Our country was founded on the premise that our government and its various institutions are run by the people, for the people. When people feel these institutions no longer protect their rights and concerns, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution specifically guarantees those individuals the right to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In the wake of the mass protests around the country due to the untimely death of George Floyd, we believe it pertinent to convey your rights, as per federal law, when it comes to safely and legally conducting protests. Your rights are as follows:
- Public Property Protest Laws: Generally, the best places to protest are known as “traditional public forums,” such as public sidewalks, streets, and parks. This means that as long as you are peacefully protesting on public property, you should be acting well within your rights. However, you should also keep the following in mind:
- You can protest in front of government buildings, however, you may not block access to the government property or interfere with the functionality of the property in question.
- If you are lawfully protesting in a traditional public forum, you also have the right to take pictures or videos of anything in “plain view.”
- As long as you are not obstructing motor vehicle or pedestrian traffic, you do not need a permit to march on the streets. However, if you do not have a permit and are obstructing traffic, police officers are permitted to ask you to move to the side of the street or onto a sidewalk for safety reasons.
- Counterprotesters are protected under the same rights, as long as they are protesting peacefully in a traditional public forum or while lawfully on private property. However, you should note that police are permitted to keep protestors and their detractors/counterprotesters apart from one another, though these groups are legally allowed to stay within sight and sound of each other.
- Private Property Protest Laws: You may not protest on private property if the owner of said property prohibits such protests. If you wish to protest on private property, you must have that private property owner’s consent before doing so. If you are lawfully protesting on private property, you must also receive the property owner’s consent if you wish to take photographs or videos of anything in “plain view.”
- Police Rights: Under most circumstances, police do not have the right to shut down a protest. However, if there is a clear and present danger such as a riot, disorder, interference with traffic, or another immediate threat, they may lawfully issue a dispersal order. Once a dispersal order is issued, all protestors must be given sufficient time to comply and leave the scene, as well as be provided with an unobstructed exit path so they can easily exit the scene. The dispersal order must be issued clearly and in detail, and protestors must be informed of how long they have to disperse, the penalties for failing to do so, and what clear exit route they can follow before they can be arrested or charged with a crime.
What to do if You Believe Your Rights Have Been Violated
If you believe your rights have been violated, the first thing you should do is take pictures/videos of your injuries and the injustice you have witnessed or experienced. You should also write down every detail from the incident you can remember, including badge numbers, patrol car numbers, and the agency the officer(s) in question work for. From here, you should ask anyone who saw the incident for their contact information, including their name, phone number, email, or any other means by which you may reach them to corroborate your claim. After you have collected all of the aforementioned information, you may file a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.
These are turbulent times, which is why if you feel your rights have been infringed upon or you are facing criminal charges, please do not hesitate to give our firm a call today. We are here to help.
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Kevin T. Conway has over 30 years of experience as a Spring Valley criminal attorney handling DUI, DWI, traffic violations, violent crimes, sex crimes, illegal gun possession, shoplifting, and juvenile crimes. Attorney Conway is also experienced in commercial law matters, zoning law, and estate planning. If you need a Rockland County criminal lawyer, contact our Spring Valley office for a free consultation.