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Getting Busted for Dummies 

These Streets Are Watching is a primer on civil disobedience

Wednesday, Jul 21 2004
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As the cops led him away, hands held behind his back with plastic manacles, he looked back at his wife and grinned. She waved, gave him the thumbs-up, and continued snapping photos. She was crying, but then, she always cried at anti-war protests.

Anyone who knows anything about civil disobedience can tell you the above scene is hardly unusual -- getting arrested to prove a point is an American tradition, like eating apple pie and being an immigrant. It has been so since Henry David Thoreau sat in a jail cell in Massachusetts and felt his heart swell with self-righteousness, and probably long before. Such actions remain an important tool for ordinary citizens to make their voices heard. Getting arrested for civil disobedience can be almost boring, or it can be seriously dangerous, landing you in the hospital if you're lucky or injured in lockup if you're not.

The trick to it, experts say, is the same as with nearly everything: Stay informed, and remain calm if possible. (It's OK to cry, though. Lots of people do.) These Streets Are Watching, a new film from police watchdog group Copwatch, was made to be a sort of primer for folks planning to register their discontent and risk arrest. It describes in specific, legal terms what your rights are when you decide to break the law, and uses footage from several cities (including Berkeley) to show how to protect yourself.

Wednesday's screenings are likely to be packed with rabble-rousers heading to the upcoming Republican National Convention in New York. They will no doubt be of equal interest to those who faced San Francisco's finest during the recent biotech convention protests and the gargantuan anti-war protests last March. Speaking of which, the story above ends happily: The man was part of an affinity group and had a lawyer's phone number written on his arm, and his wife has some pictures that make her proud, if a little choked up.

About The Author

Hiya Swanhuyser

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