The civil liberties organization Flex Your Rights Foundation (http://www.flexyourrights.org) is gearing up a full-blown campaign to get its video "BUSTED: A Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters" screened across the country. With dozens of showings nationwide either completed or pending, and the national big screen premiere packing the theater in Washington, DC, earlier this month, the campaign is just getting under way but is rapidly gathering momentum, said Flex Your Rights executive director Steven Silverman.
"BUSTED" is a 45-minute lesson on what and what not to do during a police encounter that has drawn rave reviews wherever it's been shown. The brainchild of Silverman, who began by donning a policeman's uniform and transforming himself into "Officer Friendly" for college audiences, the video takes his one-man show and commits its lessons to video. In a series of scenes—in a car, on the street, at a house party—depicted twice, "BUSTED" allows the audience to watch as the actors (some professional, some DC drug reformers) first do it wrong, waiving their right to be free from unwarranted searches, then do it right, exercising those rights to avoid arrest. Narrated by former ACLU executive director Ira Glasser, "BUSTED" is both educational and entertaining, a weird hybrid of "Cops" and a high school civics lesson.
It is also a prime organizing tool for drug reform, civil liberties, and minority rights groups, said Silverman. "A 'BUSTED' showing can be the centerpiece of the event for reform groups, and we are trying very hard to make it easy for them to do it," he said. "We can provide sample press releases, we've got posters and flyers that you can reproduce, we have a screener's discount form on our web site. We ask people what organization they're with, what they're going to do with the video, who they're going to show it to."
But Flex Your Rights is flexible, Silverman said. "If you e-mail us and say 'I work in a methadone clinic and have 50 patients that need this info' or you're a campus SSDP or NORML chapter, or a South Dakota school teacher (showings are going on under the radar at at least one alternative high school there), a bar owner, a lawyer, whatever -- if you convince us you'll show your complimentary copy to lots and lots of people, we will send it. Then we follow up, get the information from them on the time and place of the screening, and we post it on our calendar of events. We provide posters and flyers. It's ready to go, an event in the can," Silverman enthused.
Groups around the country are taking advantage of the opportunity to both educate the public and promote reform efforts. Events that have already taken place or will take place this month include screenings in Sarasota, Florida (Florida Cannabis Action Network), Iowa City, Iowa (Iowa University SSDP), Chatham, Ohio (North Ohio NORML), Minneapolis (University of Minnesota NORML), Tempe, Arizona (Arizona State University SSDP), Kingston, Rhode Island (University of Rhode Island SSDP), and Billings, Montana (Montana State University-Billings NORML).
"We just organized an SSDP chapter here at Arizona State University, and we're showing 'Busted' as our kick-off event," said Lauren Hathorn of the ASU SSDP chapter. "We're trying to use it as a way of drawing attention to the group, and, hey, it's also a great video!" The chapter has gone all-out to get out the word, and is hoping for a turnout in the hundreds. "We have a room that holds 250 and we're expecting to pack the place," she told DRCNet. "We've printed 500 flyers and 500 posters, we've gone to local head shops and coffee shops, we've sent out press releases to the university paper and the College Times, which goes to all the colleges in the Phoenix metro area, and to the Phoenix alternative weekly, New Times, and we've e-mailed about 150 student organizations, we've contacted ASU's public programs office, the student life office, and the student activities office. We've even contacted the ASU campus police to let them know we don't mean any negative energy toward them," Hathorn said. "We're really excited and working hard."
That's how to make it work, said Melissa Sverchek of Montana State University NORML in Bozeman. In the premier showing of "BUSTED" last October, MSU NORML packed in over 300 people to learn how to protect their constitutional rights. "We got a student senate committee to fund it, and in return we agreed to produce and pass out some big, fancy fliers. That meant we were able to have a free event, so we could put our money and energy into getting the word out," she told DRCNet. "We did a press release that got picked up by the Bozeman Chronicle and our school paper. We had Steve Silverman from Flex Your Rights come out and we had a local defense attorney there to answer questions afterwards," she said.
There is demand for more showings, said Sverchek. "There were a lot of college kids, of course, and many of them came up to our booth afterwards and told us it was great, that they needed to know this stuff, that they wished they'd known it before. This is Montana, and people are very concerned about their rights," Sverchek observed. "We're planning on showing it again."
In fact, they already have. MSU NORML, along with numerous SSDP chapters doing an SSDP "day of action" this week, made showing "Busted" part of the event. "We showed it all day yesterday," she said. Another Montana showing will be going on a couple of hundred miles east on I-90 in Billings, where Adam Jones and MSU-Billings NORML are challenging the DEA to repeat its performance of last year, when a DEA agent used the newly-passed RAVE Act as a club to intimidate the venue that had scheduled a NORML fund-raiser (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/290/dearave.shtml). This year, as part of a week-long series of events (http://www.montananorml.org/events/billings/), NORML is going back to Billings, and a showing of "BUSTED" leads off the whole affair, predictably enough on April 20. "It's going to be a huge screening in Billings," Sverchek predicted.
At the national big screen premier April 8 in Washington, more than 200 people packed the Vision Theater in Dupont Circle to view "BUSTED." "We had originally rented a 150-seat theater, but before show time we had already sold more than 150 tickets, so the theater moved us to a bigger screening room," said Silverman. "We had Dan Dodson, the former communications director for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, there to answer questions afterwards. It was a huge success."
Not all the showings are big screen affairs, nor are they all drawing hundreds of people. "We've had showings in people's living rooms and we've had showings with hundreds of people, like at Appalachian State University earlier this year, but most of them average 30 or 40 people," he explained. "But those people come back and say they want to do it again and they can bring in a hundred people or two hundred people next time."
And that's just what Silverman wants. "I suspect that this will become institutionalized by this fall. We'll be able to show people how easy this is do to, and word of mouth about how many people 'BUSTED' attracts is starting to get around. 'BUSTED' really generates activism, it generates memberships in activist groups, it stirs up lots of discussion about the drug war and police power, and that's just what we want."
You, too, can host a screening. With nearly 1.5 million drug arrests in this country each year, and with the serious consequences that follow from them, teaching people how to exercise their rights to protect themselves is a true humanitarian task. Find out how you can host or view a screening by going to http://www.flexyourrights.org and clicking on the screenings link.