On Saturday night, a group gathered in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh to protest police actions during demonstrations held during the two-day Pittsburgh G20 summit. While almost 200 people were arrested during the demonstrations on Thursday and Friday, as of 11:58 pm on the 26th, there have been reported arrests in Saturday night’s march.
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Here are some basic truths about getting arrested:
- The First Amendment protects your right to mouth off to the police. However, mouthing off to the police is never a good idea if they’re cuffing you.
- It is never a good idea to try to fight a police officer.
- If you are being arrested, it not a good idea to try to run from a police officer. In fact, it’s illegal.
- No one has to read you your Miranda rights unless you are going to be interrogated.
- It is *never* a good idea to talk to the police without your lawyer present.
- If you are arrested, it will probably take a while before you can get bail and are released.
Of course, all of this is assuming that you are arrested. For summary offenses, the police may issue a citation ordering you to either plead guilty and send in a fine or plead not guilty and have a summary trial.
- Disorderly Conduct: Disorderly conduct is commonly charged where the police believe that a person’s behavior is such that it causes annoyance or the risk of harm to those in the area. This is Pennsylvania’s rough equivalent to “disturbing the peace.” This can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a summary offense.
- Criminal Mischief: Criminal mischief covers an assortment of actions that generally involve damage to property. This includes graffiti, breaking a window, keying a car, etc. This can be graded as a felony, misdemeanor, or as a summary offense depending on the value of the property that is damaged.
- Propulsion of Missiles: Propulsion of missiles includes throwing rocks, bricks, or any other item. This usually involves propelling an item into a car or occupied structure.
- Arson: Arson is intentionally setting something on fire or creates an explosion and puts lives in danger or damages property. This is a felony.
- Failure to Disperse: Where three or more people are engaging in disorderly conduct but don’t follow a police officer’s order to leave the area, they may be charged with failure of disorderly persons to disperse upon official order. This is a second-degree misdemeanor.
- Resisting Arrest: Resisting arrest is, in lay terms, using force against the police in order to avoid arrest or trying so hard to avoid arrest that the police have to try really hard to arrest you. This often comes with a charge of aggravated assault, depending on the level of resistance used. This offense is a misdemeanor.
- Public Intoxication or Public Drunkenness: Public intoxication is voluntarily appearing in public when you are so intoxicated that you pose a danger (or annoyance) to yourself or others. This is a summary offense.
- Obstructing highways and other public passages: Obstructing highways is when a person blocks a sidewalk, road or other passageway and doesn’t stop blocking it when the police instruct him to stop. This is a summary offense.
While most of the charges are relatively straightforward, the offense of disorderly conduct is often problematic. In recent years, there have been several incidents where law enforcement has charged defendants with disorderly conduct for using profanity towards police. However, “flipping the bird” and using profane language towards police is protected speech under the First Amendment.
As a result of a new ordinance passed by the Pittsburgh City Council, demonstrators face an additional offense during next week’s summit. Anyone who is caught with “certain items intended to obstruct a public right-of-way, block emergency response equipment or thwart police attempts at breaking up a crowd” may be charged with a summary offense. Those items include: “noxious and/or toxic substances, gas masks, projectile launchers, animal or human waste, animal or human blood, rotten eggs, acid, gasoline, manufactured gases or sprays, and alcohol.” The ordinance is set to expire on September 30th, 2009.
Coming tomorrow: What to do if you are arrested at the G20 summit
During the course of the past G20 meetings, numerous demonstrators were arrested for charges ranging from causing damage to property and arson to disorderly conduct and rioting. In the 2006 G20 summit in Melbourne, Australia, 26 protesters were arrested. During the London, England summit in April of this year, 86 protesters were charged and arrested after over 4,000 protesters converged on the city to participate in demonstrations. (It should be noted that last year’s G20 summit in Washington, D.C. was, by most reports, uneventful.)
To prepare for the summit, Pittsburgh has consulted with the former chief of police for Seattle, Washington. In 1999, Seattle hosted the meeting of the World Trade Organization. During that meeting, 50,000 people descended on the city of Seattle to participate in demonstrations. In the mayhem that ensued, over 500 people were arrested. For years after the 1999 WTO meetings the city of Seattle was taken to task due to the poor conditions of the temporary jails used during the meeting as well as for unlawfully arresting approximately 200 demonstrators.
Conclusion: The overall arrest rate for past G20 summits and similar events is lower than you would expect. However, it’s worthwhile to be prepared if you end up being one of the demonstrators that gets arrested.
Coming Tomorrow: What charges are usually filed against demonstrators, protestors, and others arrested in mass settings?