There can be no doubt that being asked questions with a gun to your face is one of the scariest things that can happen to someone, and so I won’t delve too much further into those specific situations, except to say that the main thrust of my argument still holds true – not saying anything is always a better option for the overall safety and liberty of everyone concerned.
Too many people however, when confronted by Police without firearms (whether at their houses or after being called in for questioning) still talked. Too many people talked to the media, armed with only microphones. The excuses for this have been varied, from thinking one was doing the right thing, to not thinking at all, however in all cases talking had a negative effect, whether directly or indirectly.
The Police intelligence gathering in Operation 8 had two aspects – information gathered specifically to aid in the prosecution of those individuals arrested on October 15th (and any further arrests that Police stated they wished to make), and information gathered to help in building an overall picture of the Tino Rangatiratanga, anarchist and activist movements and communities across Aotearoa with a sinister eye to the future.
Some people answered simple questions like “Do you know person X?”, thinking that either the fact that they knew them didn’t matter, or assuming that the Police already knew the answer was in the affirmative. In doing this, they assisted Police to further enhance their maps of who is connected to who, who works with who. Regardless of whether or not it had relevance to Operation 8 in specific instances, it certainly will help them in investigating any future activity.
When confronted by Police at your house, if they don’t have a warrant, make sure they leave your property immediately. No ifs, no buts. Don’t answer any questions, don’t let them walk around your back yard uninterrupted, don’t leave them alone unwatched until they’re gone. If they have a warrant, then let them in and watch them for as long as possible (theoretically, you should be able to watch the entire search, but Police aren’t exactly known for obeying the rules). While watching, make sure you don’t tell them anything. Don’t answer questions, don’t engage in idle chit-chat. Cops aren’t friendly except for when they think that will help them in finding out the answers to their questions – if they’re being nice, it’s not because they’re nice people, it’s because they want to lull you into talking. Don’t fall for their trap.
If you feel like you need to answer a call for questioning, either talk to a lawyer first, or if you can get a pro bono lawyer, take one in with you. Again, don’t answer anything. Don’t sign anything either, there is no requirement for you to do so. Try to recall everything they ask you – it could prove useful for working out their lines of enquiry, or discovering the extent of their surveillance.
Perhaps the worst example of talking to the media during the aftermath of Operation 8 was the front page story in The Press in Otautahi/Christchurch, with quotes from somebody claiming to be a friend of one of the people called in for questioning. This friend was quoted as saying things which should obviously not have been said to anyone, let alone a journalist from a large media organisation. A saying which is apt here is “If you don’t know anything, don’t talk about it. If you know a little, say even less.”
This isn’t a game. This isn’t about your moral indignation that you have “nothing to hide”. Operation 8 was not the usual bullshit charges of Disorderly Behaviour seen at a protest, where one could have a reasonable expectation of being found not guilty, if the charges ever reached trial. The potential charges in Operation 8 could have resulted in some serious, long term jail time, and even the lesser Arms Act charges still carry a potential of up to four years. This isn’t a game, and those talking to the Police or the media are risking the liberty of those they claim to call friends. The coercive arm of the state arrived on our doorsteps – and will potentially use the information gathered for many years to come. Inviting a cop in for a cup of tea undermines the good work you and many others have been doing, and can put waste to organising that has taken months or years of effort to do.
At the end of the day, it comes down to a simple question of where you stand. Do you stand with those fighting for justice and liberty, or with those who seek to repress it? If you stand with the former, then it should be second nature that we do not do anything to help those who stand with the latter. One of the lessons learnt since October 15th is a very simple one, one of who can be trusted, and of who breaks trust placed in them. It would do us all well to remember that.