Before You Protest, Make Sure You Know Your Rights
The latest spate of protests—including the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements—have served as popular outlets for discontent around the world. As U.S. citizens, we are privileged to have rights to peaceful demonstration that many others can’t yet enjoy. Exercising this right is a valuable part of the democratic process, but when things get heated, it’s easy to get into trouble with an officer of the law. Before you decide to participate in a protest, make sure you’re aware of some common mistakes protesters make and how to peaceably navigate your interactions with police officers—and don’t forget to know what Boulder law firms are available to you in case you run into trouble.
Know your rights. Your right to peacefully protest is protected by the First Amendment. Under this amendment, you have great freedom to express your views loudly and publicly—and traditionally, courts have supported this right. It is illegal for the government to limit speech based on the ideas it expresses, whether or not others find it offensive. You can also communicate this idea in any way you choose, whether by signs, artwork, costumes, handouts, etc.
Remember the rights of others. Keep in mind that police have the authority to restrict obscene acts or threats of violence, and enforce noise restrictions in public places. You can occupy any public space for your protest, as long as it doesn’t prevent others from using it too. Private property is under the authority of the owner, so they can have you arrested or removed if they so desire. Keep your protest respectful of others in order to remain under the protection of the First Amendment.
Interact wisely with law officers. Since protests tend to draw a strong police presence, it’s probably wise to stay out of their way to reduce your chances of getting into an altercation. However, if interacting with the police is inevitable, remember that your rights remain the same as they would in any other situation. Protect yourself by:
- Staying calm.
- Not confessing to wrongdoing.
- Not lying.
- Not waiving your rights based on anything the officer says.
- Refusing any searches.
- Asking if you are being detained or are free to go. Expressing that you are not agreeing to this police stop can protect you later if your case goes to court.
- Avoiding illegal activity, like vandalism, trespassing, or drug use.
- Never touching a cop.
- Not arguing with the officer. If you plan on reporting misconduct later, don’t tell the officer.
Report misconduct. If you are a victim or witness of police misconduct, there are things you can do. Try to use cell phones or other recording equipment to document the incident, and as soon as possible after the event, write down or record everything that happened and photograph any evidence (such as injuries). Always contact an attorney before filing a complaint—they can help you protect yourself in the event of criminal charges, and assert your rights against excessive force or false arrest.
Remember that the best thing to do in the event of a breach of your rights is to be patient and explore your legal options. Speak with a Boulder attorney for advice on how to proceed. For more information on available Boulder attorneys, or for a free legal consultation, give Boulder lawyer Phil Clark a call at (303) 444-4251.