It’s officially springtime, do you know what that means?! It’s protest season!
I’m totally kidding; every season is protest season, because that’s our right as American citizens. There are some major national and local protests coming up: March for Our Lives is March 24, and the Oklahoma teacher walkout with paired protests has been scheduled for April 2. It’s probably time we go over the rights of protesters and what to do if your rights as a protester have been violated.
Every American has the right to peacefully protest under the protection of the First Amendment. Even children are protected after the Supreme Court Case Tinker vs. Des Moines ruled students do not lose their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door. During this tumultuous time where the president does not seem to support the First Amendment, we need to know our rights to avoid confusion and chaotic protest now more than ever.
Here are some of your rights as a protester that cannot be violated via the ACLU: You can engage in free speech and demonstrations/protests in any “traditional” public forums. These public forums include streets, sidewalks, parks, in front of government buildings, and public plazas. Your free speech cannot be restricted, regardless of the controversy it may face. However, the time, place, and manner of such activities may be limited by local governments; for example, you can’t protest by yelling and picketing in Norman past 9:00 pm due to a noise curfew (Sec. 10-307: 23.) You do not need a permit to protest, unless you plan on blocking the road or using stereo equipment. You do have the right to picket on public property as long as you are not disrupting traffic, blocking public entrances to buildings, or being violent in any manner.
All types of freedom of speech activities are protected by the First Amendment including but not limited to: singing, dancing, film, theater, and symbolic speech. Symbolic speech includes sit-ins, signs, flag waving, protest clothing (shirts, hats, buttons/pins, etc.,) candle light vigils, wearing costumes, and, while controversial, flag burning.
If there are counter protesters present they have the same rights as you, be respectful and courteous. If they engage in illegal activity (start violence) alert law enforcement officials immediately.
If you are stopped by the police or other law enforcement officials be polite, follow instructions, and do not run away. Do give the police your name, however you are not required to give photo ID. Keep your hands where the officer can see them at all times. If you believe your rights are being violated, calmly point out that you aren’t being disruptive, you aren’t being violent, you aren’t breaking any laws, and therefore you are protected by the First Amendment. Ask if you are free to leave. If the answer is yes, walk away silently; do not further engage or antagonize the police after that. If you are under arrest, ask why, it’s within your rights to know. It is also important to note that you do not have to consent to a search of your person or your belongings. Police may “pat down” your clothing if they have reason to suspect a weapon. You are not required to consent to any further search.
If you are placed under arrest, calmly ask why, do not resist arrest, and do not threaten the officer. At that point tell the officer you would like to speak to a lawyer and that you are choosing to remain silent until that time. Do not speak with police further until your lawyer is present. You have the right to make a phone call, if it is to a lawyer, police do not have the right to listen in. If you are being wrongly arrested write down everything you can as soon as possible, try to include the officer’s badge number, their patrol car number, contact information from witnesses (if possible), and what agency they are with (state police, local police, etc.) You also have the right to record and photograph police, as long as you are not interfering with their ability to perform their duties, this can be used as evidence if necessary. Later you can file a complaint with internal affairs or you can get assistance from an attorney or the ACLU.
If you choose to practice civil disobedience, which is the act of refusing to follow certain laws as a peaceful form of protest, you could be arrested and/or convicted. If that happens, be cooperative with police, stay calm, and be prepared. Have the phone number of the local ACLU chapter on standby (Oklahoma’s chapter: (405) 524-8511) in the case of your arrest or use of force from an arresting officer.
Let’s get out there, have a peaceful protest or two, exercise our rights as American citizens, and hopefully change our country for the better.