime, and with the intention of finding a reason to fine or cage him. Because you can never really know the difference, it is safest to err on the side of caution; that you are in fact involved in a master-slave dialectic, and the officer most definitely is not going to be the one playing the role of slave.
In an ideal world, there are no master-slave relations, but the modern world is far from ideal. I am displeased that I cannot communicate with an individual wearing a badge in the same manner in which I would any other human being. This is why I try my hardest to be firm yet respectful, and why after the encounter was over, I wished the two men a good day.
Dave Ridley of the Ridley Report did a great video blog in July of 2008 as to why he limits his cooperation with police. His insights are presented in such a way that one hopes police can understand and consider as to why individuals will continue to peacefully non-cooperate.