For the past two months, the U.S. has seen an uptick in protests, which have spanned across the globe. People are fighting in a time many consider to be a revolution. Protesting is a way for people to speak on what they believe. Some are protesting for the first time, with little knowledge on how to stay legally and physically safe.
The First Amendment protects U.S. citizens’ rights to peacefully assemble wherever they would like. The First Amendment also gives us the freedoms of speech, religion, and petition. This means protests are constitutionally protected.
Videotaping is also allowed during a public protest, but keep in mind that state law varies when it comes to audio. The National Association of Realtors lists video and audio surveillance laws for all 50 states on their website.
According to the ACLU, pictures and videos taken during a protest are all protected under the First Amendment.
If stopped by law enforcement at a protest, the ACLU, a reliable civil rights website, recommends calmly asking ‘am I free to go,’ and if the police says yes just calmly walk away, don’t walk away fast or the police can actually have a reason to arrest you. When stopped, law enforcement can’t take or confiscate any video or photos without a warrant.
The first thing U.S. citizens need to do when getting arrested is stay silent. Don’t say a word, even if you don’t understand why you are getting arrested, the ACLU recommends.
Upon arriving at the police station, ask for a lawyer immediately. The Sixth Amendment protects the right to have a lawyer present during questioning. The Fifth Amendment protects U.S citizens from self-incrimination in the event a lawyer isn’t present.
Citizens also have the right to a phone call to get legal advice without law enforcement listening in.
While knowing your rights is important, it is equally important to know how to protest safely and what to bring with you to make that possible.
The most important thing to bring when protesting is any type of small bag or backpack to keep essentials in. These essentials could include things like water and snacks, and by having the backpack or bag, the struggle of carrying an excess amount of items is eliminated.
Since we are in the midst of a pandemic, you will need some type of mask or bandana to protect you from the virus. It will also shield your identity from cameras and police surveillance just in case there are illegal activities happening during the protest.
Once you get to the protest, there are lots of things to consider when trying to stay safe. Make sure you study your surroundings and have an idea of what is happening around you. Be friendly with other protesters and respect those not participating in the protest.
While protesting, make sure to wear suitable clothes and shoes to allow one to move easily in case of emergency.
It is best to wear black attire, because it will allow one to blend in with the crowd easily. Also, cover any tattoos or hair if it is dyed a distinctive color. Wear closed-toe shoes that are broken in and good for long distances.
It is recommended to not go to a protest by yourself. Go with a group. Once you have a group, make a plan in case the protest gets out of hand, like where to meet if the situation turns dangerous.
There are also some risks involved which can be minimized by avoiding certain reactions. It is not advisable to run from police or in general; it might be a human instinct to run when you see others running, but it can lead to you or others getting hurt.
Don’t direct others’ behavior while they protest. If it makes you uncomfortable, leave and find a safe area rather than vocalizing your discomfort.
Protesting has always been a way for people to speak their mind and stand up for things they believe in. First-time protestors can easily make mistakes if they haven’t educated themselves on how to be safe. Knowing your rights and ways to stay safe won’t only help you, but it will allow you to help others.