In the summer of 2020, around 20 million Americans, exercised their right to protest in towns and cities across the country. This movement saw quadruple the number of participants of any protest in American history. Many found themselves participating in causes for the first time, unsure of what to do or how to act. As protests gain traction and more people feel encouraged to join, it’s important to know your rights as a protester.
Right to Protest
When it comes to protesting, the First Amendment of our Constitution protects your right to speak freely, assemble peacefully, and petition the government for grievances. This means you have the right to express your opinions and protest in public places, like sidewalks and parks. You may protest in these spaces so long as you are not blocking building entrances or the movement of others.
You may protest on private property if you have the owner’s permission. If the owner sets rules for your protesting or otherwise asks you to leave, you should comply. If you do not leave when a private property owner asks, they could pursue a trespassing charge.
While protesting, you have the right to distribute information about your cause. You are within your rights to bring picket signs or hand out flyers and pamphlets.
Remember that you have a right to free speech but may not advocate for or incite illegal activity, such as violence. The first amendment does not grant protection for violence and property destruction.
Right to Assembly
You do not need a permit if you are protesting by yourself or with a small group. You only need to apply for a permit if you plan to organize your own large-scale protest. If you’re participating in a larger movement that was organized in advance, you have the right to join their assembly.
If you are organizing a protest, know that neither the city nor law enforcement may use your protest’s message as a reason to avoid issuing a permit. If you can demonstrate that the agencies were selective in what kinds of protests they allow, you may have standing for a discrimination claim.
Keep in mind that while small-scale protesting will probably go unnoticed, law enforcement is almost certain to appear during an organized march. It is their responsibility to redirect traffic, uphold public safety, and manage counter-protesters.
Right to Counter-Protest
All US citizens have the right to counter-protest. If you choose to hand out pamphlets on the sidewalk, others have the right to express their opinions in return. Likewise, if you have notice of an organized march, you have the right to counter-demonstrate.
As is the case with all protesting, you do not have the right to physically disrupt an event, threaten protesters, or incite violence. During a large-scale meeting, law enforcement is supposed to separate the two groups or even stand between them to make sure both parties are able to express their opinions.
Your Rights and Law Enforcement
During a large protest or march, you should expect a heavy police presence. Law enforcement may search your bag if you are entering a secure area or if they have probable cause. They might also search your person if they believe you are armed.
If you are in a situation where police attempt to question you or search you, know that you have the right to record them when you are in a public place. If you believe your rights are violated, a video record can be invaluable in demonstrating the facts of the incident and identifying law enforcement involved.
Throughout 2020, several protests have ended in law enforcement ordering demonstrators to disperse. Many of these situations were followed by tear gas, violence, and arrests. If the police tell you to disperse, know that you may face charges if you do not comply. If you are arrested, the best thing you can do is tell the officers that you are exercising your right to remain silent and that you request your right to an attorney.
If you believe your rights were violated during a protest, we are here for you. If you'd like to discuss your case with an experienced Easton personal injury attorneys from Meshkov & Breslin to evaluate your case, please send us an email or call (610) 285-1963.