Protesting This Year? Know Your Rights Before Heading Out

( – While the right to assemble and express your opinions by protesting is protected under the First Amendment, police and other officials can place certain restrictions on exercising the right to free speech. Before heading out to protest, make sure you know your rights.

If organizing or attending a protest, you have the most rights in “traditional public forums,” such as parks, sidewalks, streets and other public property. You can march in the street during a protest without a permit as long as you do not block traffic. However, police officers can ask you to move out of the street or to the sidewalk if you do not have a permit. A permit must be obtained for a protest that blocks traffic or requires a street closure.

You can also protest in front of places such as government buildings as long as access to the building is not blocked. On public property, anything can be photographed or recorded on video. On private property, owners can set their own rules for speech, including what is photographed or recorded on video.

Counter-protesters also have the right to free speech and must be treated the same as protestors by police. Protesters and counter-protesters can be kept separate by police, but the two groups should be allowed to be within sight and sound of one another.

Unless there is disorder, a clear and present danger of riot, interference with traffic, or an immediate threat to public safety, a protest can’t be shut down. However, as a last resort, police could issue a dispersal order to shut down a protest. A dispersal order must be clear and detailed, and protesters must be allowed a reasonable chance to comply.

If you believe your rights were violated during a protest, write down what you remember, including an officer’s badge number, the number of a patrol car and the department the officer works for. Make sure you have the contact information of any witnesses and document any injuries. A written complaint can be filed with the police department’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.

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