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A Protestor’s Rights

April 7, 2021

Fred Thiagarajah

Our right to assemble and express our views through protest is protected by our first amendment right, the freedom of speech. However, there are many restrictions and limitations that law enforcement and government officials place on that right. Over the past year, numerous protests have taken place all over our country, with many of them ending violently and resulting in arrests.

Before organizing or attending a protest, it’s extremely important to understand what exactly your rights are and what actions could lead to an arrest. One of the most important conditions of a protest is that you must assemble peaceably. If law enforcement detects a clear and present danger of violence or if there is an immediate threat to public safety as a result of the protest, they have the right to break up the protest. The police have the right to arrest individuals who are destroying public property or are being violent towards others. Those who only attended the protest and did not participate in any criminal activities should not be arrested by the police unless they directly incited another individual to violence. Yelling or cursing at an officer is not deemed illegal, but if actions are taken that could be considered violent, even something as small as throwing a small rock or even a water bottle at an officer, you could be arrested. When law enforcement makes the effort to break up a protest, they may issue an order to disperse and then arrest the individuals who didn’t leave. When an order to disperse is given, the police must initially give a clear and loud warning to ensure all can hear it, provide an unobstructed exit route, and provide enough time for the individuals to leave. These conditions must be met, and if not, then the individuals arrested for not obeying the order have a chance of getting their charges dropped. The government can also place a curfew in effect in an attempt to mitigate the chance for violent protests, as we saw during the George Floyd protests and in many other instances. If a curfew is set in place, you could be arrested for violating a curfew. Some protests may end up obstructing traffic on public streets. Typically, law enforcement will require a permit if a protest will block traffic. If there is no permit and there are individuals who are obstructing traffic, those individuals may be arrested. With cameras and video devices at our reach at essentially every second, it’s important to know your rights when recording or taking pictures of police officers.

It is a part of your first amendment right to be able to photograph and video officers when in the line of duty.

However, if you obstruct them in any way or prohibit them from completing their tasks, then you can be arrested.

It’s important to keep a distance and if asked by an officer what you’re doing, then clearly state that you are recording them. It’s important to remember everything that I have mentioned if you plan on attending a protest. But even if you abide by the law, there is a chance that the police will still arrest you.

Therefore, it’s important to know and understand your rights and to even have your lawyers’ number somewhere with you to contact them in the event that you are arrested. To learn about the legality of the crimes that can be associated with protests such as criminal threats, assault and battery, and resisting arrest, take a look at the links associated with each crime: Criminal ThreatsAssault and BatteryResisting Arrest.


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