When police come

If you are protesting or promoting ideas that some people find offensive, someone might call the police just to try to make you stop. Do not be afraid of the police. They are supposed to know the law. If the police are called, they will come out to check on what is going on and see if anyone’s breaking the law. That is their job. Your job is to keep advocating for whatever you are advocating for while complying with the law.

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Suppose you are on the sidewalk outside an abortion facility, trying to talk to the mothers going in and offering them information about a pregnancy center down the street that can help them. As long as you don’t step on the clinic property (trespass) or physically get in the mothers’ way as they walk (obstruction), you’re not breaking the law. You’re exercising your rights under the First Amendment. Now suppose that the clinic workers realize you have changed some of the mothers’ minds, or at least are making them question their decision to abort their babies. The clinic workers want to get rid of you, so they call the police. They might tell the police that you trespassed by stepping on clinic property, even if it is not true. They might tell the police that you blocked mothers trying to enter, even if it is not true. The police will come to see what is going on. When possible, it is a good idea to have some video or pictures of what you are doing and where you are standing as backup evidence, but don’t let it distract you from the purpose of your event. 

 

When the police arrive, they may not even talk to you. They may just drive by and see that you’re obeying all the laws. If they stop, they may just go straight into the clinic, talk to whoever called them, and then leave. If they do talk to you, let them speak first. They may say something like, “Hi, I’m Officer Smith. We got a call that you were walking in their driveway. It doesn’t look like you’re doing that, but I just wanted to remind you to stay on the sidewalk.” Then you can say, “Thank you, officer. Yes, I know the law. I haven’t been blocking anyone or going on their property.” Be polite. The police usually aren’t trying to harass you, they’re just trying to keep everyone happy. They can keep the clinic workers happy by talking to you and they can keep you happy by telling you that what you’re doing is fine. 

toward their faces or be rude, but record the conversation and, if possible, get their names so you (or your pro-life lawyers) can follow up about the encounter if necessary. 

 

It’s important to remember though, that police officers can be pro-life or pro-abortion just like regular people. A pro-life police officer might cut you some slack that a pro-abortion police officer won’t. Let’s say that you keep crossing the abortion clinic’s driveway because on one side it’s easier to offer literature to drivers coming into the parking lot but on the other side mothers sometimes walk into the clinic. A pro-abortion officer might say that all that crossing is starting to count as blocking the driveway and give you a warning to stop. A pro-life policeman might not care.

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Don’t ask the police things like, “Is this blocking if I stand here?” Or, “Is it okay if I do this?” You shouldn’t put the police in the position of deciding how the law applies in every tiny way. If the police tell you not to block, say you won’t block and then don’t block - but you decide what’s blocking. If they tell you to stay off the property, tell them you’ll stay off the property and then stay off the property - but you decide what’s the property. If the police tell you clearly not to stand in a particular spot or not to do a particular thing, then don’t do it, but if you don’t believe that doing so violates the law, check up on it. If you don’t believe the officer on the scene understands the law or that he has an incorrect understanding of what is public property, politely ask him to call his supervisor so you can discuss it at a higher level.  

 

Entire legal organizations exist to help pro-life activists, including sidewalk counselors, exercise their rights on the sidewalk. If the police tell you to do or not do something that you believe restricts your First Amendment rights, call a pro-life legal organization such as Life Legal Defense Foundation. One of their lawyers will help you work it out with the police - for free. They want to keep you as an effective voice for life on the sidewalk.

 

Suppose you’re leading an event on the sidewalk in front of your courthouse and the police come. Do you want everyone to stop giving pamphlets to passersby and to crowd around and listen to what the police are saying? No, of course not. You want everyone to keep doing what the group is there to do. To avoid turning your rally or your sidewalk counseling session or any other event into a gawking event around the police, always have one person in charge of talking to the police and make sure everyone knows who that is. If the police come and ask who’s in charge, send them to the designated person. That person can tell them how long the event will last and anything else the police want to know while the rest of the participants continue with the purpose of the event. 

 

Be polite to police, be honest, and be a little more careful while they’re watching you. They’re there to protect everyone’s rights, and you want them on your side.