American citizens reserve certain rights bestowed upon them by the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Legislation. These provide them, amongst other things, with the prerogative to solicit for change tranquilly, not be detained without legitimate cause, and not be subject to police brutality.
Regardless, there is always a chance they are going to be infringed by the authorities should you partake in a protest. Therefore, it is certainly worth being aware of the rights you are entitled to, when to exercise them, and acknowledging when they are infringed.
Protesters’ Entitlements and their Boundaries
The foundation of protesters’ entitlements is given by the First Amendment’s rule not to intervene when individuals congregate and demand change tranquility, soliciting the government to revoke or rectify specific principles. However, the judiciary has set certain restrictions that protesters are bound by. They need to be wary of sending an inconsistent message, pursue only valid issues such as public safety, and avoid protesting in certain areas, forms, and hours. But they do still have their rights. Refer to the list below to learn more:
- Appealing Tranquilly: While this does not mean protesters cannot partake in a fervent, strident, or controversial activity, they ought to refrain from any forms of savagery. In other words, the safety of the general public must not be compromised. Other observers might retaliate ferociously, but you won’t face legal consequences provided you are not the one to initiate the ferocity.
- Protesting in Public Property: This would be the ideal location to conduct the protest, whether in the roads or the park. Other spaces in front of government buildings could also be effective, as long as you don’t obstruct the entryway. However, some government plots are restricted- these include schools, military headquarters, or inside administration offices (but it would be alright if your activity is not disorderly).
- Protesting on Personal Premises: Public forums, which are personal premises that allow the general public in, may serve critical roles in protests. For instance, Zuccotti Park in New York was used during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street development. However, if it is not open to the public, you could be detained and convicted for entering without permission from the owner and declining to leave upon being told to. If you do have the owner’s permission, though, the officers shall not be able to obstruct you from protesting.
- Obstructing vehicles and protesting without sanction: Some protests that entail loud activities and strides would require prior sanction. But the protests that counter contemporary occurrences are exempt from this rule. For instance, the protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd in 2020 did not require sanction. However, not all states make these kinds of exemptions. Obstructing traffic flow will put protesters susceptible to detainment as the officers see fit.
- Making video recordings of officers: You reserve the right to make recordings or capture officers’ snaps, provided you don’t hinder them as they perform their responsibilities. If they want you to stop simply because they dislike it, you don’t have to.
- Setting the flag on fire: Communicating your feelings by doing so is protected by the statute.
Protesters’ Entitlements When Officers Disperse Them
Police officers may see it fit to disperse certain protests that have evolved into a ferocious gathering or that may turn into one. This is because those congregations threaten the security and welfare of the general public. They are obliged to provide prior warnings before going forth and detaining individuals. Sufficient time must be given for the protesters to evacuate the area, as well as an adequate leaving strategy. Taking them into custody without doing so would be construed as unlawful arrest under the Fourth Amendment.
Consider the first warning to be the last one; police may not warn you before detaining you for non-compliance with their orders. Hence, this would not be considered unlawful arrest, since you have already been given a warning.
Legal Entitlements of Suspects in Custody
You will still reserve your legal entitlements if you are detained. Hence, you must exercise them. Begin by inquiring if you are allowed to return home. Keep in mind that the officers are obliged to have a legitimate cause for thinking you have violated the law.
- You could remain quiet. While some cities may require you to give your identity, you do not have to respond to anything else. This applies to questions vis-à-vis your citizenship standing.
- Aside from being tapped down to see if you have any weapons, you are entitled to decline permission for being searched. Your phone may be taken away if there are suspicions that it contains proof of an infraction, but you are not obligated to unlock it for the officers to see its contents.
- When detained, you are entitled to at least one phone call. You could contact your attorney, whereupon the police should not be listening. Else, if you don’t have an attorney, one would be sent for you by the government.
- As a general rule, individuals should not oppose detainment. Doing so despite being innocent of a crime could still entail litigation. In certain scenarios where the police use immoderate force, you could oppose but only within adequate barriers. The opposition could be condoned only if any rational person would see it fit to safeguard themselves.
- The police are required to liberate you within two days (or one in some states) if they cannot get a judge to agree there was adequate evidence to detain you. Not complying with this or delaying the decision would be construed as an infringement of the Fourth Amendment.
What to do when your protest entitlements have been infringed
Your legal entitlements in place do not guarantee that police officers will stay clear from making an illegal arrest, inflicting immoderate force, or exercising certain strategies to obstruct protesters. It would be optimal if you did not quarrel when they do so; it would be beneficial to maintain your rights coolly instead. This would aid you in further actions down the line, be it during a criminal lawsuit or when suing the officers. Should this be deemed imperative, a proficient offender shielding or rights attorney would be key to safeguarding your entitlements. You could also try reading more about your rights on the American Civil Liberties Union.