A crime happens. Or maybe it doesn’t. Either way:
The police, in their efforts to protect privilege and property, designate a “perpetrator” guilty of that real or imagined crime, and the manner in which that ‘perpetrator” is apprehended serves as an example either to others in the group the “perpetrator” belongs to, or impresses those the police view as in power at that time.
Again—this is whether and actual crime has been committed to not.
When the officers try to take physical control of the designated “perpetrator’ anything that person does—or does not do—is labelled ‘resisting arrest,” a crime they can be charged with even if it is later shown that they were guilty of nothing else. Even if it is clear and evident that the police had no reason to harass in any way the now-understood innocent-of-any-original-crime person they are still charged with “resisting arrest”, and any violence done to that innocent person by the police during their arrest is seen as justified.
“Resisting arrest” is the catch-all crime that protestors, strikers, and all non-Whites can be charged with—even when they didn’t resist, or they were not involved in crime, or if a crime hadn’t been committed.
So my point is—I think we need to decriminalize resisting arrest.
If someone is suspected of a crime they should be arrested for that crime, not for their reaction to being arrested. Firstly—they are innocent until proven guilty, so how an innocent person reacts to being arrested should not be held against them.
Secondly—“resistance” is subjective. “Oh, they rolled over while I was trying to cuff them!” Says the police officer, “They refused to allow me to use a choke hold.” If someone actually assaults a police officer that is a crime, but a police officer can throw a “resisting arrest” accusation at anyone they want, used to justify any violent action taken by any police officer in any circumstance. And by the time the original crime has been cleared the person accused of it may have lost their life because a police officer insisted they had “resisted arrest.” Law should not be that subjective—especially when it comes to life or death.
Think of every bit of video you’ve seen—from every protest, every strike, every peaceful sit-in, every individual from Rodney King to George Floyd and dozens more men and women—in which a person is being brutalized of murdered by the police. Each time the justification was they were “resisting.” Now imagine all the times there was no video. For well over a century before and until the day we stop this taxpayer-sponsored thuggery the police have and will always use “resisting arrest” as the reason they cracked that skull, broke that arm, pulled their gun and pulled that trigger.
But—and this is key—“resisting arrest” is the criminal charge that police always, always level against anyone they want, any time they want, and it is unquestioned! Even if there is video evidence to the contrary. The police will say “the video doesn’t show everything,” that “You don’t know what happened before the video started.”
It’s almost like if the police and District Attorneys didn’t know or care how the laws of evidence work…
And the police don’t even have to identify themselves as police, they can be in plainclothes, can charge up and smack you over the head, and if you make any move to escape this assault, or defend yourself, or neither you can and will be charged with “resisting.” The very idea that the police can do anything they want to you—anything—and then defend that action by charging you with “resisting” is fundamental to the lawlessness of the police state—a state in which the police are above the law, where the police define the law.
The fact is “resisting arrest” is just an arbitrary, catch-all charge that can be applied to anyone, anywhere when confronted by the police, and should be abolished as a crime.
Michael Gene Sullivan
Michael Gene Sullivan is an actor, director, playwright, Guggenheim Fellow, and a member of the never silent, always revolutionary San Francisco Mime Troupe. He describes himself as "Just a guy with a dream ... a dream that involves a whole lotta Capitalists being put in prison."