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Twitter in Tehran, Anarchists in America
October 6, 2009 7:25 PM   Subscribe

Vic Walczak, legal director for the Pennsylvania ACLU, sees the FBI's action as pure "intimidation," and part of a "much bigger war on demonstrators" in Pittsburgh.

Elliot Madison was arrested by police on September 24 and charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of instruments of crime. The Pennsylvania State Police said Madison was found in a hotel room with computers and police scanners while using the social-networking site Twitter to spread information about police movements. He has denied wrongdoing.

According to Police who searched his home for more than 16 hours after the arrest, Madison was "directing others, specifically protesters of the G-20 summit, in order to avoid apprehension after a lawful order to disperse.”
posted by acro (69 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I see parallels between this activity and flashing high beams to warn of a speed trap, which has been found to be legal in some states.
posted by jedicus at 7:31 PM on October 6, 2009


"directing others, specifically protesters of the G-20 summit, in order to avoid apprehension after a lawful order to disperse.”

Uhhh... if they're supposed to be dispersing, isn't running away what you want them to do?
posted by palliser at 7:36 PM on October 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


When I lived in Pittsburgh, Vic Walczak was an awesome guy and made a few public statements about the times I was arrested at demonstrations. The Pittsburgh Police are incredibly repulsive in the way they handle these things and I'm glad to see Vic is still fighting the good fight. Give em hell, Vic.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:37 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think any non-fuckwit judge will throw this case out and tell the FBI to stop wasting the state's time.

This makes me want to get a police scanner for the next protest and I don't even give a fuck about what they're protesting about.
posted by empath at 7:38 PM on October 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


Oh! Never mind, I figured it out: the plan was to first trap them, then order them to disperse, then bruise them up a bit with rubber bullets, and then arrest them.
posted by palliser at 7:43 PM on October 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


then bruise them up a bit with rubber bullets

Pittsburgh police? Sometimes they just use their maglights.
posted by inigo2 at 7:48 PM on October 6, 2009


Never before in American history has the FBI illegally harassed progressive political groups!

Right?
posted by Joe Beese at 7:49 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'd like to get started in police-scanner-owning. Is there a good site that'll get me up to speed on the basics?
posted by box at 7:55 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


box, I've found that a great way to get a handle on what the police are up to is to be staggering around the city at four in the morning, desperate to urinate, but there are no public facilities open at that hour and it's after lockout and there's no public transport to get you home, so you find the darkest, desertedest alleyway that you can, and urinate directly into a storm drain. And it turns out that what dozens of police are up to on that night is swarming all over not-really-very-public micturators.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:01 PM on October 6, 2009 [9 favorites]


box: "I'd like to get started in police-scanner-owning. Is there a good site that'll get me up to speed on the basics?"

This looks solid.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:04 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hey, if you think Twitter in Tehran is thrilling, just wait till you try reading Lolita there!
posted by grobstein at 8:05 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think it was really what he was doing so much as who he was. If they actually tracked him down to the hotel within just a few days, having zero idea of who he was before the protests began, I'd be very surprised. My guess is that he was under some level of observation from the beginning, and the Twitter thing was just a pretext to arrest him and then get a warrant to search his home in New York.

The Villiage Voice piece goes into that aspect of things:
The FBI is said to have confiscated computers, cell phones, MP3 players; 11 gas masks, five pairs of goggles, a slingshot, four arm pads, eight face masks, a collection of test tubes, droppers, mortar and pestle and beakers, "metal triangles that are used to puncture tires" (caltrops), two boxes of ammunition, and a pound of liquid mercury.
My bet is that he was under observation and surveillance the entire time he was near Pittsburgh, and they were basically waiting around for him to do something that he could be arrested for. The Twitter/scanner thing was just the best they could come up with.

I think the take-home lesson here is likely to be the rather unsurprising "being an anarchist is likely to get you scrutinized by the FBI," not "Tweeting scanner intercepts will get you arrested." Doesn't make it right, but I'm not sure that anyone is really going to be sticking it to the Man by going out and Tweeting everything off the local police band. Chances are, the Man just isn't that into you.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:24 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I read the Pa. criminal complaint, found in a link in the first link, and this seems like grade-A B.S. Unless I'm missing something, this really seems like an attempt to criminalize speech that is entirely consistent with what you'd think the aims of the "lawful order to disperse" are - to disperse, as palliser said.
posted by chinston at 8:25 PM on October 6, 2009


mortar and pestle and beakers

Well sure, but first they came for the apothecaries, and I did not speak up for I was not an apothecary.
posted by chinston at 8:28 PM on October 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


And it turns out that what dozens of police are up to on that night is swarming all over not-really-very-public micturators.

Ah so you've done Mardi Gras too?
posted by nola at 8:30 PM on October 6, 2009


During the RNC in Minneapolis, some friends-of-friends of mine had their [punk] house raided by the MPD. Among other things, the police reported that they had been stockpiling buckets of urine. In fact, they were recycling graywater and using it to flush the toilet.
posted by box at 8:33 PM on October 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


I think any non-fuckwit judge will throw this case out and tell the FBI to stop wasting the state's time.

This is the same state where judges threw kids into prison in exchange for money.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:47 PM on October 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


And it turns out that what dozens of police are up to on that night is swarming all over not-really-very-public micturators.

Quiet, hippie! That'll teach you for having bodily functions!
posted by Avenger at 8:54 PM on October 6, 2009


RadioReference is the best site I've seen for scanner (and amateur radio) stuff and they maintain a huge database of frequencies that are useful for programming. The latest generation of consumer grade scanners, like the Uniden Bearcat BCD996XT can be programmed with up to 25,000 memory frequencies, while the older digital capable radios like the BC296d only have 1000 memories. Any p25 capable scanner would be sufficient, unless the channel is also encrypted.
posted by acro at 9:07 PM on October 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


Whoa.

"Possessing instruments of a crime" includes:

(a) Criminal instruments generally.--A person commits a
misdemeanor of the first degree if he possesses any instrument
of crime with intent to employ it criminally.
(b) Possession of weapon.--A person commits a misdemeanor of
the first degree if he possesses a firearm or other weapon
concealed upon his person with intent to employ it criminally.
(c) Unlawful body armor.--A person commits a felony of the
third degree if in the course of the commission of a felony or
in the attempt to commit a felony he uses or wears body armor or
has in his control, custody or possession any body armor.

That's a pretty effective way to quell violent protests, I guess -- criminalizing the means of self-defense, should one be confronted with an army of riot police. I guess if you're bringing a gun to an Obama rally, you'd better be damned sure not to wear a vest.
posted by puckish at 9:10 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh! Never mind, I figured it out: the plan was to first trap them, then order them to disperse, then bruise them up a bit with rubber bullets, and then arrest them.

Biker #2: [the whole gang holds Pee-wee hostage] I say we kill him!
Biker Gang: [shout] Yeah!
Biker #3: I say we hang him, *then* we kill him!
Biker Gang: [shout] Yeah!
Biker #4: I say we stomp him!
Biker Gang: [shout] Yeah!
Biker #4: Then we tattoo him!
Biker Gang: [shout] Yeah!
Biker #4: Then we hang him...!
Biker Gang: [shout] YEAH!'!
Biker #4: And then we kill him!
Biker Gang: [shout] YEAH!'!'!
Pee-wee: [tries to throw voice without moving lips] I say we let him go.
Biker Gang: [shout] NO!'!'!
Biker Mama: [whistles] I say ya let me have him first!
Biker Gang: [break out in raucous laughter]
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:10 PM on October 6, 2009


Scenes From a Crackdown: Police overkill at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh
posted by homunculus at 9:16 PM on October 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


Quiet, hippie! That'll teach you for having bodily functions!

Would that I was a proper hippie - I would just go directly into my pants. Or make a sort of jam to sell at my little Sunday Market stall.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:21 PM on October 6, 2009


Scenes From a Crackdown: Police overkill at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh

I just hope that Pittsburgh's orb-hiding authorities hid their orbs well enough else that first fucker will double in size and be vaulting over four-storey buildings before you know it.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:25 PM on October 6, 2009


I dunno. One of the only three people on the planet who knows how my brain works (and I'm not one of them) is 6'6", 300lbs, subsists entirely on microwaved potatoes and rage, and regularly dresses up in black riot gear, complete with gas-mask and baseball-catcher plastic armor, just for the opportunity to pound on cops. Just really wail on public servants with his armored motorcycle gloves. He's Canadian, and operates exclusively in the province of Ontario (tho he's observed in Vancouver and organized in Calgary).

It strikes me as being completely counter-productive.

Organizing grass-roots groups to petition specific elected officials, and to campaing on behalf of those seeking office who are competent and dedicated to see you agenda through seems to me to be a better use of effort, energy and emotion. The age of the street protest is over... the age of the internet-organized street campaign is here.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:34 PM on October 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


The FBI is said to have confiscated computers, cell phones, MP3 players; 11 gas masks, five pairs of goggles, a slingshot, four arm pads, eight face masks, a collection of test tubes, droppers, mortar and pestle and beakers, "metal triangles that are used to puncture tires" (caltrops), two boxes of ammunition, and a pound of liquid mercury

Besides the caltrops, I'm pretty sure all of that is legal to purchase and own. Fuck the FBI.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:10 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The FBI is said to have confiscated computers, cell phones, MP3 players; 11 gas masks, five pairs of goggles, a slingshot, four arm pads, eight face masks, a collection of test tubes, droppers, mortar and pestle and beakers, "metal triangles that are used to puncture tires" (caltrops), two boxes of ammunition, and a pound of liquid mercury

With the exception of the ammunition, and maybe the slingshot (maybe), it sounds like he just got back from Burning Man...
posted by Chuffy at 10:24 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would just go directly into my pants. Or make a sort of jam to sell at my little Sunday Market stall.

That is just way TMI about what's going on in your pants. My gods. Go see a doctor.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:02 PM on October 6, 2009


Protip: Try hiding a very small Multimedia card or USB drive in your mouth or other orifice! This might not always work!
posted by fuq at 11:16 PM on October 6, 2009


Can't say I'm too broken up about him losing his pound of mercury. On the one hand, it's probably legal for him to own it. On the other hand, I'd feel better if he didn't.
posted by ryanrs at 12:28 AM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, this is a good thing, because they are expending the same effort to monitor right-wing protesters, who are brazenly advocating violence.

Oh wait.
posted by cj_ at 2:18 AM on October 7, 2009 [9 favorites]


What do you do with a pound of mercury?
posted by digsrus at 4:39 AM on October 7, 2009


You can now relive the Pittsburgh G20 with the LRAD (Long-Range Acoustic Device) ring tone on your phone. Article about the filmaker who created it.
posted by octothorpe at 5:05 AM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


What do you do with a pound of mercury?

Make a couple thousand thermometers? Be sure to keep your galinstan well-hidden.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:46 AM on October 7, 2009


Among the items seized, according to a list prepared by the agents, were electronic equipment, newspapers, books and gas masks. The items also included what was described as a picture of Lenin.

and of course, they just HAD to tell the media that - and the media, just HAD to report it

so was this picture in a book? a magazine? or did he have it framed? did he burn incense, bow down and perform blood sacrifices in front of it?

usually the manipulation of the media isn't this blatant
posted by pyramid termite at 6:08 AM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


The basic distinction still seems to hold: 'rightist radicals attack people, leftist radicals attack property.' Some (an unpopular minority) of the G20 protesters went after local businesses and that kind of vandalism can get pretty bad if the protesters get control of an area. Police departments have a right to prevent and prosecute crimes, even vandalism. So knowingly helping vandals (along with mostly non-vandals) escape arrest would count as misdemeanor "hindering apprehension or prosecution." I doubt the other charges could stick, though.

In general, the whole tactical element of radical protests really rubs me the wrong way: if you spend most of your time looking for an excuse to get in fights with the police, you're not an activist, you're a hooligan. "Capitalist exploitation" is just your excuse, not much different from "Eagles fans rule, Steelers fans drool." If your goal is really to ameliorate capitalist exploitation, then spending six months planning and preparing for a two day protest at the G20 is the worst possible use of your time. Go to law school, for God's sake.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:47 AM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thanks for that LRAD ringtone link, octo (what an awesome project), and thanks to Beese and acro for helping with my scanner question.
posted by box at 7:22 AM on October 7, 2009


So knowingly helping vandals (along with mostly non-vandals) escape arrest would count as misdemeanor "hindering apprehension or prosecution." I doubt the other charges could stick, though.

I'm not a lawyer, but I don't see how a general dispersion order can be considered an arrest warrant, and how informing people that such an order is in effect in certain areas (and that they should disperse from those areas) is "hindering apprehension or prosecution". There's no reason to apprehend or prosecute anyone who is following the order, so transmitting information about the existence of the order is only hindering arrest if the police didn't intend to tell any protesters.

It was clearly a very thin pretext used to get a more general search warrant. Thankfully it looks like a judge is starting to lock that down.
posted by muddgirl at 7:53 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


"transmitting information about the existence of the order" =!= "tracking police movements" and tweeting the results
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:04 AM on October 7, 2009


Here is what Elliot Madison claims: We talked about the—there were messages I received about the raid on the Just Seeds food bus. There was information about where meet-ups were for different marches, like the students’ march. To be honest, I didn’t see most of the messages, because I was arrested very early on Thursday.

Here is what his lawyer says: Essentially, what Elliot is charged with is using the computer or the cell phone to put up an announcement that said that the police had issued an order to disperse. Having done that and having informed people that the police had issued the order, then it is claimed that that announcement hindered prosecution somehow by, I guess, having people avoid being arrested.

Man, I don't know Twitter from a hole in the wall, but if someone could dig up that tweet!
posted by muddgirl at 8:09 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


And just to be clear, there's a difference between an arrest warrant and the right to arrest: a police officer doesn't need a warrant to arrest someone she sees engaging in illegal activity. Her observations constitute probable cause for the arrest. Aiding the escape of someone in that situation is usually a crime, and Pennsylvania is no exception.

I do think it's an interesting question whether a general 'tweet' can constitute specifically aiding the vandals, especially if most of the information is publically available using a police scanner. But I think the combination of "knowing vandalism will take place" and "aiding the escape of a group that you know will include vandals" would likely count. It's enough to put it to a jury, at least.

Man, I don't know Twitter from a hole in the wall, but if someone could dig up that tweet!

The New York Times had some, and I found his twitter name. They included specific locations for police mobilization: "the police are planning to do a sweep through 'the towers' to check for protesters in upper floors"

Another interesting question would be whether Madison was the only one tweeting under the username. If not, the prosecutor might have trouble proving he was the author of the "arrest evasion" tweets.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:22 AM on October 7, 2009


So according to this logic, if I see a speed trap/drunk driving checkpoint on the road, and send a mass text to my friends to tell them where it is, I am "hindering apprehension and prosecution"?

If I scan in the local newspaper, which prints a list of drunk driving checkpoints provided by the police, and post it to my blog each week, and I "hindering apprehension and prosecution"?
posted by muddgirl at 8:27 AM on October 7, 2009


Chicago police do Pittsuburgh, Abu Ghraib style.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 8:41 AM on October 7, 2009


muddgirl: It seems like we can distinguish these cases pretty easily. In one, you have a warning, then a crime. In the other, you have a crime, then a warning. In the first case, the warning is legal. In the second case, the warning is illegal. So if Madison was saying "The police are here, so if you're going to break stuff, do it elsewhere," then he's likely okay. But if he was saying, "The police saw you break stuff, so if you want to avoid being held accountable for that, don't go anywhere near 5th Avenue," then he'd be guilty.

In the drunk driving checkpoint analogy, what Madison was doing was closer to helping a driver who had already failed his breathalizer test make a getaway. There's a public interest in suppressing police chases and capturing scofflaws, so it seems like a legitimate misdemeanor.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:42 PM on October 7, 2009


I don't see the difference you cite.

Situation 1: I know some of my friends are habitual drunk drivers (which is a crime), and I warn all of my friends that cops are mobilizing in a particular area to catch drunk drivers.

Situation 2: Madison knew that some of his twitter followers would be committing criminal acts. He warns all his twitter followers that cops are mobilizing in a particular area to catch people committing criminal acts.
posted by muddgirl at 12:51 PM on October 7, 2009


Also, notice that the text you cited occurred on Sept. 25th. The initial raid/arrest was made "early" on Thursday, Sept. 24th. Here's a typical one from before "A comms facility was raided":
# police have given a dispersal order at 36th and liberty and no can hear the order
11:59 AM Sep 24th from API
posted by muddgirl at 1:07 PM on October 7, 2009


I believe there's a law forbidding acting on or profiting from intercepted police communication. My memory is pretty vague (this isn't something I've cared about before). IIRC, it's a federal law specifically pertaining to radio communications, not general interference with law enforcement.
posted by ryanrs at 3:16 PM on October 7, 2009


Ah, here we are: a brief summary of police scanner laws. The relevant law is probably part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.
posted by ryanrs at 3:21 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks, ryanrs - that actually answers a lot of my questions. Essentially, monitoring a police scanner is legally different from, say, tailing a cop.
posted by muddgirl at 3:47 PM on October 7, 2009


anotherpanacea, according to the warrant, the underlying crime for which he's suspected of assisting people to escape arrest is not "vandalism," it's ignoring a dispersal order. And that's why it's so stupid. No need to speculate on all the myriad activities that might be crimes; let's look at what the state says he did that was a crime.
posted by palliser at 6:23 PM on October 7, 2009


(IANAL) Not only is the crime he allegedly facilitated weak, the act of distributing information about the police communications is likely itself totally legal: the exemption to 47 USC 605 states that

This section shall not apply to the receiving, divulging, publishing, or utilizing the contents of any radio communication which is transmitted by any station for the use of the general public, which relates to ships, aircraft, vehicles, or persons in distress, or which is transmitted by an amateur radio station operator or by a citizens band radio operator.

and the statutory definition use by the general public:
(16) "readily accessible to the general public” means, with respect to a radio communication, that such communication is not—
(A) scrambled or encrypted;
(B) transmitted using modulation techniques whose essential parameters have been withheld from the public with the intention of preserving the privacy of such communication;
(C) carried on a subcarrier or other signal subsidiary to a radio transmission;
(D) transmitted over a communication system provided by a common carrier, unless the communication is a tone only paging system communication; or
(E) transmitted on frequencies allocated under part 25, subpart D, E, or F of part 74, or part 94 of the Rules of the Federal Communications Commission, unless, in the case of a communication transmitted on a frequency allocated under part 74 that is not exclusively allocated to broadcast auxiliary services, the communication is a two-way voice communication by radio;

posted by acro at 8:10 PM on October 7, 2009


I was curious what those parts of the FCC Rules referred to. Something doesn't quite add up: in the current (10/6/09) CFR, Part 94 of Title 47, which supposedly contains the FCC Rules, just says "[Reserved]". There's no content there.

So unless I'm looking in the wrong place, or there's been a change to the USC that's not reflected in the Cornell version, (or the statute was intentionally written to reference a "Reserved" section?) there seems to be a bit of a discrepancy. How does that work?

The eCFR site doesn't seem to keep historical versions (too bad) or let you easily diff changes, so it's not clear whether Part 94 used to be something else which has now moved to another section, or if it was always "[Reserved]".

At any rate, the public safety bands are covered under Part 90 of the Rules.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:33 PM on October 7, 2009


I saw nothing about vandalism in the underlying Pa. criminal complaint. Just a perfectly circular series of charges. The government was free to put vandalism in but that's not what happened here. This is the legal equivalent of that annoying song: "We're here because we're here because we're here because we're here," and I don't think the government should be entitled to put that case in front of a jury.
posted by chinston at 5:49 AM on October 8, 2009


the underlying crime for which he's suspected of assisting people to escape arrest is not "vandalism," it's ignoring a dispersal order.

Well, the dispersal order was given after several local franchises were vandalized, but I accept your emendation. That said, if it's a lawful dispersal order, then it seems that helping people to circumvent it is criminal. Non-dispersal after a dispersal order would be criminal, and helping people avoid prosecution for criminal non-dispersal would also be criminal. Not as criminal as chopping them up into little bits and dropping their corpse into the ocean, but not all crimes rise to that level. That's why we call them misdemeanors.

If your objection is that police ought not to have the right to disperse crowds that include vandals, then say so.

the act of distributing information about the police communications is likely itself totally legal

How do you figure? Was it related to "ships, aircraft, vehicles, or persons in distress" or was it "transmitted by an amateur radio station operator or by a citizens band radio operator"? If not, what makes you believe that police radio transmissions are "for the use of the general public"? I think you're willfully misreading, here: police radio transmissions aren't for the use of the general public. They're for use by the police.

I'm perfectly willing to say that it's a weak crime, but so is shoplifting: you can still be arrested for it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:11 AM on October 8, 2009


Non-dispersal after a dispersal order would be criminal, and helping people avoid prosecution for criminal non-dispersal would also be criminal. . . .

If your objection is that police ought not to have the right to disperse crowds that include vandals, then say so.


In the United States, the government does not have the right to impose criminal punishment on an otherwise lawful crowd merely because the crowd includes vandals.

Maybe take it up with the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1999 struck down a Chicago anti-loitering ordinance for violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Under the ordinance, Chicago police had issued 89,000 dispersal orders and arrested more than 42,000 people. The Court wrote:
It is true, as the city argues, that the requirement that the officer reasonably believe that a group of loiterers contains a gang member does place a limit on the authority to order dispersal. That limitation would no doubt be sufficient if the ordinance only applied to loitering that had an apparently harmful purpose or effect, or possibly if it only applied to loitering by persons reasonably believed to be criminal gang members. But this ordinance, for reasons that are not explained in the findings of the city council, requires no harmful purpose and applies to non-gang members as well as suspected gang members. It applies to everyone in the city who may remain in one place with one suspected gang member as long as their purpose is not apparent to an officer observing them. Friends, relatives, teachers, counselors, or even total strangers might unwittingly engage in forbidden loitering if they happen to engage in idle conversation with a gang member.
posted by chinston at 8:35 PM on October 8, 2009


City of Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41, 62 (1999) (footnotes omitted).
posted by chinston at 8:40 PM on October 8, 2009


Police aren't private, well, most anyway, they are public servants, working in the interests of the general public; further, the police have the ability to if necessary encrypt their radio transmissions (in order to meet the requirements of 16(a) in the USC definition above.

The reason why police continue to broadcast in the clear is because intercompatibility, cost, and flexibility are the primary system requirements - see also why PGP has largely failed to become widely used.
posted by acro at 8:45 PM on October 8, 2009


Maybe take it up with the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1999 struck down a Chicago anti-loitering ordinance for violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Though the facts are similar, the holding only covers an anti-loitering ordinance that was unconstitutionally vague. The question in Morales was whether the ordinance “necessarily entrusts lawmaking to the moment-to-moment judgment of the policeman on his beat.” There's nothing vague about the Pittsburgh police directive to disperse the G20 protesters: it wasn't individual officers making the decisions as to where to deploy, it was centrally organized with a lot of pre-planning. As the court makes clear, there's nothing wrong with dispersal orders as such, so long as the underlying ordinance "provide[s] sufficiently specific limits on the enforcement discretion of the police “to meet constitutional standards for definiteness and clarity.”"

in order to meet the requirements of 16(a) in the USC definition above.

In order to qualify for the exemption, it also has to meet the provisions of 47 USC 605 itself, specifically the clauses "which relates to..." and "which is transmitted by..." which it does not. Just because the police don't use coded transmissions does not mean that, for instance, bank robbers can use police transmissions to avoid detection. Assuming that there was an underlying crime (vandalism, avoidance of dispersal) and that the transmissions were used to avoid prosecution for that crime, then the act of conveying that information could be criminal, as well.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:16 AM on October 10, 2009


an underlying crime (vandalism, avoidance of dispersal)

Saying that people can't help other people evade arrest for "avoidance of dispersal" is equivalent to saying people can't help the police disperse people. It's not like the dispersal order vanishes after a certain number of minutes, and now it becomes a "stay in place while the police come to arrest you for not dispersing" order. It's still a dispersal order. Obeying it still means leaving the area.

And the reason this is important is that the police truly did trap people in a certain area by stationing riot police on every street available for egress, and then order dispersal, simply in order that they could arrest masses of people for assembly alone. It's a dirty trick to evade constitutional limitations.
posted by palliser at 5:49 AM on October 10, 2009


police truly did trap people in a certain area by stationing riot police on every street available for egress, and then order dispersal, simply in order that they could arrest masses of people for assembly alone.

If so, that would be a violation, obviously. But I've been on both sides of this: I've been a protester and I've worked with the police, and I think you're ignoring a lot of the details of how the tactics of these things work.

But when I was a protester, the goal that folks like The Ruckus Society espoused was to protest in such a way as to provoke police action using non-violent means. That meant evading dispersal orders, using crowd-sourcing to find points of contestation, and forcing the police to drag us away or use other graphically offensive actions like tear gas. It was all about the images of violence, forcing the police into a position to choose between ceding the space or using physical coercion. Most of the activists I spent time with justified this using some combination of Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle and Walter Benjamin's On Violence, sometimes with some Baudrillard or Zizek thrown in. In other words, the idea was to confront the folks watching at home with the ideological basis for the state's illegitimate monopoly on violence. Truncheon-wracked bodies and stopped traffic was just the scrim upon which we projected our counter-hegemonic narrative.

It was a point of pride to get tear gassed with those people, and a point of pride to be arrested, especially on film while using maximally non-compliant techniques to provoke the use of force. Ultimately, though the methods were non-violent, the goal was the same: to control the area and force the police to withdraw, as they did in Seattle in 1999. There were fantasies of the Paris Commune forming willy-nilly or some kind of May '68 style actions, but it was just that: a fantasy. It definitely had little to do with the ostensible goals of the organizations involved, things like reducing global poverty or preventing genocide. Eventually, I figured that out and got busy working on those issues in less exciting ways.

If the Black Bloc has changed much since then, it hasn't conveyed those changes to my activist students. The only difference is that now they're using newer and more lossy social media. I mean seriously: is it so hard to set your twitter feed friends-only? My kingdom for a nail, you know?

On the police side, from what I can tell, what generally happens is that the police set up around all the exits but one, and try to herd everyone out of the area. If the police don't leave an exit, then you're right, they're acting inappropriately. But if they did leave an exit, and the protesters refused to use it, and instead hid inside campus buildings, then that would be a different story. That's a fact of the matter neither you nor I are equipped to judge, so I welcome litigation on the subject.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:07 AM on October 10, 2009


This section shall not apply to the receiving, divulging, publishing, or utilizing the contents of any radio communication which is transmitted by any station for the use of the general public, which relates to ships, aircraft, vehicles, or persons in distress, or which is transmitted by an amateur radio station operator or by a citizens band radio operator.
I read the comma there as indicating that any station for the use of the general public, i.e., any part 90 license, unless it meets the section 16 exemption, could be legally published.
posted by acro at 8:22 AM on October 10, 2009


Re-reading, I realized that, contrary to your claim, the 47 USC 605 exemption applies to "for the use of the general public," while the section 16 specification describes "readily accessible to the general public." These are distinct concepts. You can test this quite easily: try getting a transmitter and holding a conversation on the police band. Though it is readily accessible, it is not for your use, and so is not exempted by the phrase you've bolded.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:35 AM on October 11, 2009


Ruling Expected on Twittering Anarchist Raided Under ‘Rioting’ Laws
posted by homunculus at 12:33 PM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


This dude appears to be taking advice on facial hair grooming from "V." Sigh.
posted by chinston at 9:05 AM on October 26, 2009


All charges dropped. For now.
posted by chinston at 12:36 PM on November 2, 2009


All Some charges dropped:

The pair also face charges for their G-20 activities in federal court in New York after the FBI searched their home in Queens for 16 hours.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:53 PM on November 2, 2009


No, the newspaper reporter got that part wrong. The only thing pending now in federal court in New York is the attempt to get the seized property returned - no charges have been filed. The revised version of the article here gets that right.
posted by chinston at 12:41 PM on November 5, 2009


The article you link to contains the same sentence I quoted.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:19 PM on November 5, 2009


No, the sentence you quoted from the earlier article was changed slightly, to say more accurately: "The pair also face charges are under federal investigation for their G-20 activities in New York and the FBI searched their home in Queens for 16 hours." I don't know what kind of time limits, if any, the federal prosecutor faces in filing charges, but it sounds like everyone expects they will be coming soon.
posted by chinston at 2:39 PM on November 5, 2009


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