There have been many protests around the US – and the world – in the last few months. Most of these have been inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and they’ve led to some shocking and inspirational scenes. The scariest part about these protests has been how the law seems to deal with them. Police forces are seen getting violent and detaining people who protest, but what are your rights? Is it illegal to protest on the streets? Do you need a permit to organize a protest?
These questions, and perhaps a few more, will be answered in the following article. Below, you’ll see some of the key legal points surrounding protests in the US:
It is entirely legal to organize and attend protests
No law states you cannot protest something in the US. In fact, you can attend or organize protests on public property. This includes streets, sidewalks, and parks – otherwise referred to as public forums. You can also protest on your own property or on private property with the consent of the owner. If you don’t have consent from a private property owner, they can call the police as you will technically be trespassing.
You don’t need a permit for all protests
The majority of the time, you can protest without getting an official permit. There are a few select instances where a permit is required:
If your protest is obstructing traffic or violating other traffic laws
If your protest is over a specific size and uses audio amplifying equipment
Any protest that requires streets or public areas to be closed off
Typically, permits are required when extra planning is needed to ensure the safety of yourself and the general public. For something small like a peaceful protest in a park, you can do that on a whim without a permit.
The police can’t arrest you for protesting
Provided you don’t commit any crimes – like arson or damaging property – the police have no right to arrest you. This doesn’t mean they won’t still do it. If this happens to you, then you need to know your rights. Don’t resist arrest, but be sure you ask for a reason for the arrest. This can be helpful if someone is recording the situation as it can be used as evidence later.
Regardless of their reasons, the safest option is to go along with the police officers or they will try and pin you for ‘resisting arrest’ or ‘assaulting an officer’. You have a right to remain silent, so exercise this as anything you say will be used against you. Also, demand to call a lawyer straight away. If you’re protesting quite often, it helps to know some of the top-rated criminal defense attorneys in your area, just in case you get arrested. If you were wrongly arrested, they could help you get out as quickly as possible and maybe even sue the police. If you were rightly arrested, they’d still help you avoid the maximum charges.
In summary, these are the main legalities surrounding protests in the US. You have a right to protest, you only need a permit in some situations, and the police have no cause to arrest you for protesting.