These procedures are intended to guide NCSF staff member(s) who are assigned to individuals and/or a local community to assist after an incident. Incidents in relation to this program are defined as "negative encounters with law enforcement and/or other authorities". Since incidents can vary from a raid on a party with one or more arrests, to attacks on local groups or clubs, these procedures are meant only as a guide.
After an initial assessment, NCSF may offer assistance to the persons directly involved and/or the SM-Leather-Fetish or swing groups involved, or impacted by, the incident. Both the persons and the groups involved may, or may not, elect to receive some or all of the assistance offered by the NCSF.
Regardless, it is up to the local community to decide whether to rally around individual(s) who have been arrested, and to determine if it is the community's responsibility to help prevent the establishment of bad case law that will affect SM or swing practitioners in the future. The community needs to keep in mind that while they are supporting those who are arrested, they must also educate officials in order to prevent the same crisis from happening in the future.
It is the NCSF staff member's initial responsibility to offer the assistance options to the involved persons and the local community.
Incident Reporting & Response Team
NCSF has a group of volunteers who are members of the Incident Reporting & Response Team. These volunteers have either been trained for a position on this team, or have special skills and abilities that strengthen the team. NCSF staff members on the Incident Reporting & Response Team may be involved in incidents in an advisory capacity only. NCSF is not a legal defense fund, nor does it take a voting position on the boards of legal defense funds. If an NCSF staff member lives in the local area and would like to participate on a legal defense fund or community response group, then he/she cannot be an official advisor on the NCSF Incident Response Team for that incident.
Number of Advisors
A minimum of two trained NCSF Incident Reporting & Response Team members will take on roles of Advisors for each Incident. Any community discussion, e-lists, or correspondence concerning the incident, no matter how trivial, should get copied to the two designated NCSF Advisors.
Phase 1: Incident Assessment
Initially, the NCSF staff directed to conduct the assessment must evaluate the incident and those involved in order for NCSF to determine the extent of our potential involvement. Depending on the circumstances, this assessment may be onsite or it may be via phone/email interviews. A summary of the incident should be prepared to include answers to these questions:
- What is the exact charge?
- Could this violation have been prevented?
- If it is a business, did it have a license?
- Do the victims have prior arrests?
- Were there children on the premises?
- Was alcohol involved?
Send the incident summary to the Director of Constituency Services. A decision must then be made as to whether the incident falls within the scope of the mission of the NCSF Incident Response Team
Phase 2: Initial Response
Assignment of Advisors
The NCSF Coordinator shall assign two Advisors to the incident.
Officer of Assistance
Only after the Director of Constituency Services has approved an official NCSF response can an official NCSF offer of assistance be made. The Director may determine which of the assistance possibilities will be offered.
Types of Assistance
The NCSF can offer a number of things to assist during and after an incident. In general, these are: Advice on Organizing the Local Community and Creating Strategy for Their Response. This involves numerous possibilities as discussed in detail later.
Media Assistance includes obtaining recognized national spokespersons and providing accurate information about SM-Leather practices for the media. This is also discussed later.
Education of Local Law Enforcement / Authorities
Typically this is a post-incident effort to educate authorities in an effort to establish future positive interaction.
In an effort to keep the NCSF staff current on the status of the incident, internal NCSF updates from the advisors should be made to the appropriate internal NCSF email lists on a regular basis. Preferably, weekly updates during the heat of the incident, and monthly updates once things slow down. These should be labelled as confidential.
It is NCSF's recommendation that any community response take into account the advice of the victim's lawyers regarding sensitive material such as: media interaction, FAQ, website content, and demonstrations. The victims should have veto power over these activities, and should be considered Advisors to any community response group. They are encouraged to attend the meetings held by the community response group. Some victims will want to set up their own response organization, such as the San Diego Six. However, these types of organizations that are run directly by the principles in the case shouldn't be confused with community response groups. In addition it should be noted that if NCSF is involved, the mission and objectives of NCSF as a whole do play a part in determining what the NCSF response is.
Phase 3: Organizing the Community
Prior to Arrival
The Incident Reporting & Response Team should make contact with as many state and local leaders and activists prior to their arrival. An open meeting should be set up to discuss the incident and possible community response.
First Community Meeting
An announcement should be made via an open letter sent to various e-lists, with the time, date and place of the meeting provided. The information in this Incident Response Procedures may be used to structure the meeting agenda. It's best if press aren't allowed at this initial community meeting. Instead, offer a special press meeting after the community meeting (sometimes you can't get rid of reporters, so just let them stay). Prior to every meeting ask whether any member of the press is present, and make sure to announce that everything said during the meeting is off-the-record. Allow individuals to vent and ask questions at this community meeting.
Establish an Ad Hoc Group
In the absence of a existing community coalition, this initial meeting can serve as the basis for forming a community response group. The types of community response we've seen so far take on aspects of both legal defense funds and/or activist groups. The most successful type of structure is the ad hoc grassroots model. Thus, anyone who is interested can come to meetings and have a voice in how things are run. Volunteers for tasks can come from this pool. It is time-consuming and unnecessary to try to incorporate this type of group in the heat of a crises.
The ad hoc approach requires that volunteers agree to take on permanent positions:
Treasurer - The Treasurer keeps the books and arranges for a Doing Business as (DBA) account under the tax id number of a local SM-Leather-Fetish group.
Media Spokesperson - The Media Spokesperson can be trained by NCSF, and sticks to sound bites that are approved by the community ad hoc group.
Meeting Coordinator / Moderator - The Meeting Coordinator makes sure the time and place for the meeting is arranged, draws up the agenda items, and submits announcements to the e-lists for decimation. The Meeting Coordinator can also be the Moderator, who makes sure that the meeting runs smoothly.
Webmaster - The Webmaster sets up and edits the web page on an ongoing basis, and helps set up the communications e-list to be used by the ad hoc group.
Volunteers can take on temporary positions related to fund raising events, ie. party chair, volunteer organizer, raffle coordinator, etc.
This ad hoc community response group is intended to unite the local community around their response to the incident. This community response group could have as its goals: communication with the SM-Leather-Fetish community about the incident, media response, and fund raising. This group could also engage in activist functions such as promoting letter-writing campaigns, calling out the locals to appear at certain events, demonstrations, and forming coalitions with other local groups in support of their goals. Outreach should be done to all parts of the SM-Leather-Fetish communities: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual groups should receive the notices and all are encouraged to participate.
Name the group something other than the event or name that was cited. This makes it easier for the group to do media outreach without being confused as synonymous with the defendants.
Meetings should take place at a scheduled time and place. (ie. first and third Monday of the month at p.m.)
Meetings are announced at least a week in advance with current Agenda Items.
To place an item on the agenda, it must be submitted to the email list at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting.
After the first two meetings, people must attend two meetings before getting a vote.
Time limits can be placed on how long each individual can speak on each agenda item.
A treasury statement is provided at every meeting.
Establish agreed-upon meeting rules such as: Don't blame others; Wait until acknowledged by the moderator before speaking
This ad hoc approach has several advantages:
It will serve to unite disparate members of the local community when all are welcome to participate.
The volunteer pool will be much larger because people are more willing to take on tasks if they have a vote on what happens.
Your knowledge base is wider if you include more people.
There will be more accountability and less credibility issues of "what's happening with the money?" if everyone can show up and participate in meetings.
If a formal committee is created with a board/officers designed to be incorporated, then NCSF recommends that neither the victims nor their significant others should be on this board. The victims are busy working on their legal defense and don't need the added stress of trying to organize community fund raising events.
Important Affiliations and Attorneys
Contact the state ACLU and inform them of this case. Often, they will have heard from media reports and will be responding to media inquiries. Contact Judy, Susan or Mindy if you need help getting through to the ACLU. Get the ACLU's recommendation for a reputable lawyer who can take on this case. Ask the ACLU if they will get involved, and get an official statement from them that can be included in press releases.
State LGBT Organization
Contact the state gay and lesbian legal group and inform them of this case. Get their recommendation for a reputable lawyer who can take this case. Ask them if they will get involved, and get an official statement from them that can be included in press releases.
NCSF can help by using Nexis/Lexis and Westlaw to look up what kinds of cases the lawyer and their firm have been involved in the past. The immediate problem will be money to give for a retainer. Sometimes lawyers will take a fraction of the total amount and will wait until money is raised for the balance. However, they will want to know about plans for fund raising and the history of successful fund raising in our community. Donations to legal defense funds are not tax deductible.
Get the facts out to the SM-Leather-Fetish or swing communities - within 48 hours is best. Help the local volunteers create a short FAQ that answers the basic questions: who, what, where, when, why and how we're dealing with it. Let people know up front if this is a business, for-profit or non-profit, private or public event, etc. Send this FAQ to as many e-lists as you can. Designate an official point of contact for questions and offers of assistance. Add to the FAQ as needed.
When anything happens, whether it's a court date or an ad hoc meeting, add it to your time line. That way anyone can go to the website and see at the top of the page the most recent thing that's happened with the case.
When talking to the media, keep in mind that it is good legal sense to not discuss the particulars of the case. Sound-bites should be determined by the community response group (NCSF can provide basic sound-bites to be adapted to each case). It's great if other activists wish to speak to the media, but they are advised to not speak about the particulars of the case (NCSF can provide national media contacts). NCSF should also contact GLAAD to get their opinion/help on the case. The community needs to be warned that chat rooms are considered "public" and that anything said in chat rooms could appear in the newspapers with attribution to the screen name it was posted under. None of the NCSF staff should disseminate rumors, facts about the case or opinions about the case.
NCSF will give guidance on analyzing the political climate and key officials. NCSF will also give advice on tactics and formulating a strategy on how to respond to incidents. This strategy will take into account that certain officials are elected, like the DA, the Mayor and the City Council members. The community response must consider whether it is an election year, or if there is a way that community pressure can be brought to bear on these officials.
Letter writing campaigns work very well, and NCSF can provide samples that can be tailored to each case. For example, in Baltimore, sample letters were provided for people who were out, not out, local or non-local. 150 letters in all were sent, tipping the scales in favor of the SM-Leather-Fetish community.
NCSF can also assist in arranging meetings and educating key officials. Usually this is done with the consent of the victims on the advice of their lawyer. However, the community has the right to know whether local officials intend to crack down on consensual SM or swing activities, and NCSF can help discuss this in a general way (without going into the particulars of the case).
It's good to have some idea of where the ad hoc community response group is heading once the crisis is over. The community may decide that the ad hoc group will disband after the crises is over. NCSF encourages communities to continue with their activist coalition in order to make changes in local laws and attitudes. Planning for the future is particularly important if there is fund raising, so people who donate will know where their money will go if the case is settled. Does the community want to establish an incorporated legal defense fund? Does the community want to continue doing SM and swing activism to fight repressive laws and policy? Does the community want to donate the extra money to a local or national charity? If so, to who? Remember that the choice of this charity may affect whether people across the country want to donate to your cause.