Police and protests don’t mix well. Officers made more than 10,000 arrests during ten days of protests in May and June 2020.
Yet you have the right to protest, amongst other rights. If you plan on going to a protest, you must know what to do if you’re arrested.
What exactly are your rights to protest? What should you do and say when a police officer arrests you? How can you defend yourself in court?
Answer these questions and you can make a protest arrest seem like nothing. Here is your quick guide.
Know Your Rights
The First Amendment does not offer blanket protection. You have the right to organize politically in a public space, including sidewalks. But private property owners can set rules for protests on their property and call the police on you.
Counterprotesters have the same rights as you do. You must allow counterprotesters to organize against your peaceful protest. You cannot use violence or intimidation to get them to leave.
You may need a permit if you plan on marching. If you don’t have one, you can organize an informal march. But the police can ask you to move or shut your event down.
Being stopped by the police is always emotionally difficult. Do not panic if an officer stops you. Take a minute to take a deep breath and pull yourself together.
Keep your hands out in the open where the officers can see them. If you have objects in your hand, put them on the ground and not in your pockets.
You have a right to remain silent during any interaction with the police, including before you get arrested. Supreme Court rulings require you to invoke this right explicitly. Tell an officer who stops you, “I wish to assert my constitutional right to remain silent to all questions.”
If you get arrested at a protest, continue to remain silent. You may need to provide the officer with your name and photo ID. But beyond that, you should say nothing.
Get Information About the Arrest
Signal to someone while you are with the police that they should film you. Filming the police is protected under the First Amendment, as long as the person filming does not interfere with operations. A piece of videotape will be crucial for your defense.
After you are released, get the arresting officer’s details and learn about your charges. Many charges from a peaceful protest get dropped after the fact.
But you should understand what happened you can avoid future incidents. If you have to go to court, learn about how to prepare for your first appearance before a judge.
Practice Your Right to Protest
Your right to protest trumps police aggression. If you are in a public forum, you have broad First Amendment protections. You can organize without a permit and say nearly anything you want.
If an officer stops you, do not panic. Do not engage in any actions that the officer may take as aggressive.
Invoke your right to remain silent so they can use nothing against you. Ask someone to film you while you are being arrested and use the videotape in court.
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