I recently came across a YouTube video that I think is worth sharing with all of the readers who ride e-bikes, electric scooters, and other electric micromobility options. As these modes of transportation become more popular than their purely muscle-powered predecessors, we’re going to see police try every dirty trick they can against us. Why? Because decades of “F-ing around and finding out” has led to a lot of restrictions on what police can do if you’re riding in or driving a car.
Now, we’re likely to see the same thing happen again, because the less scrupulous police officers and even whole unscrupulous departments are hoping you don’t know what your rights are, and that you still have them whether your butt is in a car or on a bike.
Let’s start with the video, and then I’ll give readers a quick mini-class on constitutional rights, and how to effectively deal with aggressive police officers.
Your Constitutional Right To Not Be Searched
In the United States, it all comes down to the Fourth Amendment. It states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The Fourth Amendment was adopted as part of the Bill of Rights on December 15th, 1791. It was designed to protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by government officials. This amendment has been incorporated against state and local governments through the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause. The Supreme Court has interpreted this amendment as a protection against arbitrary invasions of privacy by government agents, including law enforcement.
In addition to protecting citizens from unwarranted searches and seizures by government agents, the Fourth Amendment also requires that any warrants issued must include a description of the place to be searched and any items or persons that are being sought. This ensures that law enforcement officers have a clear understanding of what they are looking for when executing a search warrant.
Courts have also ruled that this applies to simply being stopped and detained by police. Except when there’s probable cause to believe you’ve committed a crime, police can’t make you stop and talk to them, and they can’t force you to consent to any searches of your person or your bike, scooter, or other property (such as a bag, backpack, etc).
Similar Laws Often Apply In Other Countries
Because we have readers from all over the globe, I want to briefly explain that at least some of these rights, and in some places all of them, apply in other countries.
Many Americans would have you believe that the US Constitution was an original document, and that when other countries have similar provisions in their constitutions and laws, that it had to come from us, but that’s simply not true. Many of the concepts come from prior European documents such as the Magna Carta, as well as from a variety of other sources, including native Americans.
So, if you’re not in the United States, it’s worth researching your own country’s laws and speaking with a lawyer in your own country to learn what your rights are as a cyclist or scooter rider so you can assert them more fully and protect them for future generations.
What To Do If The Police Stop You For No Reason
As you can see from the above video, police don’t always follow the law. They’re often caught looking for ways to hotwire the law and get around your rights. Sometimes, this is done out of laziness, as it’s a lot easier to just ignore people’s rights. Other times, it’s a lack of education that drives these policies. Occasionally, it’s an act of malice, where police are bending or breaking the law to target people.
Whatever the reason, the worst thing you can do is let them goad you into actually breaking the law. While there may be situations where violence is the answer (for example, defending yourself from a genocidal regime), police interactions are almost never the time for this. So, don’t do anything stupid, even if they’re trying hard to get you to do it (and give bad cops an excuse to arrest, search, and even kill you).
At least in the United States, you’ll want to keep your mouth shut. I could tell you all about why this is important, but don’t take the word of a cleantech writer who used to be a volunteer in law enforcement. Let’s look at what a law school professor and a veteran police officer have to say:
Since that video was made, there has been one change to the situation. Courts have held that you must assert your right to remain silent, but it’s very wise to say nothing more to a law enforcement officer attempting to detain you. No matter how smooth you think you are, there’s no way for it to help you, but it could hurt you.
It’s also a good idea to never consent to anything. Police attempting to search people have ways to fool you into consenting to a search, so no matter what they’re telling you about doing a search, do not consent to one. Even if you’re not breaking any laws and not carrying anything illegal, when citizens get in the habit of letting police search them, everyone’s right to be free from search is weakened over time.
Perhaps the best way to avoid getting fooled into incriminating yourself or inadvertently consenting to a search is to just tell the police officers, “I don’t answer questions.”
Work To Stop Police From Doing This In Your Community
Beyond protecting yourself and your own rights, it’s important to do the right thing after police engage in criminal activity like that depicted in the video near the beginning of this article.
It really comes down to the old adage, “If you see something, say something.”
Report wrongdoing to higher-ups in the police agency, the local government they work under (city council, county commission, state government, etc.). Follow up to make sure policies change. Talk to your own lawyer or to a civil rights organization like the ACLU. Whatever you do, don’t let it be nothing, because they only get away with violating people’s rights when they do nothing.
Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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