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Going in prepared when you participate in a protest

Protests are common. If you participate in a protest, you need to go in knowing what your rights are, and with awareness of the potential for arrest. If you’re taken into custody, you need to know what to do. This article looks at protests and possible arrest, and offers advice.

The more socially conscious people become, the more likely they are to identify with causes, and to struggle for them. Sometimes, however, peaceful protests result in clashes with law enforcement, and in arrests. Protests can result in convictions and jail time. What do you do if you find yourself in legal trouble for being part of a protest? It’s important to know what your rights are.

Know that you have a right to protest

Demonstrations, even when peaceful, can be hard to control. Even in the most chaotic protest environments, however, it’s important to know that your First Amendment rights ensure your ability to assemble and voice your opinions.

Be aware of where you are

Protests are generally considered acceptable in parks, on public streets, and other public spaces. You can also legally protest outside courthouses and other government buildings, as long as your actions don’t get in the way of the functioning of these offices. Protesting on private property is a different matter, however. The owner of the property that you protest on has a right to stop you from protesting. You may be considered a trespasser, and may face arrest.

Do you need a permit to protest?

Protests and demonstrations that don’t impede traffic do not require permits in most cases. If you don’t have a permit that allows you to take up street space with a protest, the police are within their rights to ask you to move your protest to a sidewalk.

You can take pictures

Protests in public spaces can be photographed or recorded. You can even capture images of the police as they interact with you or someone else. It is acceptable to assert to the police that you are within your rights to take photos or video of proceedings that occur in the open.

What happens if you’re stopped by the police?

While protests can be emotionally charged environments, it’s important to be in control of yourself when you interact with the police. If you’re stopped by an officer, it’s important to be polite, and to refrain from saying anything that may be interpreted as a threat. If you are arrested, it’s important to be obedient, and to not resist. The best way to extricate yourself from the situation would be to call a lawyer.

Go in prepared

When you head in to participate in a protest, it’s important to plan for possible arrest. Amid the chaos that often marks these events, your arrest may be imperfect — you may not be read your rights, and you may not be treated well. It can help to be ready for these circumstances, and to keep the following in mind:

  • It’s a good idea to make a mental note of the name and badge number of the officer who arrests you. If you suffer injuries during arrest, you need to take pictures of those injuries as early as possible. You also need to retain all documents that you may receive over the course of your arrest.
  • Before you go to a protest, you should inform your friends and family of your plans, and keep the number of a lawyer in your pocket, to call in case of need. Before you call, it can be helpful to have information ready about where you’ve been arrested, the jail or precinct where you’re being held, and the number of a family member.

Protesting peacefully is a right, but it can sometimes end in arrest. Keeping calm, and taking legal counsel can help resolve matters.