The recently observed bad behavior of local law enforcement officers combined with national news headlines has watermen, local bayshore residents and our guests on edge. Yesterday’s national news headlines indicated that dozens of environmental activists were arrested in public protests against environmental injustice. That number will likely escalate sooner rather than later as civil disobedience in protest to government actions increases locally and across the nation. Locally, a court’s action to effectively block the marketing efforts of a watermens’ cooperative triggered angry talk of retaliation.
Watermen are wary of both environmentalists and law enforcement officers. Many consider their god-given right to work the water as their highest held value. Some feel they have little to lose messing with the law. One told me that he deliberately gets himself into a little legal trouble each fall to get “three squares and a bed” over the winter months.
It is easy to forget that as recently as 1970 our watermen were engaged in violent battles against federal government officials with occasional gun battles on the water. No one wants to see a return to those lawless days. Yet the animosity of ordinary local citizens toward government is at a record high level. Today watermen and environmentalists are equally likely to wind up in unfortunate encounters with law enforcement officers.
Our focus is on protecting ourselves here on site at the bayshore rather than what happens elsewhere in clashes with government. It seems that government visitors have become a daily occurrence at the bayshore lately and it is not easy to know who is being investigated and for what. We anticipate that the incidence of law officer activity will increase. Virtually every published authority we’ve read predicts that clashes between citizens and government will increase dramatically as citizens unite to demand environmental justice.
The tension is compounded by the fact that a high percentage of us in the fisheries industry are not English-speaking natives and almost everyone knows someone who is struggling to get work papers extended or citizenship paperwork processed.
The Water Protector Legal Cooperative published guidance on how to lead with law enforcement officers that we intend to adapt as guidance for behavior of civilians on our own sites.
On first observation of an officer
Thanks to modern security tools
, we typically have the advantage of seeing an officer approach from a long distance away. That gives us time to go inside a building or boat cabin and close the door if a law enforcement officers appear on the site. Act respectfully, keep your hands visible, do not engage, and do not open the door.
Use these words calmly but clearly and loudly if an officer is on the site:
- “I wish to remain silent”.
- “I did not consent to this search”.
If detained or arrested
Ask “Why am I being detained?” and “Am I under arrest?”. In one instance here an officer made a detainment and moved a protester without making an arrest. It can happen but might not be legal. It take a tremendous amount of self-restraint to simply keep quiet and ask for a lawyer.