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Your Rights When Attending a Protest
- Your rights are strongest in what are known as “traditional public forums,” such as streets, sidewalks, and parks. You also likely have the right to speak out on other public property, like plazas in front of government buildings, as long as you are not blocking access to the government building or interfering with other purposes the property was designed for.
- Private property owners can set rules for speech on their property. The government may not restrict your speech if it is taking place on your own property or with the consent of the property owner.
- Counterprotesters also have free speech rights. Police must treat protesters and counterprotesters equally. Police are permitted to keep antagonistic groups separated but should allow them to be within sight and sound of one another.
- When you are lawfully present in any public space, you have the right to photograph anything in plain view, including federal buildings and the police. On private property, the owner may set rules related to photography or video.
- You don’t need a permit to march in the streets or on sidewalks, as long as marchers don’t obstruct car or pedestrian traffic. If you don’t have a permit, police officers can ask you to move to the side of a street or sidewalk to let others pass or for safety reasons.
What happens if the police issues an order to disperse the protest?
- Shutting down a protest through a dispersal order must be law enforcement’s last resort. Police may not break up a gathering unless there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, interference with traffic, or other immediate threat to public safety.
- If officers issue a dispersal order, they must provide a reasonable opportunity to comply, including sufficient time and a clear, unobstructed exit path.
- Individuals must receive clear and detailed notice of a dispersal order, including how much time they have to disperse, the consequences of failing to disperse, and what clear exit route they can follow, before they may be arrested or charged with any crime.
What to do if you believe your rights have been violated
- When you can, write down everything you remember, including the officers’ badge and patrol car numbers and the agency they work for.
- Get contact information for witnesses.
- Take photographs of any injuries.
- Once you have all of this information, you can file a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.
Protest Dos & Don'ts
- Plan ahead for essential needs, care, & supplies
- Know what to expect- know how to get assistance
- Know how to reconnect with friends if you get separated
- Be calm & focused- stay aware so you can react to warnings or danger ASAP
- Watch for physical & mental signs of distress in yourself and others
- Document: film or write down police actions, brutality, & injuries
- Water with squirt top (to drink and/or clean injuries)
- First aid supplies
- Energy snacks
- Government-issued ID
- Cash- including coins
- Any prescription drugs you will need (2 day supply)
- Wet wipes, tissues, menstrual pads
- Extra clothing in a plastic bag
- Bandana soaked in water, lemon juice, or vinegar to aid in breathing in case of chemical weapons
- Shatter-resistant eye protection (goggles, sunglasses, gas mask)
- Comfortable, protective shoes that you can run in
- Clothing to cover your limbs & protect from sun & irritants + a hat
- Wear contact lenses
- Go alone (if you can help it)
- Wear things that can easily be grabbed like jewelry, ties, loose hair
- Bring illegal items like weapons or drugs
- Put on make up or lotion (irritants can stick to them)
- Bring debit/credit cards