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GUIDE TO DEALING WITH POLICE HARASSMENT
from AMER, the Alliance for Magical and Earth Religions
Here in the United States, the freedom to think and believe as you
choose are protected by law. Unfortunately, our legal system is not
perfect; there are some few people out there who would use it against
those who believe differently from themselves.
It is important to remember that religious belief is not a crime. If
you are ever harassed for your religious beliefs, whether by corrupt
police following their own agendas or by honest police misled by
dishonest citizens, you must bear in mind that the legal system is
designed to protect you. This pamphlet will show you how to **use**
the system to your own advantage: what to do, and especially what
**not** to do.
One caveat: It is assumed that you are, in fact, not guilty of
committing a crime. While it is true that the system works as well
for the guilty as for the innocent, our purpose here is to address
only the issue of harassment on the basis of religion or personal
beliefs. If there is an actual crime involved, even if it is
religious in nature or motivation, AMER will not endorse it or support
There are several types of action available to law enforcement
officers which can be used to harass the ordinary citizen. Some of
these are questioning, search and seizure, arrest, and accusation. We
will touch on each of these, with information about what the police
have to do, and what they cannot do. This knowledge can help you to
steer your own course through difficult times.
One thing you must never, never do: **do not**, under any
circumstances, physically resist the police. To do so justifies their
use of force to compel you; don't give a police officer an opportunity
to misjudge the level of force required. If he is honest and unwise,
or corrupt and out to get you, the result will be the same: you will
be injured (or even killed!), and he will be free to continue to
harass citizens. Your resistance must be passive - in what you
**don't do - to be effective. If you feel that you are being
mistreated by the police, accept it and go along with it; you will
still be alive and free to obtain redress later, through the Courts.
If You Are Questioned
Law Enforcement Officers have the right and the duty to stop and
question any citizen, whenever a felony has been committed and they
have reasonable grounds to believe that the citizen may have been
involved in that felony. If this should happen to you, your first
reaction should be to cooperate fully with the officer. This is not
harassment, unless the questions asked do not or cannot pertain to any
At your first opportunity, when you suspect that you are being
harassed, you should ask, "Am I under arrest?" This forces the
officer to inform you of your official status. If he or she does not
formally arrest you at that point, then you are still a "private
citizen" with all the civil rights thereof. You do not **have** to
answer any questions, or allow the officer into any premises for which
he or she does not have a warrant. Ask the officer, "What crime is
under investigation?" The answer to this question should allow you to
decide whether the officers questions are legitimate. Only then, if
you are being harassed, should you use any of the following tactics.
You should **not** volunteer information about any persons or
incidents, no matter what is promised to you. Anything you say can
be used against you and others, and could be used out of context to
mean something you had never intended. You will not clear yourself by
naming others or describing events. It is best not to say a word
until you have legal representation present.
Sometimes you could be subjected to bigotry, insult, or epithets from
police who feel that intimidation will get them results from otherwise
reticent subjects. Do not go into shock, do not lose your temper and
do **not respond in kind; it will only serve to pour more fuel on the
fire and make matters worse. If you can remember exact words and
details, write them down at the first opportunity and talk with a
lawyer about whether you have adequate grounds for a civil rights
The police may take you to the station to talk. If this happens, ask
to have an attorney present. Then, shut up. Don't say anything until
the lawyer is there with you, and speak only if he advises it.
If you are in a public place with a multitude of neutral witnesses,
like an event in a public park, you can speak a little more freely.
Just remember, witnesses can work against you, too, so watch what you
say and keep your temper.
If you are at another's home when the police come in, you should keep
quiet also. Avoid incriminating your host. You really don't know
what grounds are being used for the raid, and you probably don't
**know they are innocent of whatever it is; so avoid incriminating
yourself or others. In this case, the time to act is afterwards; see
In your own home, if the police ask permission to come in, the answer
should be "NO." You should step outside and talk with them. If the
weather is too inclement for that, or if they don't like this
approach, offer to go to McDonald's or to the police station. You
don't have to let them in without a warrant. If you are asked, "What
do you have to hide?" turn it around and ask "What kind of question is
that?" If they are not asking to come in, but breaking down your
door, give way and let them in. Don't fight them or make any insults
or threats, but remember all that is said and done, make notes, and
get a lawyer.
If the officer looks frightened or angry, take extreme precautions not
to do anything to startle him or make him think you are about to do
him harm. This is a time of maximum risk to yourself, so be very
polite and don't do anything that may be interpreted as a threat.
If You are Injured
If the worst happens and you are injured during the course of an
improper police action, go to the nearest Emergency Room for
treatment. Even if the injury appears to be superficial, the hospital
is required by law to notify the police in the case of an assault.
This will begin the process of documentation for your eventual
complaint or lawsuit. The hospital's report will be instrumental in
substantiating such a complaint.
Search and Seizure
While the law recognizes many different circumstances under which the
police may conduct a search of persons or property, only a few are
relevant to this discussion. Of course, you are perfectly within your
rights to ask the officer **why** he is searching you; his answer will
help you to determine whether you have grounds for a complaint. (You
ALWAYS submit to the search; if the officer is acting improperly, you
may file a complaint later.)
The Limited Protection Search is most easily used for harassment
purposes. The law enforcement officer is permitted, if he has cause
to suspect that a person is armed, to "frisk" that person for weapons.
While this may be undignified, it is no more than that; if you are
armed, surrender the weapon voluntarily before the search begins.
This establishes that you are willing to cooperate with the officer,
and limits the scope of further harassment. (Of course, if the weapon
you carry is illegal, there are other consequences.) If you are not
armed, it doesn't matter; even if he were to find contraband on your
person, he probably could do no more than confiscate it, because it
might not be admissible evidence.
If you are a female, you have the right to have a female witness
present during the search. Another harassment tactic involves the
"Plain View" search, which is not a search at all. This involves the
officer's simply seeing some item which he defines as contraband; he
has the right to confiscate it, as well as to take any further action
as appropriate. Though this can be a major inconvenience, you can
file a complaint against the officer through his department's Internal
Affairs division, and you may be able to recover your property.
If you are actually arrested, then the officer may search your person
and all of the surrounding area within your reach. This "Search
Incident to Arrest" is permitted to insure that the arrested person
cannot obtain a weapon or destroy evidence; any contraband or evidence
relating to the reason for the arrest is admissible. You can do
nothing about this, so relax. (It may be a tactic to rattle you.
Don't let it.)
One special case: when the property to be searched is an automobile,
the requirement for a search warrant is waived. The officer must
still be able to prove to the Court that his search is "reasonable,"
but he does not have to obtain a warrant to make the search. This is
because the vehicle is mobile, and could be gone by the time a warrant
could be obtained.
Once again, we cannot make the warning strong enough: DO NOT resist a
police officer or other law enforcement officer when he insists on
making a search! Better to submit to the search than to the arrest or
other consequences that could result from resistance! If you believe
that the search was not reasonable, take notes as soon as you can.
See an attorney. If you have a case, your attorney will deal with it.
If You Are Arrested
"**You are under arrest.**" These are words that the common,
upstanding citizen never expects to hear. However, as a Pagan or
magical practitioner, you must be realistic. As the world stands,
Pagans, Satanists, Witches and others deemed "radical,"
"non-conformist," or (in extreme cases) "dangerous to society", face
the very real possibility that they may be harassed, arrested, charged
with supposed crimes, or actually prosecuted for those "crimes."
Whether your arrest is the end of a long series of harassments, or
happens abruptly and surprisingly, there are certain procedures that
the police are required by law to follow if they don't want the arrest
to be deemed invalid in any future court proceedings. This section
deals with that process, and hopefully, will include some useful
advice on how to deal with being arrested.
You have probably already been stopped and questioned. The officer
has informed you that you are under arrest, and your situation has
radically changed. You are no longer a private citizen, but rather a
ward of the State until such a time as you are released. You are
protected under Criminal Code from certain indignities or atrocities
(you may not be questioned without an attorney present, for example,
and you cannot be physically abused), but your civil rights are
severely limited. Let's examine what rights you **do** have, and how
you should exercise them.
Most people have heard the almost ritual language of the Miranda
Warning, mandated by the United States Supreme Court; but many do not
know **what** those words mean. It is important to understand this
warning; its provisions will govern your behavior from this point on:
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT. This means **exactly** what it
says. You do not **have** to say anything from this point on, even to
give your name or social security number. It is strongly recommended
that you exercise this right.
ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU IN A COURT OF LAW.
Again, this means **exactly** what it says. Every word you utter may
be used against you or others in a future Court proceeding. Before
you say anything, to anybody, you should examine it from all angles to
see that it cannot be used to incriminate you or others in the
commission of some crime. Anyone, including fellow prisoners or
jailers, can be called as witnesses in a courtroom; they can testify
as to conversations you had with them, or to those which they merely
**overheard**. Also, many prisons and detention facilities are
equipped with video and audio recording devices; be careful not only
of what you say, but how you act in these facilities.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY, AND TO HAVE THAT ATTORNEY PRESENT
DURING QUESTIONING. It is strongly suggested that you exercise this
right as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to signal your
captors that you cannot be mistreated with impunity. Further, it is
strongly suggested that you have your attorney present during **any**
questioning, by police, prosecutors, or anyone else. Your attorney
will know what questions may and may not be legally asked, and will
advise you as to which questions you should or should not answer.
Also, remember that the police will take anything that they can get;
if your attorney is not present, you may be subject to more badgering
from them than otherwise.
IF YOU DO NOT HAVE OR CANNOT AFFORD AN ATTORNEY, ONE WILL BE APPOINTED
FOR YOU AT NO CHARGE AND BEFORE ANY QUESTIONING. It is suggested that
you retain a private criminal defense attorney, if at all possible,
rather than take a Court-appointed Public Defender. Not that there
aren't some very good public defenders out there, but most of them are
either very young lawyers right out of law school or old veterans who
have become somewhat cynical. Most of all, in virtually every city,
public defense attorneys are **extremely** overworked; your public
defender will not - and cannot - give your case the concern and effort
that you need at this point. What you need is a good attorney who has
your best interests at heart, and who will take a strong stand with
his counterpart in the Prosecutor's office.
YOU ARE NOW UNDER ARREST. Most people have no idea of exactly what
this means. These formal words, uttered by a Law Enforcement Officer
or other official who holds the power of arrest, take you out of the
realm of the private citizen and make you a ward of the State. Your
captors literally have control over every aspect of your life.
Take this **very** seriously! Your captors will exercise control over
what you wear, what and when you eat, even when you used to demoralize
a prisoner and make him as docile as possible. You must submit to
this, or you will be compelled by force.
Until you have been physically transported to a detention facility,
the police do not **have** to let you do anything. (Even if you were
skyclad when they interrupted your ritual, they do not have to let you
get dressed. They might simply hand you a blanket to drape around
yourself.) Be prepared for this. Also, be prepared to have all of
your personal belongings (purse or wallet, wristwatch, jewelry, belt
and shoes, even eyeglasses) taken from you. If you wear contact
lenses, you do have the right to ask to remove them and put them in
their wetting solution. (This is because the State is now responsible
for your property, and is required to take reasonable action to keep
it from harm.) You will be given an inventory and a receipt for
everything confiscated, and it must be returned to you when you are
released. The only exception to this is property seized as evidence.
(Your attorney can advise you as to how to recover this property,
after your case is closed.)
Once you reach the police station, you will be fingerprinted. Your
name, the reason for your detention, and the date and exact time of
your arrest will be noted in a log book, and your picture will be
taken. Take careful note of the date and time of your arrest; the law
states that you may only be held for a maximum of 72 hours (less in
some states) before the police have to either formally charge you with
a crime (and take you before a judge for a hearing to set bail) or
release you. If you are held longer than that without a bail hearing,
your attorney can file a writ of habeas corpus (wrongful detention)
and have you released immediately.
During this 72-hour period, you **must** be allowed one telephone
call. **Use it wisely!** It is the one and only one you will get.
It might be wise, if you think it likely that you will be arrested or
detained, to make arrangements with some trusted friend or relative
beforehand. That way, you can call this person, who can act freely in
your behalf. He or she can make as many phone calls as necessary to
secure you a good attorney, a bail bondsman, or whatever is needed.
As a ward of the State, you are under the State's care. Police and
prison officials can be held personally liable if you are mistreated,
and they know it. You will be given the basics of sustenance; do not
expect more. If, for example, you are under a physician's care and
are taking prescribed medicine for a medical condition, they must
continue that medication. If you are injured in the course of the
arrest, you have the right to receive medical treatment from a
physician. You will be fed and clothed. If you wear corrective
eyewear or a hearing aid, you will have them when you see your
attorney or when you appear in Court.
If You Are Charged with a Crime
If you haven't done so by now, you can't put it off any longer. **Get
an attorney**! A public defender just won't do; most of the time, he
would try to persuade you to accept a plea bargain (you plead Guilty
to a lesser offense in exchange for the prosecutor dropping the
greater charge). Almost 80% of publicly defended cases are disposed
of in this manner. Having retained a good attorney, take his advice;
it's what you pay him for.
One other thing you can do: to the extent permissible by law, make
sure that your case is made public. The glaring light of public
attention is a potent weapon; it forces the legal system to operate as
it should. Make sure that the media is informed of the injustice
being done. AMER may be able to help you with this.
The System **Can** Work
We don't want to make you think that there is no hope for fair
treatment from the police. A new member of AMER recently told us a
story which illustrates that innocence and persistence can be your
best defense. The member (let's call him Zack for convenience) was
spending a quiet evening at home when someone suddenly began beating
on his front door. Zack's neighborhood is a little rough, and there
had been a number of robberies there recently. When he opened his
door a crack to see who was there and the muzzle of a handgun was
shoved into his face, Zack decided to cooperate to save his life from
what he thought were robbers. Several poorly-dressed men shoved their
way into his apartment and began to threaten him.
With a gun barrel shoved into his mouth, Zack begged the men to take
anything they wanted but to let him live. They ransacked his
apartment, apparently looking for drugs. Zack's religious beliefs
forbid him to use drugs, and the searchers evidently did not find
anything to satisfy them, until one man found Zack's altar! At that
point, religious epithets joined the other threats and insults.
One of the men then produced an official-looking form, and held it in
front of Zack and demanded that he sign it. Zack looked at the paper,
and was astonished to discover that it was an official police "Consent
to Search" form. Mindful of the gun then pressed to his temple, Zack
reached for a pen, but his hands shook so badly that he could not sign
his name. When the man threatened him with the pistol, Zack managed
to sign the form shakily, and the man lowered the gun.
The leader of the group identified himself as a police officer, but
did not produce a badge or search warrant. He seized one of Zack's
occult books and his membership card from an occult organization, and
the group left.
Zack was shaken and in pain, and decided to visit a hospital emergency
room. When he told a doctor how he was injured, the hospital called
the police, as is mandatory in assault cases. An officer took his
statement, and told him that his story would be followed up
officially. The next day, Zack was visited by a police investigator,
who told him that the raid on his apartment was part of a "drug sweep"
through his neighborhood, but could not indicate whether or when his
property would be returned. At this point, Zack contacted AMER. On
our advice, he wrote a detailed account of his experiences, and began
to work on an official complaint. When Zack contacted Police
Headquarters and asked to speak to someone in Internal Affairs, he was
granted an interview. He showed his written statement to a Police
Lieutenant, who indicated that he was not going to be charged with any
crime, since no drugs were found in his home. Zack asked that his
property be returned, and indicated that he would pursue legal action
if needed to obtain its return. A few days later, Zack received a
call from a police officer who told him to come and pick up his
property. Although he was treated somewhat brusquely on his final
visit to the police department, his property was returned without
comment on his religious beliefs.
Zack has had no further difficulty with the police, and has come to
the conclusion that the "raid" was the result of a complaint by
neighbors who wished to harass him. He has no plans to file suit
against the police department.
Though Zack's experience is unfortunate, it shows the value of a
prompt visit to a hospital, a careful written record of his
experience, and his persistent insistence on his rights as a citizen.
This story also shows that the system, though misused by some corrupt
police officers, was designed to protect the innocent; Zack's property
was returned to him and he was not falsely charged with a crime he did
Let us hope that none of us ever needs to use the information in this
pamphlet, but remember, if you are a victim of police harassment,
1) An attorney. In St. Louis, help in civil cases is available from
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, Inc. (314)367-1700.
2) AMER. Our Voicemail number is (314)994-1026.
3) The American Civil Liberties Union. In Eastern Missouri, their
number is (314)361-2111.
What is AMER, Anyway?
The Alliance for Magical and Earth Religions (AMER) is a St.
Louis-based organization made up of representatives of several
distinct magical and/or Earth-centered religious traditions. Our
members include witches, neo-pagans, Satanists, and Christians,
working together for freedom of religion for all Americans. More
information is available in our pamphlet, "What is AMER", available
from the address below.
Send your questions and (if possible) a stamped, self-addressed
envelope to AMER at this address.
Alliance for Magical and Earth Religions
P.O. Box 16551
Clayton, MO 63105
AMER can be reached by electronic mail via our electronic mail
liaison, Chris Carlisle. Her address is