Here at The Roc Shop, we are fierce supporters of everyone’s right to stand up for what they believe in. Whether this means wearing a “feminist” t-shirt, writing an empowering blog post, or joining a rally, free speech is something that is vital to our country and becoming increasingly necessary. There are so many current affairs worth raising your voice for, and we want to encourage you to do so!
It takes all of us standing together in order to make a difference, and one of the easiest ways to speak out is to join a protest! From the Women’s March in Washington to anti-police brutality rallies in your local neighborhood, protests are a vital part of our democracy. However, it’s important to understand your rights before protesting in order to protect yourself. For instance, how much does the first amendment protect your speech? Where are you allowed to legally protest? What are you supposed to do if you’re stopped by police? After researching protesting rights by the ACLU, we’re answering all of your questions below so you can get out there, be fierce, and voice your opinion!
Your Right to Free Speech
It is your absolute RIGHT to join together and protest a cause, and it’s all protected by the first amendment. Even if your subject matter is considered controversial, your words are safe! Make your posters, raise your voice, and speak your mind since it’s your right!! Keep in mind that while all forms of communication are allowed under the first amendment, anything that includes illegal conduct can lead to an arrest. There is also a “time, place, and manner” rule which the police can use to place restrictions on speech, but they are not allowed to do so with discrimination.
How to organize a legal protest
While everyone has the right to free speech, there are certain rules that apply to large gatherings. If you’re organizing or attending a protest that stays on the sidewalk, obeys all traffic laws, and doesn’t impede anyone else, you are entitled to do so without a permit. Public forums such as streets, parks, and plazas in front of government buildings are also protected areas for protests. However, any gatherings requiring amplification, street closures, or use of particular designated parks or plazas require advanced permits. You cannot be denied access to an area that has had free speech activities in the past just because your issue is controversial, either! If the government has allowed previous free speech activities on the street in the past, they are not allowed to discriminate against your cause.
It’s important to keep in mind that the first amendment applies to EVERYONE, and that includes those who don’t agree with your point of view. People who are counter-protesting have the same rights as you do, but the police do have the right to keep your groups separate to prevent physical harm to either protest.
What Happens When the Police Get Involved
Due to the heated nature of many protests, police involvement can sometimes be inevitable. However, you rights are still protected as long as you aren’t disobeying laws, and the police are not allowed to infringe on them. If you happen to be stopped by the police while protesting, the best thing to do is stay calm. Ask why you are being stopped, but don’t argue with the officer or run — this can lead to an arrest! You have the right to remain silent, and they are not allowed to search you unless they have a warrant. The police can only briefly question and detain you if they think you have committed a crime, so ask if you’re under arrest. If not, you are allowed to leave freely. If you feel like you are being stopped unfairly or your rights are being violated, try to gather as much information about the situation as possible. Write down badge and patrol car numbers, get witness statements, and even photograph any injuries that were sustained. While a protest is not the appropriate time to challenge police, this information can be used later to file a complaint with the police’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.
Know Your Rights After an Arrest
Even if you are obeying all laws as a protest, there is a chance your rights may be infringed upon. If you are arrested, remember that you have the right to remain silent. Until you have a lawyer present, you shouldn’t say anything that can be used against you later. One of the best tips we’ve come across is to write the phone number down of a lawyer on your arm before attending a protest. If for some reason you are detained or arrested and your belongings are taken, you should continue to ask for an attorney and access to your one phone call. Use the number on your arm to get in touch with a lawyer, and wait to answer any questions until they get there!