Click on the menus below to know your rights while protesting.

The First Amendment protects your right to assemble and express your views through protest. However, police and other government officials are allowed to implement certain narrow restrictions.

Know your rights on the go:

Printable Wallet Card

1. General Protest Rights

Q.General Protest Rights
A.

Tradition Public Forums:

  • Your rights are strongest in “traditional public forums,” such as streets, sidewalks, and parks.
  • Speech can be restricted on private property.

Counter-Protesters:

  • Police must treat protesters and counter-protesters equally, but they can separate them as long as the groups can still see and hear each other.

Be Prepared:

  • Before attending a protest, memorize an emergency contact’s phone number. You can write this number on your arm in case you lose your phone or other belongings.
  • Make plans if you have children, other dependents, or take medication.

Dispersal Orders:

  • If officers issue a dispersal order, they must inform people of how long they have to comply, the consequences of failing to comply, and a clear exit route before arresting anyone or charging someone with a crime.

2. Organizing a Protest

Q.Organizing a Protest
A.

Where you can protest:

  • Your rights are strongest in what are known as “traditional public forums,” such as streets, sidewalks, and parks. You also likely have the right to speak out on other public property, like plazas in front of government buildings, as long as you are not blocking access to the government building or interfering with other purposes the  property was designed for.
  • Private property owners can set rules for speech on their property. The government may not restrict your speech if it is taking place on your own property or with the consent of the property owner.

Permits:

  • You don’t need a permit to march in the streets or on sidewalks, as long as marchers don’t obstruct car or pedestrian traffic. If you don’t have a permit, police officers can ask you to move to the side of a street or sidewalk to let others pass or for safety reasons.
  • Certain types of events may require permits. These include a march or parade that requires blocking traffic or street closure; a large rally requiring the use of sound amplifying devices; or a rally over a certain size at most parks or plazas.
  • While certain permit procedures require submitting an application well in advance of the planned event, police can’t use those procedures to prevent a protest in response to breaking news events.
  • Restrictions on the route of a march or sound equipment might violate the First Amendment if they are unnecessary for traffic control or public safety, or if they interfere significantly with effective communication to the intended audience.
  • A permit cannot be denied because the event is controversial or will express unpopular views.
  • If the permit regulations that apply to your protest require a fee for a permit, they should allow a waiver for those who cannot afford the charge.

3. Stopped by police while protesting

Q.Stopped by police while protesting
A.

Interacting with police:

  • Stay calm. Don’t argue, run, resist, or obstruct the officers, even if they are violating your rights. Do not lie or give false documents. Keep your hands where the police can see them.
  • Ask if you are free to leave. If yes, walk away.

Right to Remain Silent:

  • You have the right to remain silent. You do not have to answer any questions. If you wish to remain silent, say so out loud.

Search and Seizure:

  • You never have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings. Police may pat down your clothing if they suspect a weapon. Refusing consent may not stop officers from searching against your will, but objecting before or during can help you in any later legal proceeding.
  • Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant. They may never delete data under any circumstances. However, they may order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations.

4. Arrested while protesting

Q.Arrested while protesting
A.

Right to Remain Silent:

  • If you are under arrest, you have a right to ask why. Otherwise, say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Don’t say anything or sign anything without a lawyer.

Right to an Attorney:

  • Say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Do not answer questions, give explanations/excuses, sign anything, or make any decisions without a lawyer.
  • You have the right to a lawyer. If you cannot pay for a lawyer, you have the right to a free one.

Right to a Local Phone Call:

  • You have the right to make a local phone call. The police cannot listen if you call a lawyer. They can and often fo listen to calls made to anyone else.

5. What to do if your rights have been violated

Q.What to do if your rights have been violated
A.

Document the Event:

  • Write down everything you remember, including the officers’ badge and patrol car numbers and the agency they work for.
  • Ask witnesses for contact information. They may be able to share what they saw if you take legal action or file a complaint.
  • If you’re injured, seek medical attention and take photos of your injuries.

File a Complaint:

  • Once you have all of this information, you can file a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.

6. Photographing/filming at a protest

Q.Photographing/filming at a protest
A.

Where You Can Document:

  • When you are lawfully present in any public space, you have the right to photograph anything in plain view, including police officer and other law enforcement, and outside federal buildings and police stations.
  • (On private property, the owner may set rules about photography or video.)

Search and Seizure:

  • Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant. They may never delete data under any circumstances.
  • Law enforcement may order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations.

7. What to do if you witness police brutality

Q.What to do if you witness police brutality
A.

Document the Event:

  • Remain at a safe distance.
  • If possible, record video of the incident. You have the right to observe and record police activities that are plainly visible in public spaces as long as you do not interfere with officers’ actions or obstruct their movements.
  • Write down everything you remember.
  • Ask the person who was targeted if they would like your contact information in case they file a complaint or a lawsuit and need witnesses to back up their story.