Cop Whispering: A call to unity

Working DPW and Gate at Burning Man has given many of us on staff our first taste of what it feels like to be an Enforcer. Of any type. In order to build and run a city out of thin air, sometimes a bunch of anti-authoritarians have to figure out how to tell other anti-authoritarians what to do, in the way we’d like to be told ourselves.

We workers are enforcers of necessary rules like: Don’t bring your guns or dogs here, don’t run towards the burning thing, and what if you’ve tried to stow away a hippie and now they’re suffocating underneath your bad plans.

Yes, it can be fun to role-play alpha tribe-protector out here, all fancy with a radio. Yes, the Stanford Prison Experiment was real, and we’re sure the lead Black Rock Rangers have had to pull some “excited fake cop” people off their Burning Man Ranger routes and take their radios away. That’s human nature. Working through it is what happens next.

For us regular blue-collar workers in Black Rock City, sometimes in this heat we get to feeling harsh, whether from a long work day, a few bad apples’ stupidity, or their mis-assumption of our stupidity. Worse yet, sometimes, as Enforcers, we harsh someone who doesn’t deserve it, because someone else tried to run and hitchhike through fast-moving intake lanes just a minute ago.

So the workers of Black Rock City have a heightened sense of empathy for Burning Man’s law enforcement. In Black Rock City, we have DPW who builds and stewards the town, we have Rangers who walk around and interact with the community, we have Emergency Services which provides medical and fire protection to anyone and everyone who needs it, and we have Gate and Perimeter as our internal “border security.” Together, these Burning Man departments handle all the regular, run-of-the-mill problems a society might have, such as power outages, dehydration, or domestic disputes.

Then the big guns are also here — the BLM and local law enforcement — whenever we need them.

We have always been glad they’re here. We workers have dealt with some scary shit, and while we talk a big tough game, DPW doesn’t know what to do with a transient one-armed man who’s wandered in from the desert during setup 2003, bleeding from his crazy-eyed head, talking about having just murdered a friend and his dog. Uhhhh, that’s beyond our scope of knowledge and ability.

We call the cops. We need cops. End of story.

We’re proud of our Gate and Rangers for offsetting so many of the more minor duties police are forced to deal with in the real world but not here, such as traffic control and too-drunk people. This shows the real world a different model of non-interference and enhanced social contracts, and we’re happy at how law enforcement has trusted us to know how to do this part on our own.

They’re here at Burning Man already, as you may have heard. Law enforcement is certainly enforcing the law, but with an enhanced understanding between the parties. The XRT (External Relations Team) has been working all year with Burning Man’s police and BLM, and no jinx, but our relationship seems to be better than ever.

The anecdote yesterday was how strongly the BLM have taken to Mr. Blue and Old Man Gravyfoot’s recycling program and extensive trash-separating Ecotopian services which have reduced our footprint and waste stream exponentially. After all, first and foremost, the BLM are here to protect this land on our part of Earth, which belongs to the American people.

The BLM showed remarkable restraint in the Clive Bundy situation — did anyone notice that? Like, a laudable, incredible amount of restraint? Compared to recent events in Ferguson, say? — and hardly anybody notices when Law Enforcement finishes strong. Hardly anybody notices when everything goes well, for the most part — but in the role of Enforcers ourselves, we noticed.

An overwhelming majority of Burners and Burning Man workers we’ve spoken to are extremely proud of our record of zero major negative incidents with our BLM and local police forces. More importantly, we only seek to further this atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation, and we’ll be damn good at it, too. Pebbles that drop in Black Rock City ripple out all over the world; let’s not forget that.

Burn night crowd, 2010 (photo by Neil Girling)
Burn night crowd, 2010 (Photo by Chayna Girling)

Cop Whispering is a thing in the Cacophony Society, and a very important thing at that. Cop Whispering is a cute name for a serious skill requiring a sober person with a competent and respectful attitude.

In the Cacophony Society and its outlying (and sometimes unwitting) spokes-shows like Cyclecide and the Life-Size Mousetrap, we always designate a Cop Whisperer. This person is THE person who talks to the cops.

In the Cacophony Society — that’s the parent organization of Burning Man and other cultural juggernauts which was fictionally portrayed as Project Mayhem in Chuck Pahlaniuk’s book Fight Club — participants did and do lots of really weird pranks and happenings in abandoned locations where usually only crackheads and/or methfaced hillbillies dare to tread. It was and is necessary for Cacophony leaders to devise a plan for convincing the police responding to calls of “odd people with flashlights wandering around [insert usually-deserted place here].”

Imagine you’re a police officer answering an unknown-intruder call in San Francisco in the ‘90s. Scenario one: You walk into an abandoned building, where crazy freaks seem to be dining in full formal attire at a candlelight banquet, the contents of which all seem to have been carried in by hand. You, policeperson with off-the-chart adrenaline washing through your system as always, are ambushed by most of these kooks, who all get up from the table to start speaking to you at once, making jokes and snapping flash cameras. Some drunk idiot starts yelling platitudes about knowing his rights. Cringe and duck, right?

Scenario two: You, policeperson, respond to the call in the same abandoned building, where amidst the dust, broken glass, and a strange full-formal banquet table, a group of weirdoes are calmly and quietly sitting in a circle on the ground, with their empty hands resting visibly on their knees. One of these people is in a gorilla suit, inexplicably. You, cop, are approached by one person — the designated Cop Whisperer. You, cop with heart pounding and adrenals pumping, not knowing what you were just walking into, are overjoyed to see a circle of weirdoes? maybe art students? or whatever, AND a gorilla suit guy, sitting in a circle why? are they a weird religion or … ? and for heaven’s sake you, cop, may even be laughing by the time the Cop Whisperer talks to you.

See the difference?

Cop whisperer? (1997, photo by Lenny Jones)
Cop whisperer? (1997, photo by Lenny Jones)

The rules for Cop Whispering are simple. Realize that most cops are sometimes-scared, sometimes-vulnerable, flesh-and-blood people doing their best to serve and protect society. One person talks to the law enforcement and others do NOT gather around — a crowd makes anyone feel outnumbered and threatened. Don’t lie to law enforcement, don’t be nervous, and don’t taunt them (doy). Treat them like humans, not Terminators.

As Cop Whisperer, you acknowledge the fact that cops get up and go to work every day not knowing if they’re going to see live bullets whizzing past their heads. Respect them for that, and they will respect you for having a person-to-person conversation — not sidling up to them, obsequiously or belligerently, like some sort of squirrelly hippie with something to hide or prove.

Of course, the fact that Cacophony Society and Burning Man both are majority-white events has everything — everything — to do with our stellar track record on doing wacky stuff without getting thrown into the system. In the default world, things are very broken right now. We can’t solve the default world’s problems in one day, but we can talk about it this week at the dirt rave, and try to figure out how to start fixing things.

An important digression: This writer was talking to a local Army veteran who fought in the Gulf Wars, and he confirmed the Black Rock Desert is practially identical to Afghanistan. A huge bow and curtsey and a heartfelt thanks to those veterans who now serve on the forces. We recognize you put your lives on the line for America, sometimes with little to no acknowledgement or support on your re-entry into America. Our longtime veteran friend on the DPW is now receiving EMDR treatments to deal with his PTSD from over there, and it’s been processing his unprocessed emotions at the times he designates, instead of at random times when he’s stressed.

Robot Heart dancers, 2013 (photo by Philippe Glade)
Robot Heart dancers, 2013 (photo by Philippe Glade)

If you’re a combat-vet-police-officer working at Burning Man, who’s starting to feel wobbly because of the physical similarities between here and that other place which wasn’t as friendly or positively chaotic, please know that everyone who comes to the Black Rock Desert melts down about something at least once. We’re talking crying in a dust storm, starving when you’ve just eaten, totally-bewildered-at-crazy-feelings type of meltdowns. This is because the alkali flats of Lake Lahontan act as a lake-sized purification system for each and every person who steps onto it. We hope y’all veterans feel comfortable enough to seek out someone to talk to, and know that we salute you.

Burning Man officials and liaisons (who are also regular people) have even been holding acculturation presentations the past few days, acquainting new BLM officers with radios, with how Black Rock City differs from plain-ol’-festival grounds, and with the ins and outs of machine- and fire-art. Everything’s friendly.

Dave X suggested something like an “adopt-a-cop” program. As we continue our policy of being friendly and open to law enforcement out here, let’s not forget to invite them to participate as well. The BLM and local officers are as much a part of the Burning Man community as they want to be. Those who are a part of this community, and not on the outside looking in, are protective of this community.

Out here at Burning Man, with no hypnotic haze of advertising, logos, target-marketing, and meganews-channel propaganda, our actual (as opposed to TV-prompted) relationships and social contracts with each other focus into stark and simple realities. We need and appreciate Enforcers in this harsh and challenging environment; the BLM and local police forces serve and protect.

Other societies may let their more awkward citizens crowd around, taunt, and inflame the situation in the name of creating YouTube incidents. Perhaps other people in other suburbs would feel emboldened enough to suddenly be disrespectful to those Enforcers, based on past experiences with other Enforcers.

But we — all of us — have been practicing building a brand new society and interaction-based reality out here. What we do and learn and make up at Burning Man radiates out into the larger world, and we’ve got a real chance to show everyone how we shine together. We all want to make America mean something great again.

We know, what lamely sappy notion, but we’re feeling it. Dusty punk rockers, techno-ravers, and machine-art freaks are out here working on it.

Healthy power relationships are based on many things, but chief among them is respect, and that includes self-respect. Treating everyone how you yourself would like to be treated is easier out here in the dust, when you never know who you’re talking to. Cops may have uniforms on to separate them that way from the herd, but they’re part of our herd. They’re out here to have a great time at Burning Man, too.

It’s amazing how happy a civilization can be when nobody’s being threatened or subjugated or made to have low self-esteem. The default world is bleeding and in pain right now with horrifically lopsided race- and authority-relations … but at Burning Man, the slate is new and blank, each and every year. In all the enforcing departments, we have no reason not to lift each other up here and let each other do our jobs.

Follow Summer Burkes on Twitter.

About the author: Summer Burkes

Summer Burkes

Summer Burkes has been rousting about at Burning Man since 1998. She first met her dusty DPW / Cyclecide / Bike Club fam-dambly on the back of The Bucket. A Cacophony Society enthusiast, Summer loves explosions and cake.

14 Comments on “Cop Whispering: A call to unity

  • Daniel says:

    What a bunch of suck-ass bullshit. The default world is in burning man. The inference of this article is you are walking a thin line between anarchy of the idiots and oppression of the control freaks of authority.

    I get the sense that there is fear of losing your culture to a tide of both these opposing forces. Yours is a balancing act between the two extremes that is so precarious, that you are justifying a compromise to freedom and liberty by kissing up to the forces of control, which do not really care about your safety.

    They are there to find infractions, to fine and arrest, not really protect. Unfortunately, their presence is justified, indeed, needed because of the stupid kinds of people whose actions you described in the beginning of your article. If participants really believed in the ten principles, they would simply behave themselves in a civilized manner. But they don’t.

    Report comment

  • XochiQ says:

    Thanks Summer Burkes for this very intelligent, most eloquently written, sober and enlightening perspective on law enforcement from within BM, and from the outside looking in.

    Report comment

  • Octopus says:

    Digesting this article. It’s a bit too patriotic for me but I feel the spirit and hopeful vision you are putting forth and it’s very touching. I wish I could be that optimistic and trusting but I know the system we are dealing with. I am happy to hear of your positive experience with the enforcers of the State but there is more reason than ever for humans around the world to be angry with government and police who are oppressing and brutally repressing them.

    Most Burners have likely not had to deal with this much so may continue to see them as the “protect and serve” we all so want them to be, and sometimes they are. But why don’t those who are speak out against the gangs of cops who are running around beating and killing innocent people? Because it’s a big frat and you and I are not in it, no matter how good of a cop whisperer you are. It’s no longer the black and brown people abused but more and more white folks as well. Just ask the peeps from Occupy in any state in this “union”.

    There is a huge war right now I am guessing you might know about, it’s the 99% vs. the 1% and the law and enforcers are working for that 1% (which is quickly becoming a significant % of Burners now it seems). As much as I have deep empathy and respect for the human beings who want to be protectors and warriors who believe they are “fighting for America” and go to serve in endless wars in other countries. But the painful truth is they are pawns of the corporate controlled State which seeks to further it’s control and exploitation and power, that’s it, all else is a lie that some folks still believe. People are still coming to realize and recognize the powerful elite running this world who don’t care a wit about your ideals and vision and hopeful fantasies of us working together for a wonderful new society of cooperation and mutual benefit. In my dreams too but those are dreams and they have not been true for thousands of years and things are getting worse when it comes to violence and conflict, not more peaceful overall.

    The reality is that we are losing what little democracy we have as they are tightening the screws of control on all levels and putting us under mass surveillance. We are living in a pretty severe police state which is ramping up daily. When people are oppressed they are going to either give up resistance and do as they are ordered or fight back to hold onto their dignity and fight for their lives and human rights.

    Burning Man is a cash cow for the Feds and the local counties and the Org has done a brilliant job of kissing ass and making friends so that everyone can keep making money and keep this party going. Yes, it’s a phenomenal culture and social experiment and it is changing lives all over the world but don’t get too caught up in your little fishbowl, it is no autonomous zone or society outside the US. It’s obviously coming more and more under Fed and State and Local laws and enforcement with their worldview, values, agenda and power than in the infancy when it was hardly noticed some kooky Bay Area artists and anarchists were out there goofing around.

    Maybe it is changing the enforcers who are closest to the event and work there. Protect and serve may be some individuals moto but bully and intimidate, entrap and hand out expensive tickets to folks for drug offenses in the insane and utterly hypocritical and evil drug war is not something I would think most Burners would stand behind. What about all the people each yr getting busted for having psychedelics who pay hugs fines and do jail time when these substances are infinitely less dangerous than alcohol or other legal drugs? This country is very, very broken as you speak of and so is this planet and Burning Man is definitely doing some good things to contribute to a more hopeful vision but let’s not fall prey to the naive delusions of fantasies of flower children and deal with the real world.

    I find it quite interesting how the whole event has become so mainstream and so cozied up to the systems and institutions and powerful people in this society and that is why many old school people who don’t like what is has become left. It’s Disneyland meets Vegas with some nostalgic 60’s thrown in and that is fine on one level but it’s a sell out on another. But the reality is the only way it was going to survive and grow was to compromise and learn to work with all those entities and parties who give us permission to do what we do out there. There are thousands of folks in this world who just want to live life to the fullest and be creative and wild and have fun and a select few are lucky enough to get to do that at Burning Man and that is fantastic. If the folks in power wanted the same things we do we sure wouldn’t be in the mess we are in in this world.

    Dose of the default world downer ranting done.

    Report comment

  • Jasper says:

    >Yes, the Stanford Prison Experiment was real

    And this is why the infrastructure volunteer system doesn’t work. It creates and ‘us vs them’ mentality in the minds of the volunteers and creates a caste system on the playa. The volunteers walk around like they own the city and everyone else are mere ticket holders.

    The cure for this bullshit is to fire everyone and hire professional event planning agencies who will employ people who don’t turn into social-climbing douchebags, and that also conducts criminal background checks.

    You don’t see the staff at Disneyland pushing the guests around and yelling at them and stealing their shit. That’s because they’re professionals.

    If you think DPW and Gate Crew’s (among other groups) shitting attitudes are byproduct of their necessity, it’s not true. They all can be, and should be replaced.

    Report comment

  • mrgoodbud says:

    The cops are there to generate money from people who just want to have fun. I was busted last year , this year I stayed as far away as I can get from BM. Maybe next year I will go back. . BM is all about , being on it , being naked , having sex in public and drinking with new friends.

    Report comment

  • Rowan Merante says:

    Very well put. Thank you

    Report comment

  • JV says:

    Unfortunately, the #1 criterium for being a successful Cop Whisperer is, be of Caucasian descent. As you say, look at the difference between the Bundy and Ferguson scenarios.

    However, I basically agree with assertions in this post. It’s just fucking amazing the event happens every year. It really shouldn’t all things considered, but it does, and it’s thanks to the tightrope walking the BMORG does between the participants and law enforcement. It doesn’t take the purist stance favored by John Law et. al., because if it did, Burning Man would have ended years ago. And for some, that would have been for the best, and I totally get that argument. But for me, I’m glad it went the other way.

    Report comment

  • Bean says:

    Thanks Summer. Well written and thoughtful. Love.

    Report comment

  • Eileen says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful, positive and hopeful piece.

    Report comment

  • kate r says:

    had the one-eyed guy murdered his dog and friend?
    I can’t see how anyone can quibble with the basic message of this: cops are people.

    The systems they work for can be less than human but they’re not. To deny them their humanity is as dumb (though perhaps not as dangerous) as the actions taken by other people (cops) in places like Ferguson.

    Report comment

  • Ted Rheingold says:

    I experienced the least power presence by law enforcement on the Playa (drive in excluded) than I have in years, though I didn’t expect there was less presence. I really hope you’re right that this deeper understanding in both directions that I’ve been hearing about between the org and country/federal law enforcement is the reason. That would be great and something to really grow on as an individual, as an event participant, as an event patroller, as a human being.

    Report comment

  • Ceetee says:

    Chiming in on the law at BRC. In my years on the playa I’ve witnessed cops bust people face down in the dust and cuff them (drug busts). I’ve heard the rumors of officers raiding theme camps (truth? i don’t know). I’ve seen people get pulled over and searched after passing through the gate for the ‘obstruction of license plate’ crap. I’ve had a lot of conversations with Burners about unwarranted ‘violations’ resulting in insanely high fines. I’ve seen people’s burns ruined by law enforcement for exceedingly minor things. This is all obviously kind of sucky.

    This year I saw a good thing so I’ll tell you a story.

    A random guy drove down our block looking like a lost dog and carrying a mattress on the roof of his car. He camped right on the other side of a bus near my camp. Whatever, it didn’t seem strange, way weirder stuff happens all the time.

    A few days later a big, old hive of every type of law enforcement in BRC came trotting down the road. Seriously at least 20 (probably more) in full swat gear. I am looking at that like holy shit! And running around telling everyone that there is this pack of cops wandering around and into everyone’s camp.

    Then the officers spot mattress dude’s car. Circle circle circle, poke, try the door handles, the trunk lid, peer inside, run K9 around his car and camp. I am thinking what the hell? Why is K9 there? Who’s next? There are now literally 11 (I counted) different law enforcement vehicles parked in front of our camp.

    After a long time of messing around with this guy’s car and his tent the officers went away. They assured us they were only concerned with mattress man and didn’t give a crap what we were doing in our camps. I figured that mattress man had already been busted and they somehow found his car. But why did they just leave it there and not tow it? Why didn’t they actually get ‘inside’ the car if the guy was already in custody?

    A while later mattress guy comes back to his car. He looks around like he’s a little confused as to why things are slightly out of place. All of a sudden the swarm of law enforcement appears again and dude is cuffed and carted away.

    Turns out this guy was drugging ladies and taking them back to his ‘mattress’. Ewwww… Basically mattress guy was a serial rapist there to take advantage of the ladies at BRC. One of his victims was local and she recognized his camp. Mattress man was staked out and removed for public safety. Personally I was glad he was gone. I don’t want that shit in my city. I’d say that is a positive experience.

    I thanked them and they were all proper and polite like ‘that’s our job ma’am’. Then they actually gifted me schwag. Can you believe that? BLM Law Enforcement has schwag. Who knew?

    Report comment

  • Mark Atwood says:

    When the cops demonstrate a deep attitude change and keep it up for a few more years, I will start to trust them.

    For a first pass at an attitude change, they can stop with the “your taillight was out, your license plate was covered by your bike, or my Clever Hans prompted K9 ‘hit’ on your car, so that a get-out-of-the-4thA pass for me, now I’m going to toss your car, and if I don’t find anything, I’m not in trouble, and you still have to repack your car on your own” game.

    Next, they can stop with the “we know who the thugs in our departments are, but the blue brotherhood is more important, if another cops says it, I will back him up” thuggery.

    And next, they can smile for the cameras, every single time. A cop that orders someone to stop recording, or who ever “loses” a recording, or “forgets” to turn on his own cameras should get fired sans pension and immediately retroactively lose his sovereign immunity. (What he actually should suffer is a hanging, short drop, but I’m willing to compromise.)

    If they can make those changes, and can start bodyslamming cuffing arresting and testifying against their “brothers” who wont, and they demonstrate their change of heart over a couple of years, then, and only then, will I start giving them that “respect to the enforcers” that you say I should freely give them.

    But I know they won’t, they know they won’t, and you know they won’t.

    I’m sure they themselves most of them believe they are the “good guys”. They are not. I’m sure they themselves truly believe that anyone who they’ve fucked over deserved it somehow. They are wrong. And I’m sure that they believe that it’s always completely unfair that a “fellow brother” gets “jammed up” when a camera catches them being a thug operating outside their lawful authority. Too fucking bad.

    They are, at the very best, a necessary evil. But they are still evil, and should be “respected” as such: be wary, and keep them as far away as possible.

    It was in the wake of the post last year here at about the cops heavyhandness during build week that got rewritten to be a sycophantic asslick to the cops that prompted me to originally write my text “How to deal with cops at Burning Man”, which got somewhat widely read last year, and apparently even more widely read and disseminated this year.

    Here it is again, latest version:

    How to deal with cops at Burning Man

    Do not consent to a search.

    Never consent to a search. Say the phrase “I do not consent to a search.” Even if you have nothing for them to find, ALWAYS say “I do not consent to a search.” Never consent to a search of your body or clothing, of your car, your truck, your trailer, your RV, your camp, or of your tent. You especially never consent to the search of anyone else’s property. The cops are trained to make you flustered and to “take command” of the situation. Or they can be “polite”: “Mind if we take a look around?” Yes, you mind. “I do not consent to a search.”

    They can ask the other people in your group or in your car, not just the driver or leader. “Mind if we take a look?” You should all sing the same song: “I do not consent to a search.”

    Even if they threaten you with arrest, or threaten to bring a sniffing dog, continue to say “I do not consent to a search”. Even while they are searching you or your stuff, continue to say “I do not consent to a search”.

    Being Questioned.

    Cops can ask you questions. They may say things like “We’re just talking”, or “What do you think of …?”, or “Can you help us out?” You do not have to answer their questions, and probably shouldn’t.

    They can ask you were your camp is, and who you are camping with. You don’t have to answer them.

    Never answer any questions about recreational drugs. Remember, you don’t ever do drugs, you never carry drugs, you never supply drugs, you have no idea where to get drugs, you don’t want any drugs, and you don’t know anyone who does. That includes pot, which is still illegal in Nevada and is still illegal on Federal land, even for medical use.

    Don’t lead them to your camp.

    They may try to get you to lead them to your camp. They can be very commanding and matter of fact about it, they may say “We’re going to your camp.” They will make it sound as if you have no choice. You do have a choice, and you are going to chose to not to lead them to your camp. Never lead them to your camp. If they really really insist on you leading them somewhere, then lead them to a Black Rock Ranger outpost. Or for a real barrel of laughs, to the ACLU camp.

    Keep your tent closed.

    Always zip your tent closed when you are not in it. If possible, use screens or sheets to block transparent window screens, so there is no line of sight into your tent. You may want to use a luggage lock, and use it to lock the zipper of your tent when you are not in it. If your tent is zipped shut, they need a warrant to open it, or they need your consent. They probably won’t have a warrant, and you are not going to give them your consent, remember? “I do not consent to a search.”

    Your name and ID.

    If they ever stop you, you do have to tell them your correct name as it is printed on your ID. If you have your ID on you, you do have to show it to them if they ask. If you don’t have it on you, you do not have to go get it for them, and you never should. If you are a non-resident alien visiting on a visa waiver program, you do not have to carry your passport with you.

    Being Detained, or “Am I free to go?”.

    The magic phrase is: “Am I free to go?” Keep saying it. As soon as they say “yes”, walk away immediately, swiftly, and without another word. Do not run, just walk.

    If they write you a ticket, you must take it. Put it in your pocket, and then you say “Am I free to go?”

    If they ever say you are not free to go, you say “Am I being arrested?”. If they say no you are not being arrested, you say again “Am I free to go?”. Keep it up as many times as necessary. Yes, it will sound like a stupid kid game, like “stop copying me”, but the game is very real with very real stakes, and this is their game to win, and yours to lose.

    Being Arrested.

    If they ever say anything like “you are under arrest”, or ever do anything to make you think you have been arrested, such as restraining you in any way, you must immediately say the following magic phrase (memorize it!): “I do not consent to any search. I hereby invoke my right to remain silent. I want to speak to my attorney.” And then you SHUT THE FUCK UP.

    Do not say anything at all about your arrest or why you may have been arrested, until you are talking in private with your attorney. Not with those cops, not with any other cops, not with any onlookers, not with anyone else who was arrested, not with anyone who is being held with you. Not even with your campmates, or with your friends, or even with your family. Even your spouse. Assume the police car, transport van, and holding cells are bugged. Assume the cops will lie about what you tell them. Assume everyone else will testify against you. You invoked your right to remain silent. Now use it.

    Alcohol and ID.

    The camps with public bars that are giving away booze may ask to see your ID to verify you are over 21. You don’t have to show them, but they don’t have to give you free booze either, and they probably won’t, fearing a bust.

    If you are giving away booze, including beer or wine, and the person you are about to give it to looks like they could possibly be under 21, you should verify their ID. The state liquor cops will be there, trying to bust you with stings.

    Even if your camp is not running a public bar, random people will walk into your camp and ask for booze. You will almost certainly have an under-21 plainclothes liquor cop walk into your camp at least once during the week, trying to sting you. Be aware, an alcohol service bust can be rather painful and expensive.

    And even if that dude asking for a free drink is not a cop, it’s rude and against the burner ethos to beg for a gift.

    Who Watches the Watchmen?

    While the cops are dealing with you, you need to be memorizing the color and design of their uniforms, and if you can, their nametags and their badge numbers. They are *supposed* to be wearing visible nametags. As soon as you get away from the cops, go soonest to Center Camp, or to a Black Rock Ranger outpost, or to the ACLU camp, and fill out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form and turn it in.

    If you personally with your own eyes clearly see the cops detaining anyone, arresting anyone, or searching anyone or anything, it is an act of Civic Responsiblity (Principle 7) and a Gift (Principle 2) to Participate (Principle 9) in the burner community to memorize what you can, and then fill out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form.

    You may also decide get out your camera and start recording. The judiciary at all levels has clearly stated that you have the right to record the police as long as you don’t obstruct them. Cops hate it, but too bad. If the cops tell you to turn off your camera, don’t. They cannot lawfully order you to stop recording, they cannot not lawfully order you to delete photos or video, and they cannot not themselves lawfully delete photos or video. If they do any of these things, they themselves are knowingly breaking the law, and that will be very useful in court. If they threaten to arrest you for recording, keep recording.

    If you ever see a cop order anyone to stop recording or to delete anything, make sure that goes on the Law Enforcement Feedback Form.

    While you are recording them, never get in their way, and stay back 35 feet / 10 meters. That’s tazer range.

    “Undercover” and “plainclothes” cops.

    The cops claim there are “very few” “undercover” cops at Burning Man. This is a very carefully nuanced untruth. There are cops at the event who are not “undercover”, but instead are “plain clothes”, which means they are not wearing uniforms and badges, but are instead dressed up in costume to look like burners. They do not have to tell you they are cops when you ask them. You will not be able to “sense” that they are cops, until they bust you. People have been busted by a cop who was wearing only sparkles and a miniskirt.

    If someone is carrying a gun, they are a cop. If someone has a dog, and is not obviously a Gerlach local, a Native American from the local tribal areas, or a member of DPW, they are a cop. Especially if the dog is wearing a vest. If someone is driving along Esplanade after the the Gate has opened, and they don’t have a Black Rock Ranger logo or a DPW logo, they are a cop. (Report them via a Law Enforcement Feedback Form if you see them doing that.) If someone is sitting in an idling unlit truck out in the dark of deep playa, they are a cop.

    If someone you do not know asks for drugs or offers to trade you drugs, they are a cop. If you met them this year, you do not know them.

    If you met these two girls three days ago out the in deep playa, and they are really cute, and they went out dancing with you last night, and they just suggested that if you can supply some “favors”, you all can “party together” in your tent, they are cops.  No, really, yes, she is a cop, and her coworkers are standing by to ruin your whole year.

    What if I need “Police Services”?

    What if you are lost? Or a camp mate is lost? Or your child is lost? Or you have found a lost child? Or you have found a lost fellow burner who is injured or is unable to take care of themselves? What if you are assaulted? What if something has been stolen? What if someone is hurt?

    Go to a BLACK ROCK RANGER, not a cop. The Rangers will help deal with the situation, and if the cops are actually needed, the Rangers will summon them and will deal with them.

    Know what the Black Rock Ranger uniform is, and how it’s different from the cop uniforms. Rangers wear khaki shirts and khaki hats with the Burning Man logo on their hats, on their chests, on their backs, and on their vehicles.

    Have a great Burn!

    Report comment

  • TMTAC says:

    First let me relay hearsay . . . .
    In a friendly chat with a non LEO BLM guy out there this year, he said that most of the LEOs are by and large cool to the whole event, however he did say there are a few who are hardline Christians or Mormons who are ideologically opposed to what they see there. This BLM guy also said there are LEOs who “get bored”, and go out looking for trouble just for its own sake.

    Now, some non hearsay, firsthand conversational experience. Some BLM LEOs absolutely are drinking the establishment kool aid, and parrot lines of reasoning that are clearly fallacy, if only they would open their closed minds and just look at what is going on around them.

    Opinion. Some LEOs drink the kool aid, otherwise they could not live with themselves and what they are inflicting on other fellow human beings out there. I have few doubts that in the minds of some (few?) LEOs, they are active agents in the so called culture war.

    Report comment

  • Comments are closed.